And lo, the barbarian returns. No, not Conan.... Head Lopper.
This week, Andrew MacLean's creator-owned title Head Lopper returns with its fifth issue and a new story-arc, "Head Lopper and the Crimson Tower." The quarterly Image Comics title by MacLean and colorist Jordie Bellaire mixes sword, sorcery, with an ample dose of gallows humor and a talking detached head.
Newsarama spoke with MacLean about Head Lopper and the world of Barra, and the cartoonist talked about how the Norgal character changed his career and when/if he might ever hang up his sword.
Newsarama: Andrew, we've been talking about Head Lopper since it was a Kickstarter campaign back in 2013, did you ever think this had the legs like it has?
Andrew MacLean: No. Definitely not. Head Lopper was kind of my "f-ck it, let's do something fun" project. Also, I just wanted to draw something that I had written myself. I didn't even pitch the very first installment, even funded the early print runs myself. I just wanted it to exist. But also, any project you create while thinking about what might or might not be a "success" is off to a pretty bad start. You'll toss so many potentially decent ideas out the door before you even put pen to paper.
Nrama: So with Head Lopper's first arc ending the way it did, where do you have Norgal at the beginning of this next chapter?
MacLean: The epilogue showed us Norgal and Agatha getting on the boat, so this issue begins with where that boat takes them. They've run into Zhaania Kota Ka, who we met briefly in #3, and now everyone's path runs together for a bit.
Nrama: You've been showing off process pieces and hints of characters over the course of the year. We've talked in the past how you took some influence from the likes of Masters of the Universe and Hayao Miyazaki films for the visuals, where are you going with the aesthetics this time around?
MacLean: Yeah, in this new arc I'm pulling in toy design stuff I dig, like Masters of the Universe, some video game stuff--particularly Legend of Zelda, Miyazaki stuff for the settings and stories, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser/classic pulp fantasy stuff. Basically, it took a long time to make volume one and in the meantime I've seen, read, and watched a bunch of great stuff and it’s all kind of finding a way into the second volume.
Nrama: You're also in works with famed crafters the Skeleton Crew to make a Norgal vinyl toy. Can we expect any other kind of Head Lopper merchandise this year? Maps, miniature sword letter openers maybe?
MacLean: Yeah, I'm not at liberty to say for the most part. But I really enjoy just making things and I've made some great friends who are really good at that stuff. So yeah, look for a handful of fun collaborations in the coming year or two.
Nrama: You've been posting a lot of images and hints of new characters, can you talk about any of them? Or the new villain?
MacLean: Yeah, when we met Zhaania in the third issue, she mentioned being on her own adventure. This new arc is that adventure she was talking about. Then, later, in the epilogue of the first volume, Zhaania freed a handful of girls that we only saw briefly way back at the beginning of the first issue. They were being held captive by the Monks, Xho is one of those girls. In her gratitude for being saved by Zhaania, Xho sticks by Zhaania's side and, in turn, Zhaania has become her mentor, teaching her the art of being a warrior.
Since she is the true catalyst, in large part, of this story, "Head Lopper and The Crimson Tower" is Zhaania's story.
As for the bad guys, their roles are tied to Zhaania's quest, so I'll save that bit for the book.
Nrama: Looking back, has Head Lopper changed your career?
MacLean: Oh, big time. I did ApocalyptiGirl of course, but I had already started Head Lopper at that point. I'm super grateful to have it because I have a blast making it.
Nrama: Lastly, do you feel like you have a finite end to Norgal's saga?
MacLean: I have some fun bigger picture things in the works that I think people will appreciate. But a final end is still murky in my mind. I don't want to plan an end just yet. I feel like if I was to walk a very rigid path I would get super bored. The idea of being bored while making a comic sounds like the very best way to make a boring comic. Or at least this is how I make comics. Everyone seems to do it a little different.