Hot on the heels of this week's announcement of a director for the Battling Boy movie, the book's creator Paul Pope is working on a comic book spin-off due out in October titled The Fall of the House of West.
Following up on the previous The Rise of Aurora West, Pope is working with J.T. Petty and David Rubin on the new The Fall of the House of West, digging deeper into the monster-fighting superhero family of Haggard and Aurora West. Aurora’s smart, intrepid and fiercely determined to avenge her father – and these books tell the story of just what she learned at his side, and why she’s more than a force to be reckoned with on her own. And in this volume, she seeks to learn the secret of her long-lost mother…but might find far more than she’s looking for.
Newsarama spoke with Pope about the new volume, and has the first look at pages from The Fall of the House of West to go along with our conversation. In this phone interview, Pope talked about the impact of Battling Boy, working with others on these spin-off books, as well as his inspirations for the franchise.
Newsarama: Paul, you had a big launch for Battling Boy and The Rise of Aurora West – you were telling me just before we started recording that you did a lot of touring with that, and how it was tricky doing comics along with those appearances.
Paul Pope: Yeah, it’s a totally different thing, after 20 years in the business, to be going to schools and libraries and meeting young people. That’s very exciting.
Nrama: How does travel inspire you in creating your work?
Pope: It’s demanding. It’s a job in itself. I’m grateful to have opportunities while flying out to the West Coast to work on scripts or thumbnails – I try to make good use of it. And of course you get a chance to have a meal with an old friend or something while you’re in town.
But part of the job is just reaching out and getting to people who are reading these books – I did a number when I was in Los Angeles recently, all across the West Coast, and then went back and did stuff at New York Comic-Con, so it’s like being on the road on tour.
Luckily, I’ve worked with musicians – I’ve asked them about what it’s like to be on tour in your 40s, when you can’t be out partying all night and have a six a.m. call time for morning events, which is just unheard of for me. [Laughs]
I’ve found it’s similar to being a touring cartoonist, when you have two and three gigs a day! You have to make the most of your time. It’s a discipline, similar to that act of just sitting down and doing your comics.
Nrama: You mentioned the second volume of Battling Boy to me – is there a projection on when that’s coming out?
Pope: They instructed me not to say anything – they have a whole plan for rolling that out. You can do the math – the second Aurora book comes out in October, and then the next Battling Boy book comes out after that. There’s only so much time we have to get these books out, because the first one was so late.
Nrama: Well, there was a lot of anticipation for it, and it’s obviously done very well, but the book took a long time to come out, and because of that there’s been concern that there might be a similar long wait for the next volume.
Pope: Absolutely. And that’s why I’ve got a whole team working on the book with me at First Second – why I’ve worked with a co-writer on Aurora, and why I’ve got editors helping me with trying to do Battling Boy and Aurora with overlapping images and content, to create a larger sort of jigsaw story. If you sit down at the end of the day and read them all at once, it creates one larger story. It’s a real cool thing.
Nrama: How’d the idea to do the parallel story of Aurora West come about?
Pope: It was a year and a half ago or so, I think around 2013 sometime – I have editorial meetings regularly, and meetings with the publisher, and I was asked, “Do you want to expand the Battling Boy universe?” and I said “Sure!”
And the first thought was to do something with Aurora West and to expand the story of Haggard West, who we only really see in the opening of Battling Boy as he dies. And Aurora is a very interesting character, and has a bigger role in the second Battling Boy, so it made sense to do a story with her and get to know her and Haggard through this story.
Aurora has a very big role in the next Battling Boy – it’s about her and Battling Boy getting to know each other and learning how to work together. The book is about adolescent superheroes, and neither is fully equipped to take on the task they have on their own, and they don’t particularly like each other, so they have to become allies, and friends
The most fun part of this second book is taking the characters and seeing how they work together – letting them soften a bit, because Battling Boy is aloof, and Aurora is very jealous, and those are things that are normal for teenagers, and I can tell teens respond to those story lines.
And of course there is a ton of costumes and monsters and actions and explosions – that’s the fun stuff, you know?
