With the return of the series Head Lopper now upon us, Rogues Portal recently had the opportunity to chat with creator Andrew MacLean. On shelves today, Issue #9 brings with it the beginning of a brand new arc called The Knights of Venora. From the creative process, what fans might expect from this new adventure, down to who he’d like to see play Norgal and Agatha in an animated adaptation– check out our interview below!
Never heard of the quarterly adventure series? I’ll let Maclean break it down for you…
For the unfamiliar, can you tell our readers what Head Lopper is about?
AM: Head Lopper follows the unlikely companions Norgal and the head of Agatha Blue Witch. They hate each other. Norgal, the Head Lopper, is a sword for hire who is famous the world over for cutting the heads off his foes. Each volume follows the duo around on some new adventure where they inevitably meet some monsters or men who will shortly meet their end.
When first forming an idea as grand in scope as Head Lopper is, do you start with the central characters and build out from there, or do you conceptualize a world first?
AM: I usually start with a character. I’ll start with a design before I have a name or a setting or anything else. It has to be fun to draw. If the drawing gets me excited, then I get curious about who that character is. And then I’ll get curious about their world. For me, the characters dictate everything that is to come. Once I’ve got a character and at least an impression of their world, I wonder what types of things would be exciting to watch them do. This helps me fine-tune the world and start populating it with other characters. As these characters materialize I start wondering who they are and what their motivations might be. Somewhere in answering all these questions, usually in that order or something similar, a story starts to find its way.
Did you have any notable influences when creating the series?
AM: When I first got started I was heavily influenced by Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, The Lord of the Rings, The Song of Ice and Fire. But as I moved forward other influences starting coming into play like Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, Hayao Miyazaki, The Legend of Zelda, Moebius.
Now you handle both the writing and art on this series, which always seems like it would be a daunting task. What are some of the advantages and challenges that come with that?
AM: It’s great! I really love it. Writing your own material to draw ensures you’ve got fun stuff to draw. As I am writing I am always conscious of how it will feel to draw. So if I am writing a dialogue-heavy scene I am really trying to make sure that the characters have actions to play out with their words. I don’t like to draw, or read for that matter, just pages of talking heads. As much as I am able, I am trying to make sure my script is written in a visually interesting way.
Another thing that’s great is when I am drawing from another writer’s script I am trying to figure out how the world looks panel by panel. I am doing my best to understand a world the writer has in their mind. It’s not really my world, it’s theirs. So it feels a bit incomplete to me. The world has gaping holes in it. If it’s not shown in a panel it probably doesn’t exist. When you write your own script you can kind of feel what was around a corner even if you never draw it. Your vision is so much more complete. I don’t know if you can point to where that is on a page, but I suspect you can feel it.
The only downside to writing your own scripts, that I can think of, has to just be the time it takes to do it. You’re taking on another job. Drawing takes so long you really have enough work on your plate without having to write as well. But for me, it’s really fun and creatively rewarding to do so, and so totally worth it.
Did you always envision this series being as visually vibrant and darkly humorous as it can be at times?
AM: I pictured it being visually interesting, or that was the goal anyway. When I got started I wanted to make a really simple, really exciting comic. I just wanted to make something fun. I found a lot of it funny though as I started to write, particularly Agatha. So I found myself thinking of ideas that cracked me up. When I started indulging some of those darkly humorous bits I kind of thought they were just for me. I didn’t think anyone else would even recognize the joke let alone laugh at it. When people came back and told me they thought it was funny I was surprised… but it was also heartwarming in a way. I realized, oh, I’m not alone. Lots of people have a really dark sense of humor. I felt strangely understood.
When planning the big action sequences throughout, what is that process like?
AM: I used to try to come up with fight scenes while running on a treadmill. Something about moving quickly made imagining Norgal running through a pack of giant wolves really easy.
I haven’t been to the gym in a long time now.
I also try to incorporate the setting whenever possible. It makes things really unpredictable, interesting, and sometimes funny. I think its something I noticed with Pirates of the Caribbean. In one of the movies, there was an elaborate sword fight while inside a giant rolling wheel. I thought, wow, you don’t see that in comics. That’s really fun fight choreography. Sometimes I will design a set specifically to be something to fight on, in, or around.
One common complaint about the fantasy genre is a lack of diversity. I’ve noticed over all the issues that HL features people of all color and size. Was this kind of representation important to you when introducing new places and characters?
AM: Yeah, I think it’s really important. I think a young person being able to see people who look like them in all the different types of roles can go a long way in giving them the confidence to dream a real dream. I think it can inspire them to be something that they otherwise might think is just not for people like them. If they only see themselves in a small handful of roles they will think, at least subconsciously, that the world only has a few places for them, or that the world doesn’t want them at all.
If Head Lopper was ever adapted to say, film or TV, who would you want to play Norgal & Agatha?
AM: In a live action scenario, I have no idea who should play Norgal. He’s too damn big. But in an animated scenario, I think the duo of Nick Offerman as Norgal and Megan Mullally as Agatha could be really really funny. They are both so perfectly suited to the roles, to begin with, and then add in the fact that they’re married? It’s too perfect.
Issue #9 opens with some backstory about our favorite decapitated head, Agatha. Will we get some more backstory to either Agatha or perhaps even Norgal as the series goes along?
AM: Yeah! In this new volume, Head Lopper & The Knights of Venora, each issue will have another flashback to that gruesome meeting. Each version is from someone else’s point of view and reveals a little more about the nature of Agatha’s power, how it pertains to this volume specifically, and what it means going forward for our oddly coupled heroes.
What else can fans look forward to from the latest arc, The Knights of Venora?
This volume is a big bookmark in the series. It completes a sort of opening trilogy. Most of a larger world has only been hinted at thus far. In Head Lopper & The Knights of Venora, the world gets cracked open a bit. Another layer gets peeled back. And for Norgal and Agatha, its really never the same.
We at Rogues Portal hope you have enjoyed our chat with series creator Andrew MacLean. For continued coverage of the series keep an eye on our site/social channels. You can find Head Lopper #9 efficiently slicing its way onto comic store shelves today.