Heavy metal sword-slinging is back in this week’s Head Lopper #9, now in its third arc from Image Comics -"The Knights of Venora." Norgal, the titular 'Head Lopper', is set on another adventure that leads him to the ancient and holy city of Venoriah, impending doom awaits and mysterious forces are plotting for his death yet again.
Over the past five years, cartoonist Andrew MacLean has given fans a rich world of sword and sorcery full of bizarre characters that’s a mix of The Legend of Zelda and Conan.
MacLean spoke to Newsarama this past weekend at Rose City Comic Con, discussing how he feels he has grown a a creator and the reason for enlisting his wife, Erin, for the book.
Newsarama: Andrew this is the start of the third Head Lopper arc, and we finally get a taste of Norgal and Agatha's origin here, what can you tell us about that scene in particular?
Andrew MacLean: Thusfar I’ve only hinted at the greater world of Head Lopper, the nature of Agatha’s magic, and why Norgal bothers to put up with her shenanigans. This being the third volume, and having put Norgal through the ringer at the Crimson Tower, I felt it was time to peel back another layer of the world. I also thought that both Norgal and the readers would want some more answers and direction.
The events that surround Agatha’s beheading have lead Norgal to believe the answers to his questions can be found in the city of Venoriah. So as we watch Norgal stumble through this adventure through the city we get to learn why he’s found himself here. In each issue of this arch we’ll get to see Agatha’s beheading from a different point of view. The culmination of each person’s experience will offer us a little more clarity into what Norgal’s dealing with and where he might go next.
Nrama: How do you think Norgal and Agatha's relationship has changed since the first arc? Has it gone the way you expected?
MacLean: As time has moved on they are still very much at odds. The only thing that that has changed is Norgal is in a low place at the moment. The deaths at the Crimson Tower lay heavy as well as the burden of Agatha herself. Agatha used to try to get Norgal’s goat almost as sport, now she seems disgusted with him. Norgal has also seen her magic cause massive destruction that in turn attracts the attention of many undesirables, sorcerers, demigods, necromancers. Keeping her secret and keeping her safe may have seemed a pretty easy job once, but as they moved forward he’s starting to realize it might not be as easy as he thought.
Nrama: How much time has passed since the events of "The Crimson Tower"?
MacLean: Between Volume 1 and 2 and again between 2 and 3 there was probably a year or two. Between 1 and 2, Norgal and Zhaania returned the hostages Zhaania saved at the end of Vol 1. Xho being one of them pledged herself to Zhaania and the foursome (Agatha included) sailed to the Crimson Tower to save Zhaania’s family.
Between 2 and 3, Norgal and Agatha traveled through the region angrily killing any menacing beast or creature they came across, sometimes for coin, sometimes as a self indulgent release of anger.
Nrama: Let's talk about how your style has evolved since starting Head Lopper, what, five years ago? How would you describe what you're doing now to what you were doing then in terms of composition and style?
MacLean: I’m always experimenting. While working on Volume 2 I looked at a lot of early Jaime Hernandez stuff, Moebius, and Hayao Miyazaki’s manga work and I started to fall in love with dramatic lighting - particularly in the case of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa. In my previous work, I had largely left lighting up to the colorist, with the exception of some high contrast shadows. After drooling over Miyazaki’s drawings for so much time I really felt I wanted to start interpreting a wider range of tone in my own line work. So I’ve started experimenting with different ways to express grey tones and shadow.
Nrama: Erin, your wife, joins the fray with lettering this arc. How did that come about?
MacLean: She also handles editing as well as design work. We’ve worked closely together for years and as deadlines became more and more difficult she would volunteer to pick up duties to make sure we didn’t deliver the book late. She’s always proofreading my books, but now, with Volume 3, I felt it has a lot of moving parts and another set of eyes on the script might help keep me from making mistakes. So now she edits me as well, which has been a big help in making sure I keep things consistent.
Nrama: You have Jordie Bellaire coming back for colors. What is it about Jordie's palete to fits your style so well?
MacLean: When we started out working together I asked her to color things pretty flat and just focus on interesting palettes. Her palettes are my favorite in comics and I feel flats not only serve line work really well but also really highlight color choices. In Volume 2 many of our scenes had color themes. We no longer have those themes in Volume 3 so Jordie is largely unchained. A few times in this first issue of the arch she let herself experiment a bit and she said she was nervous I wasn’t going to be on board - but I was very much on board. I think she not only makes things really exciting to look at but she’s a natural storyteller and she has found a way to lead the readers eye with her color choices. It's really such brilliant stuff. I’m so happy with the pages she turns in.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the city of Venoriah and the mysterious, colossal egg in the center?
MacLean: Many of the inhabitants of the Head Lopper universe (Narschlahn) are members of the Venoran religion, worshippers of the goddess Venora from which the city got its name. It serves as a sort of Vatican, or capitol city to the religion. However, the true nature of the giant egg that the city is built around has a bit of controversy surrounding it. The common Venoran believes it is the legendary speaking stone of Venora, where upon touching it the believer can speak with Venora herself. But the magic folk of the area i.e. goblins, trolls, tree folk, etc. believe it is the egg of a giant fire breathing toad god that upon the alignment of the three moons of Narschlahn, the egg will crack and the toad will eat the world. In Volume 3, the alignment of the moons is only a few days away. As the event nears, the magic folk start gathering near the city in preparation. They plan to get as close to their god as possible. But between them lies the many walls of Venoriah as well as its ample military.
Nrama: Norgal gets some new companions in this arc, for example Arlen, a young warrior who might have her own agenda. Who else is joining up with the Head Lopper?
MacLean: We’ll also see a lot of Arlen’s girlfriend Brishka who we don't know much about yet other than she stole Norgal’s bone knife and she does her best to remain unseen. Balan Falgor, the First Sword of the King has been wounded but as a father figure to Arlen, plays a major role. We also spend some time with Wallace, Second Sword to the King and a close compatriot of Arlen. With Balan wounded, Wallace assumes command of the military. Arch Cleric Florentine, a sort of Pope figure in the Venoran church, does what she can to assume political power and keep magic folk from entering the city. She is probably Arlen’s least favorite person.
Nrama: How do you feel like you've grown as a creator and writer since launching the initial Kickstarter for Head Lopper years ago?
MacLean: I think I am a better writer than I once was, or hope so. Originally, I wanted to make an exciting comic that was rather simple, almost predictable. But as I’ve spent more time with these characters and put them through some tough times I’ve enjoyed letting the events of their life, both good and bad, take affect on them and direct their decision making. Where I hadn’t spent that much time with any character back when we were self publishing, I didn’t have a grip on the emotional toll these adventures would take. As we’ve moved through these trying times I realized it wasn’t possible for them to move forward unaffected. Humans just don't work that way.