Part Conan the Barbarian, part Hellboy, with a little heavy metal mixed in for good measure: this is Andrew MacLean's Head Lopper 2: The Wolves of Barra. With the first volume, Head Lopper: Blood and Water being such a cult success and sleeper hit, MacLean took to Kickstarter to not only fund the sequel, but to make it bigger and badder. As of interview time, it is almost fifty percent funded with a little less than a month to go. Not bad for a project that launched a week ago.
At New York Comic Con, Newsarama sat down with MacLean to talk about the second Head Lopper issue and what the project means to him as a creator and his ideas going forward. MacLean supplied some art from the first issue to give you an idea about what you're getting into here with backing the project.
Newsarama: So, Andrew, Head Lopper became this sort of indie sleeper hit, how long were you planning on the doing the sequel and was Kickstarter your original plan?
Andrew MacLean: I've always planned on doing the sequel, it was just a matter of when. When I started Head Lopper I just wanted to get a fun comic out in 2013 that I had both written and drawn. I had plotted the entire arch for the series and knew sooner or later I'd find a way to tell it but figured it would be just an issue here, an issue there. I didn't really make expectations for people's reaction so when a few folks dug it I was surprised and in turn anxious to continue the story.
Kickstarter was not the original plan. My wife and I funded Issue One out of our pockets and it has really broken the bank. The problem lies in small print runs. Printing a small number jacks up the cost per issue and so you have to sell way more to just break even. It's always an uphill battle fiscally. If we fund Issue Two through Kickstarter we can (hopefully) afford to print a larger quantity upfront and therefore pass on the cheaper printing costs to the readers.
Nrama: For those that missed out on the first round, could you elaborate more on what Head Lopper is all about?
MacLean: Head Lopper follows a nomadic Viking warrior named Norgal and his companion, the severed head of the Blue Witch, Agatha. Norgal is seemingly impenetrable except when it comes to Agatha. They absolutely hate each other. She knows how to get under his skin and takes full advantage. But at the same time, having no legs or arms leaves a severed head pretty defenseless. When they aren't driving each other nuts they are cutting the heads off all manner of mythological beasts.
That's the meat and potatoes of the thing. Plot wise, I won't go to deep into it as many have yet to read Head Lopper 1, but I keep it simple. I want it to be reminiscent of how it felt to be a kid watching the original Clash of the Titans or Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan, but for a mature audience of today. Basically, as the plot pulls our characters along their path a series of trials is put before them (a new beast or beasts to behead). Each issue contains one trial. This is partly to keep it simple and avoid tripping over an overcomplicated mythology as well as to give some kind of closure to each issue while still giving the reader a reason to look forward to the next.
Nrama: What's the timeframe for "Wolves of Barra" in conjunction with the first issue? How much time has passed?
MacLean: Not much time has passed. Maybe a week to ten days where nothing of note has occurred. A few characters need some time to travel a good distance by foot and that was what I guessed they'd need. Plot wise we pickup right where we left off.
Nrama: Tell us a little bit about your art style and your process. It's sort of Jack Kirby meets Tony Millionaire with a pinch of Brian Churilla.
MacLean: My style, like anyone else's I guess, is a mush of all my favorite guys. I'm a fan of Mike Mignola, Gabriel Ba, and guys like them; very shape based dead line stuff. But I also love more expressive ink guys like Toby Cypress and Paul Pope. I'm a huge fan of Rafael Grampa too, who seems to be somewhere in between. I love his style, his character designs, and fearless storytelling.
But I also consume so much art on a daily basis thanks to the internet. I'm always blown away by something new. I could name names until I can't think of anymore and still never truly be able to complete the formula. There's just so much great stuff out there that’s really, really inspiring.
Nrama: Do you explore the, for the lack of a better term, relationship between Agatha and the Head Lopper even further here?
MacLean: Yeah, we explore their relationship a little more. Issue one just kind of set up their dynamic and then we got out of there. In issue two we see a little about how Norgal and Agatha live together and we even see them go into battle together. I play a lot of Agatha stuff close to the chest as her roll in this particular story and the title as a whole is pretty significant. But we do get a good look and few new jokes to boot.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little about some of the incentives for the KS campaign and where the donations are going towards?
MacLean: When putting together the incentive packages I was trying to imagine the different types of people who might back the project. Specifically, there will be a lot of folks who haven't read Head Lopper #1 yet. So I tried to create different combinations of packages where some come with issue one, some don't, both hardcopy and digital formats. Then there are also a bunch of just fun stuff like autographed posters, new t-shirts, and a slew of original art options.
Also, for folks who haven't read the first issue, and are therefore on the fence about backing it's sequel, the Kickstarter page will have page samples from HL1, links to HL1 reviews, as well as a link where you can purchase Head Lopper #1 right there. That way you can drop $3 on a digital copy and if it was cool you can make a decision on whether or not to back HL2, all before the campaign ends.
Also, if folks have an idea for a different combination of incentive items, I can always make new packages up and add them.
Nrama: Comics on Kickstarter are sort of a big deal and not all of them make it, but what was the deciding thought of going with Kickstarter to publish this?
MacLean: Yeah, they don't all make it. I think that's partly because Kickstarter is a place where "the people" decide what they want, so if they don't want it then it they don't back it. And the other part being, for a kickstarter to be successful it needs a lot of promotion, which means constantly talking about on social media and hoping your friends will pass along the good word as well. It feels gross to spam out your project on the internet all day everyday like that... but this is indie comics and there is no one else to do it. So you really have to do whatever you can to get the word out.
As for Head Lopper on Kickstarter, as I mentioned earlier the cost of printing is a real killer. And it's unfortunate but that burden is shared with the reader. Where Head Lopper is special to me I insisted on getting it printed on heavy premium matte stock and all that pretty stuff. So the hope is if enough folks decide they want it upfront, we can get a large enough batch printed to get the cost down and the prices reflected in the incentive packages represent that savings.
And I should mention Head Lopper 2 will run 50+ pages, including 40 pages of story with a top-notch pinup gallery.
Nrama: What was your reaction to the success of Head Lopper and the massive word of mouth among your fellow artists?
MacLean: Well it's hard to really have a reaction. Honestly, I'm much too close. I can tell some folks have liked it, for which I am so grateful. I don't know, it's a tough question. More than anything I am really happy to be working in comics at any level. I hope people enjoy my work and will let me stick around for a little while. That's all you can realistically hope for really/
Nrama: Do you have any non-Head Lopper projects coming up that you can talk about now?
MacLean: Sure. I try to keep pretty busy. I have a story that I wrote and drew for the October edition of Dark Horse Presents #29 called "SNIP SNIP: Deathroll", with colors by brilliant Jordie Bellaire. I also have a new project that will debut as a webcomic, written by Jim Gibbons called MARS: Space Barbarian, not to be confused with Joe Mars which is a title I'm working on with Seth Peck for the next release from the Bad Karma guys. I'm currently drawing the second issue of Department O (the letter, not zero) written by Jamie Gambell. I recently completed a four-issue sci-fi mini-series called Colonial Souls and written by Nolan Jones, which is being colored as we speak. The release date is yet to be determined. And finally, I have a graphic novel scheduled for release in the Fall of 2014, another written and drawn by me.