Nrama: Telling the story from the structure of a teenage girl, one who’s a bit more vulnerable to monsters than Battling Boy has been – that must be an interesting change in perspective.
Pope: Yeah, I get asked on tour, “Was it your intention to creating a positive female protagonist, who isn’t sexualized or isn’t hung up on a guy, or like Wonder Woman, someone who’s already an Amazon princess?”
The truth is, the character came about because the story needed it. If Battling Boy was a different character, she’d be a different character. I didn’t use a formula to go “this will sell books!”, that sort of thing. I just felt like this boy needed a sister figure who is like the Batman to his Superman, you know?
And Aurora is exciting because she’s a different character from Battling Boy. This series is fun because we get to see her life to date, up until she’s about 16, she’s older than Battling Boy. Haggard is a great man, but with a flaw – she’s more of a Hamlet, while Battling Boy is more of a Siddhartha becoming Bhudda. They have different types of families – she’s an orphan, and he’s a latchkey kid.
So it’s fun to write these differences out, and find ways to express them.
Nrama: What was it like collaborating with J.T. and David, and how was this different than writing and penciling a book on your own?
Pope: Yeah, it’s an interesting challenge. Even though I’ve written for other artists and drawn scripts other artists have written, and I’ve art-directed…you know, between comics and fashion and film, I came to this with a pretty unique skill set! [Laughs]
And I talked to Mike Mignola about how he expanded the Hellboy universe and brought more people in, and he had some great things to say about how to do this successfully. Mark Siegel, my editor, recommended David and J.T., and felt we could work together.
It’s a joy working with J.T. – he writes comics and screenplays and video games, and has an amazing film historical mindset. It’s exciting working with him, because when we sat down I gave him the story bible I wrote for Battling Boy and told him the two or three things that I thought were Haggard West’s storyline that we would see through Aurora’s eyes, and I gave him all these old movie serials and Boris Karloff movies, and he just soaked it all in! And he was able to write a great script that we worked on together.
David was the same – he has a great sense of phantasmagoria, and his art is just incredible. J.T. and I spent like six months writing on this, and I knew I wanted a Spanish artist, to give this an international, Heavy Metal feel.
I think there’s a lot of really great Spanish artists who haven’t gotten exposure to an English-speaking audience the way a lot of European or Japanese or Argentinean artists have.
And like I said before, there’s a lot that fits into the original Battling Boy book. Battling Boy doesn’t appear in Aurora’s book, and Aurora appears in all the Battling Boy books. The Battling Boy books take place over about a two-week period, while Aurora’s take place over 16 years!
So we know a lot more about her than we do Battling Boy, because we get into her mindset and her memory, almost like a detective novel. She realizes there’s a lot of things from when she was younger that she’s forgotten, like what happened to her mother.
Nrama: I like how Haggard West draws from the pulp era, the “science heroes” – I really enjoy going back and reading those crazy old stories, and seeing what tropes they invented, or what’s aged strangely.
Pope: Yeah! You know, those stories – it’s the dawn of superheroes, between world wars, there’s this sense of anxiety…but also there’s still places in the world we haven’t explored. There were places on the planet that were very remote, and now everything seems like it’s at our fingertips.
I feel like exploration now has to be about other worlds or realms of consciousness – “adventure” means “to go forth,” and that’s the appeal of characters like Indiana Jones or Doc Savage. They’re explorers! They’re finding ancient civilizations and treasures that have been buried!
That scientist-meets-explorer character – that’s what I wanted to do with Haggard, that character, that personality. I want to see more characters like that and less mutant superheroes or kung-fu fighters, because there’s so much of that and we don’t need another book like that.
Nrama: There’s a case to be made that at this point, everything an imitation of an imitation.
Pope: Yeah, sure – having gone to art school, I pretty much reject postmodernism. I consider myself a Modernist with a capital “M.” If you look at guys even like Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp, they were explorers of the mind. Say what you will about Picasso’s personal life, but he was very, very inventive. He created cubism, changed the way people perceived things
Plunging into the darkest Africa of your mind – or the Marianas Trench of your mind – I find that really thrilling. I don’t want to believe we’ve done everything, that seems so limiting! And for young people, that seems like a recipe for cultural decline.
