Paul Pope does not write kids' stuff. The comic artist/writer is best known for his Eisner Award-winning Batman series, Batman: Year 100, a gritty dystopian take on the Dark Knight. But Pope's first foray into comics for younger audience isn't strictly kids' stuff either. Battling Boy introduces us to the city of Acropolis, where a young boy must step up and become the hero for a people under siege from a band of monsters, demons, and all sorts of unsavory types. Battling Boy has so much here for both kids and adults alike, and it's why we picked it as one of the Best Books of 2013 in Comics & Graphic Novels.
Pope talked to us about writing for a younger audience, imagining Acropolis, and what's next for the series.
Why did you want to write a comic for teens?
I saw a dearth of really good science-fiction/adventure comics written for a young audience, featuring superheroes the age of the young readers themselves. Battling Boy is good for anybody around nine or older. Also, writing something literally "all ages" was an appealing challenge for me. Most of my twenty years in comics has been in making comics which would be considered R-rated, or at least aimed for adults. As we've been touring the States and Canada for Battling Boy--and soon, UK and France--I am meeting readers as young as ten years old, who are new to graphic novels, and take Battling Boy at face value, and also readers as old as early '60s, people who grew up on Golden and Silver Age comics, who can see all the classic themes and tropes and even cliches I am trying to infuse into Battling Boy.
What differences did you find in the creative process writing for a younger audience?
Actually, the process is pretty much the same as with my other books, although because of the scale of this one, the script had to be much tighter than any others before, even my Batman Year 100 book. I'm not able to really work in my preferred process lately, which is to work straight thru for two or three days, taking a break only to eat and sleep, then take a day off to rest and do other stuff. Since there is so much more management and outside activities I need to engage in for Battling Boy, I find I am trying to work in shorter bursts of daily focused work. No days off lately. I work up thumbnails from my main script, then move to pencils and finally, inks using a brush. My new studio has no internet, which was a move I made to preserve creative concentration. I have an assistant who scans the art for me and does some production work like that.
I loved Acropolis--which is both gritty and hostile but also brightly colored and full of imagination. What inspired the city?
Around the time I was starting work on this book, I had a chance to visit Napoli and Capri, in southern Italy, and I realized I wanted this city to feel Mediterranean, with the volcanic rocks and the blue-green/terra cotta colors. I also wanted the city to feel like a war-torn city, like what we see out of Baghdad or Beirut, a city under siege, half standing and half in tatters. I wanted it also to feel a bit like the old Flash Gordon serials, with the pre-WW2 science and Deco architecture. I definitely didn't want this to be New York or Tokyo or something and see a huge monster scale the Empire Building again, which has been done to death.
Generally speaking, comics feature too few strong, interesting female protagonists, but this is something that young adult novels do very well. Did YA literature influence Aurora at all?
Aurora is sort of based on my sister, who was a headstrong and determined tomboy as a kid. I really like tomboys, and wanted a tough girl to be Battling Boy's foil. It was only later I realized she fits into a mold that is well established for YA fantasy/science-fiction heroines. I wanted to have a girl who is the inheritor of all the power and secrets of an Iron Man or Indian Jones-type hero, whereas Battling Boy is the son of a Warrior God and Goddess. So together, Aurora and BB are like the inheritors of, on the one hand, science, and on the other, magic, or at least an ancient mythic tradition.
When will we see the next installment of Battling Boy?
The next book in the expanded series is The Rise Of Aurora West, a second series focusing on Aurora, which ties back into the larger Battling Boy series. This is next fall, co-written by myself and JT Petty, and drawn by David Rubin. I couldn't be happier than to have David on the book. He was my top pick, and I knew I wanted a European artist on the book (David is from Spain). We are coding the two series with lots of story elements and visuals and characters which appear in both series. I am currently working on the second Battling Boy book, which I am writing and drawing on my own, and it will be appearing sometime within the year following Aurora. After that, there is the second Aurora book. So :01 and I are working to expand Battling Boy into a universe of stories which interconnect. It's all very exciting and challenging.