Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, during our special look at comic creators who’ve gone from print to online [Click here for tons more on online comics]. Today, sit back and take a trip back to the days of high adventure…and giant dogs.
Mike Norton is one of the most prolific artists in superhero comics – most recently, you’ve seen his work on Young Justice at DC and Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt at Marvel. This…this is not like those books.
In the world of Battlepug, a hot tattooed naked chick narrates to a couple of talking puppies epic story of a brave warrior, whose rise to power involves the slaughter of Santa Claus and a harp seal (in fairness, both had it coming). His path will lead him to a giant, drooling pug dog. Together, they will become the stuff of legend. We attempted to find out how Norton came up with this tale, and what he’s learned from his side work online.
Newsarama: Mike, how in God's name did the idea of Battlepug find its way into your head?
Mike Norton: Well the story goes that iFanboy wanted to do designer T-shirts based on comic creators. They asked me to do one but I had no original material of my own to put on a shirt. Battlepug was pretty much the first thing that came into my head. So, I guess that says a lot about what goes on in my head.
Nrama:: What made you want to do the story on your own, with its own website?
Norton: After the T-shirt and poster came out, I kept getting questions about when the comic was coming out. From there, it just kept rattling around in my head and eventually started gaining weight like a snowball down a hill. The webcomic is the result of that snowball.
Nrama:: How long do you see the story running?
Norton: It changes in my head periodically. In general, I see it going for a while. It's a big story in my head. Maybe a couple hundred pages. Whether that changes as I go remains to be seen.
Nrama:: What have you learned from this experience? What's different from doing a regular monthly hard-copy comic?Norton: It's probably one of the most fun creative experiences I've had. I love getting the chance to draw a page. The differences between it and print are pretty sharp. I can do what I want, when I want, however I want. There is no pit in my stomach waiting around for a hard copy to see what went wrong in the printing.
That's my biggest anxiety about print- because it's not a matter of if something will go wrong in print, it's what will go wrong. That's not to say mistakes don't happen in a digital format. It's just that you darn near immediately fix it when it does.
Nrama:: For that matter, what's been the biggest challenge in balancing this with your monthly work, and commissions, and...you're kind of a masochist, aren't you?
Norton: I am, I guess? I started out in comics trying to balance being good and being fast as a way to get work. I kind of got into that mode of the years and now I don't really feel comfortable unless I have more than one thing going on. I've become conditioned to it I guess.
Nrama:: Sooooo...where the heck is this taking place, and why can the animals talk, and why is the narrator naked and covered in tattoos? Or should I just repeat to myself, "It's just a strip, I should really just relax?"
Norton: Yes. As Moll would say, "Enhance your calm." I like keeping the particulars nebulous at this point. I think that's part of the fun of the comic at this point. It's a fantasy world but I'm not saying that it's going to be strictly swords and sorcery.
The narrator and the dogs come from a joke I used to make about how I thought the greatest comic ever would involve French bulldog, a pug, and a naked tattooed girl. I ended up making that strip I guess. It's wishful thinking about that "greatest ever" thing though.
Nrama:: What's the most interesting reaction you've had to the strip so far?
Norton: Feedback has pretty much been unanimously positive. The one repeat request I've had from a reader is to make sure that I make all the animals in the comic giant "cutesy" animals. I think it's funny that one reader grabbed on to that and won't let it go. He's sent like five messages about it so far.
Nrama:: What do you feel are the biggest challenge of taking advantage of the new delivery systems for comics, such as iPads and smartphones?Norton: Getting eyeballs. Pure and simple. The irony is the internet is such fantastic way to get so many more into comics and read on a regular basis. Getting people to see the content is challenging though. I'm learning though.
Along with my studio 4-Star, we're exploring more and more ways to get people to read web and digital comics with our Double Feature iPad app and comics like City of Sand, Colt Noble and Battlepug. Getting the word out is integral. Being an artist primarily, I have to admit to a learning curve over here as far as that goes.
Nrama:: We have darn near reached the point in the story where the acutal Battlepug shows up. Might you provide for us some hints as to where this brazenness is going?
Norton: Craziness. I want you to think that anything might happen on the next page. That's what I go for with this strip. The Battlepug is about to show up. The warrior is going to head South. How's that for a hint?
Nrama:: How far ahead do you have this plotted, or is this spilling out stream-of-consciousness? Does this require any sort of chemical stimulation to write, such as Fresca?
Norton: I have the climax and end vaguely mapped out. I know that other things have to happen in order to get to that point. The journey in between... that's the fun part. As far as chemical stimulation- I'm high on life. And coffee. And Pequod's pan pizza. And Portal 2.
Nrama:: What are some of your other favorite webcomics right now?
Norton: I really do find a new one every couple of days. Seriously, there is some amazing talent online. I love, love, love God Hates Astronauts by Ryan Browne.
Seriously, I find something new all the time. That's not counting the really popular stuff like Penny Arcade and PVP.Nrama:: What do you feel that major companies, such as Marvel/DC/etc. are doing right in terms of providing material on electronic media, and what would you like to see them doing?
Norton: Well, they're doing what any giant company does when approaching new media - taking baby steps. I love buying comics on my iPad, but as the companies roll out material, I'd love to see more. Day and date comics. Collected material. Lower prices. Same thing everybody wants, of course.
Nrama:: Name the most favoritest creature you have in this book, either what we've seen so far or what's coming up.
Norton: The killer baby harp seal is my favorite. There's some other crazy stuff showing up soon as well. The Witch Toad is something I'm pretty excited for people to see.
Nrama:: What's next for you?
Norton: I'm drawing Youth in Revolt- a Fear Itself mini-series at Marvel. I'm pretty proud and excited about it! I have a Young Justice comic coming out. Double Feature- the digital comic project my studio (doublefeaturecomics.com) is in full effect.
Of course, more Battlepug as well!
Match wits with the warrior and his Battlepug each week at www.battlepug.com.
Next at Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics: Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover introduce us to the Gingerbread Girl, their new GN that was serialized online first. And later, Doug TenNapel takes to the mean streets with Ratfist!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!