If you impress upon young readers that everything has been done before, and has been done by people who are smarter than you and better and earlier than you, then that’s just so limiting, you know?
It’s funny, I’ve never talked about this before, but that’s what Haggard West symbolizes in a way – that adventurer/explorer/scientist/athlete/artist/hero mindset. It’s pretty obvious – the name is like a Charles Dickens novel, and he’s killed in the opening scene. So he’s sort of a commentary on Western culture, in that sense.
Nrama: Well, it feels like we’re getting to that place again – that sense of “we’ve done everything,” and people are trying to reject that and getting into science again, into doing something new again, because what’s there has become very stagnant.
Pope: In fact, yesterday when I was talking to J.T. – he’s got kids, David has a kid, my editor is a dad – I’m sort of marveling at them, “How can you handle this many quadrants of your life? How can you focus?”
I’m starting to reject the computer, just using it to keep up with correspondences – things like social media seem very destructive on the creative personality. I need to be hyper-focused, have two or three days a week where I lock myself in my studio and just listen to music and work. I’m going to have to turn off the machines as Battling Boy’s next deadline approaches.
I think also for much of our history – change hasn’t happened that fast. Aside from dropping the bomb on Hiroshima or things like that, change is slow. And there are times people really look at it and talk about it and have public forums where they go, “is it good if we give everyone in the world a smart device, or everyone in the world Twitter?” I’m not lazzez-faire about this – I want there to be a dialogue about this.
I struggled for a while with carpal tunnel issues – it was terrifying. I’m struggling with eye issues because I’m looking at this stupid iPhone all the time and it’s too small to read and I feel like, “maybe I should just do what I did before, which was draw and read and exercise.”
I’m not being a Luddite – I don’t want to smash the machine, it’s a tool! But I find it’s become a big distraction with these new books coming up, and I don’t have time to drop the ball on things. It’s the Prestige, with a capital “P” – figuring out how you do this thing, and do this right.
Mark Siegel and I were talking recently, about getting this done, and he said something amazing to me. He said, “Don’t think of this as a graphic novel – think of it as the next panel. And when you finish it, you go on to that next panel, and then the panel after that, and eventually you have a graphic novel.” That’s been really great – almost like a Zen practice.
I think that’s necessary in this age, if you have a family or other jobs or even a personal life (laughs), you have to find ways to avoid being overwhelmed. It can feel like you’re opening a closet door and all this crap is going to fall on you, but you just have to know what’s coming at you. [Laughs]
Nrama: But it sounds like these books with First Second have given you a new sense of focus.
Pope: Oh yeah. I’d never heard of them before I sat down with them, and I had this vague idea about the child superhero, and I’d done a number of things with comics and music and fashion, but I wanted to figure out what was something new.
And this idea, young adult, SF/fantasy kind of storytelling, that excited me. A lot of what we consume is geared toward adults, especially in the comics industry. And a lot of my stuff kids shouldn’t be reading. [Laughs] Their parents might know my work, but they can’t give it to their kids! So I want that, something parents can give to their kids.
I was in Chicago for this event, and this librarian thanked me for Battling Boy because “now we have something to shelve next to Bone.” That was a great moment. You have a book in a school library, and a kid can discover it. We need books like that, books kids can discover in libraries and become excited about.
Nrama: Any creators whose work you’d recommend right now?
Pope: I’m excited for Dave Rubin – he has four books coming out this year aside from the two Aurora books. It’s exciting to see Becky Cloonan really storm the gates. Corey Lewis’ work is great. I love Ron Wimberly’s work, and it’s so exciting to see where he’s going.
Those are just the names that are off the top of my head. There’s so many I’ve left out! I’m not really looking at new work until I’m done with Battling Boy, because until then it’s just Jack Kirby and Moebius and Joseph Campbell.