Puzzles And Pugs: An Interview With Mike Norton
By Mark Banaszak

Librarians as adventure heroes! Pugs as mythical beasts! These are just two elements of the latest works from comic creator Mike Norton. Gaining notoriety in the last decade for his artwork on titles such as Marvel Comics' Runaways and Image Comics' Revival, Norton has turned his talents to his own creations lately, two of which are collected by Dark Horse Comics.

Battlepug Vol. 2: This Savage Bone ($14.99, 978-1-61655-201-5, currently available) is the second volume collecting Norton's hit webcomic starring a Conan the Barbarian-type hero and his steed, a giant pug – an idea that began as a t-shirt design and due to demand grew into an actual, Esiner Award-winning comic.

Battlepug Vol. 2A more relatable (to readers of this web site, at least) hero appears in The Answer! ($12.99, 978-1-61655-197-1, November release) in which a librarian super-genius encounters a mind-bending conspiracy, a life-altering offer, and an inexplicable costumed adventurer.

BookShelf spoke with Norton about Battlepug and The Answer!

Since Battlepug started as a t-shirt design, how easy was it to expand this initial image into an ongoing comic?

Extremely. I was afraid I wouldn't have any ideas for it, but it was much quicker to come to mind than I thought. It was just purely me pulling stuff out of thin air. I just turned my imagination on and it all came out. Since I was given no restrictions by any bosses, I did whatever I wanted. So much fun.

There's a lot of humor in the comic, but there’s also a great deal of appropriately epic adventuring. Do you have to work to strike the right balance between the two, or does that come naturally?

Yeah, but I'm finding it kind of natural to do. My one rule when writing is to ONLY do what I think FEELS right. I knew that I wanted it to be a fun story, not necessarily a FUNNY story. There are much funnier guys out there making comics, I'm not ready to jump into that pool yet.

Were you a fan of Conan and/or pulp fantasy/adventure?

Not exactly. I mean, I grew up with movies like Conan and the Sword and the Sorcerer and Beastmaster and Krull. The Conan comics and Dungeons and Dragons were definitely there, but they weren't the "top of my stack" so to speak. That stuff is definitely part of my make-up, though. It was certainly an influence.

Why did you decide to produce Battlepug as a webcomic before having it in print?

I didn't know anybody would publish it!! Seriously, I wanted to try writing and drawing my own comic and this was the cheapest and safest way for me to do. It was also the quickest way to find out if people actually liked it. Luckily, a lot of people seem to.

How did it feel to win the Eisner for Battlepug?

Incredible. It's one of those things you always want as an artist, you know? Validation. And I won for something I created from scratch at a time when I was wondering if I could actually make a career making my own comics. It was extremely gratifying.

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What was the inspiration behind the Answer?

The Answer!Lots of things. It was born out of the comics I loved as a kid. Heavily influenced by old Romita Spider-Man and Ditko super-hero stories. Add a dash of mystery and creepy cult stuff (I have a weird fear of cults, for some reason.) and there's The Answer. Also, I just really liked the costume when I drew it the first time!

You've said you had the concept but that Dennis Hopeless (who scripted the story) fleshed it out. How much did you have when he came aboard?

I had most of the core of the characters and their journey. Dennis came in and actually made a story out of it. He gave the story structure and gave them things to do. He helped connect the dots on the motivations and outcomes. I guess I had the bricks of the story and he put it together with fancy decorative mortar. That analogy comes purely from my preoccupation with re-tiling my kitchen's backsplash, by the way.

The protagonist of The Answer! is a librarian. Was that part of the initial concept, and how did you decide to go with a librarian hero?

Yes. She was also a librarian. I wanted her to be a woman and a librarian. I wanted her to be a real woman. The only difference is that she's the smartest person in the world. It was important for me to do that. I liked the idea of her hiding behind her books and puzzles until she was forced to fight for her life and the fate of the world.

Why aren’t there more librarian heroes?

Who knows? It's probably the opposite of what people think of when they think of heroes. I figured somebody with all that knowledge would incredibly useful as a hero. Even if she doesn't know it quite yet!

Why did you go with Dark Horse for these books?

I've been an admirer of the company for a long time! They were interested in putting Battlepug out in the beautiful format that it exists in today, and they've been quite supportive of The Answer. Of course, I went with them! I plan on doing a lot more with Dark Horse in the future as well!

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