Cat lady meets catastrophe. In essence, that's the premise of the next project from up-and-coming cartoonist Andrew MacClean. Indy comic fans have known the violent-yet-hilarious work of MacLean from his self-published barbarian book Head Lopper. Now he’s due to get a taste of the mainstream spotlight with ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times, due out this May.
It’s the typical post-apocalyptic story of a girl and her cat (as opposed to A Boy and His Dog), trying to salvage ancient power, and things going very, very wrong. There’s giant robots, lots of action, and many explosions, and a cat named Jelly Beans.
We talked to MacLean about the book, and got an early look at some of the interior pages.
Newsarama: Andrew, tell us a little about ApocalyptiGirl, the book and its story.
Andrew MacLean: ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times follows Aria and her cat Jelly Beans through a post-apocalyptic Earth.
She's on a mission to locate an ancient relic of immeasurable power, but obstacles of the environment and its inhabitants – everything from machine gun toting savages to 25-foot mechs – are constantly getting in her way/trying to kill her, and now she's been there many years longer than she had hoped to be, and the solitude is also starting to wear on her.
Nrama: I'd love some details on Aria -- who she is, the kind of existence she faces, and of course her cat Jelly Beans.
MacLean: Aria is young, smart, and silly. Silly to begin with, but also beginning to crack a little under the pressure of her mission and the solitude, so she's started to talk to herself more and more and personifying inanimate objects. Some of it’s playful, some of it’s loneliness.
They live in a subway car, spending their days fending off savage attacks, tinkering on a broken old mech she named Gus, and searching for the relic.
Jelly Beans is her partner in crime. I like to think of Aria as a 20-year-old crazy cat lady. That was one of the original labels I gave her. Jelly, however, acts like a real cat would. Though he has his own ways of moving the story along, Aria needs Jelly Beans more than Jelly Beans needs Aria.
Nrama: How did the idea for this come about?
MacLean: Most of my ideas come from a single character. Either something I've drawn or an idea for something I'd like to draw. Then I can't help but ask who the character is. I answer it. Then I wonder what world they live in. Who populates that world? And what do those characters act like? And by the time I answer those questions, mostly just for fun, a story has started to weave through it all.
This was no different, I drew a very early version of Aria as part of a collaboration print I did with my buddy Toby Cypress, and it was really fun. So I drew her a few more times and started answering some of the questions above.
Nrama: And how'd you wind up at Dark Horse?
MacLean: I had sent Dark Horse a few different things, and there wasn't any one thing in particular that they were interested in, and so they asked me what I'd like to do.
At that point, we did an 8-pager for Dark Horse Presents #29 based on a property I call Snip Snip. When we were done, my editor Jim Gibbons asked if there was something I wanted to do that would fit the format of a 100-page graphic novel. ApocalyptiGirl was still in the early stages of development in my mind, so it was ideal to grab that idea and squeeze it into the format.
Nrama: What's it been like working with them?
MacLean: It’s been great – they've been really supportive, and we've had a ton of communication, which I really appreciate.
Nrama: So I'm seeing a lot of interesting influences in this -- there's getting old mecha to work, that reminds me of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and there's, you know, a number of manga with wandering swords people -- thinking Lone Wolf & Cub, The Legend of Mother Sarah, but I am not an expert -- and of course the apocalyptic genre itself has a whole sea of rich influences and there's everything outside that genre.
This is all a roundabout way of asking about your biggest influences on this, inside and out of comics.
MacLean: Until recently when someone else pointed out Nausicaa, I was unfamiliar. But just by looking at the trailers, I can see why that would come to mind. I love Lone Wolf & Cub, but it was not a conscious influence here.
That said, while I'm by no means a big manga or anime consumer, the influence was very conscious in this book, namely Akira and Tekkonkinkreet. I love those movies, I love those books.
And when I was first dreaming of this apocalyptic world, I thought, in my opinion, the most interesting representations of these types of worlds seem to come from manga. So I tried keeping that in mind and even tipping my hat to my favorites here and there throughout. I even listened to the soundtracks of those films a great deal while working on it.
Nrama: One thing that's interesting to me about this, at least in the pages you were able to share, is that there's a little more of a laid-back feel to this. The world isn't a complete wasteland, and there's sort of a casual, “going about business' quality to Aria's life. It's sort of European comics, very laid-back. I'm curious as to how you approached the tone and style of this book and this world.
MacLean: It's easy to think of sand storms and rubble when you think of post-apocalypse, but I didn't want to draw that. Coming off of Head Lopper, I had found I really loved drawing the rolling green hills of Scotland, the rocks and other natural things.
So I decided to cover the ruins of this city in trees and other vegetation. I'm not the first to do that but I always thought there was something beautiful about seeing nature reclaim a city.
And pretty early on I thought I would make an honest attempt to draw something “beautiful.” Who knows how close I came though... of course by the end I couldn't resist but to burn it all down.
That didn't really answer the question. [laughs] Anyway, before s**t really hits the fan I really, really wanted to spend some time seeing Aria in her “natural habitat.” So we see some of that, a little blood spills, but then I really do burn it all down.
Nrama: In a world like Aria's, how do you think you would fare?
MacLean: [laughs] Poorly! I am no Survivorman. Aria is much better-equipped than I. I don't go into it too deeply, but she's been trained for years on everything. She's super-crafty and smart. Good with her hands on tools, on blades, on triggers.
She’s very sweet, but also a goddamn badass. I would die quickly.
Nrama: What's been the most challenging part of putting this book together?
MacLean: Color! Not even so much the act of coloring, but the fact that I colored it in addition to everything else. I've never taken on all the duties of a comic like this, let alone on a longer project.
Writing, then layouts, then pencils, then ink, paint, color, and letters... that just takes a long, long time. I've always passed some of that duty off to someone else. It is really nice to have that much control, but it is a lot of effort too.
Nrama: Do you see this as mainly self-contained, or as part of an ongoing series?
MacLean: Starting out, I saw it as self-contained, but I realized that by the time we get to the end, a whole world of questions and possibilities arise.
And once again, I couldn't help but start to answer those questions. I haven't even mentioned this to my editor, so it is by no means an indicator of whether it will happen or not, but I do have ideas brewing for a few more ApocalyptiGirl books.
Nrama: What are some other comics/creators you're enjoying right now?
MacLean: I really enjoy John Arcudi and James Harren's Rumble, Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, Sam Bosma's The Hanging Tower. Really looking forward to Fabian Rangel Jr. and Alexis Ziritt's Space Raiders.
But I do more looking at art, watching movies and reading books rather than reading comics. So I've been reading the Song of Ice and Fire books and reading through all the Conan stories.
Nrama: What's next for you?
MacLean: Next I'll return to Head Lopper for a third, fourth, and fifth installment... assuming that everything goes according to plan.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
MacLean: Just that, yeah, you're right, the art I've shared thus far is all kind of pretty. But there is great deal of the old ultra-violence in ApocalyptiGirl. I didn't set out to make it this way, but it does kind of feel like there is something for everyone here.