by Jarrod Jones. For heart-thumping visuals, a poetic heart, and an absolutely devastating amount of decapitations, look no further than Head Lopper.
The saga of Norgal and Agatha the Witch continues in The Knights of Venoriah, the third volume in Andrew MacLean’s critically lauded series. Published by Image Comics annually in four over-sized issues, each successive Head Lopper arc has seen MacLean explore the high fantasies and visually inspiring comics that thrilled him growing up—there are the Conan novels, of course, which blends furiously with the work of Jaime Hernandez and Hayao Miyazaki. And then there’s The Lord of the Rings, which MacLean says holds a larger influence on this latest storyarc. “Particularly when it comes to the Goblin armies,” he says. “There will be catapults, and ladders, wall fights and probably a giant flying snake.”
Andrew MacLean took time out of his crammed schedule of cons, working on this ever-expanding fantasy comic series, and keeping up with his apparel brand Laser Wolf Attack with his wife Erin (who also edits, designs and letters Head Lopper), to speak with DoomRocket about Head Lopper and the Knights of Venoriah, which begins this week.
1. If you would, please give our readers a quick breakdown of the story to ‘Head Lopper and the Knights of Venora’.
Andrew MacLean: In the Knights of Venora, Norgal and Agatha go to the city of Venoriah to touch the Stone of Venora to ask her for guidance in their quest. Problem is, the city is under imminent threat of Goblin war, which has inspired a “magic ban” in the city, making Agatha an outlaw. Meanwhile, Archcleric Florentine, answering to the desires of a mysterious Dark Lord, sees Norgal and Agatha’s presence as a possible catalyst in her bid for the throne of Venoriah.
2. The first volume of ‘Head Lopper’ had clear thematic influences from Robert E. Howard and George R.R. Martin. These influences extended to ‘The Crimson Tower’, which also had flourishes of Gilbert Hernandez and Hayao Miyazaki. With ‘The Nights of Venora’, what inspirational itch are you looking to scratch?
AML: There’s definitely a Miyazaki theme running through this one as well, maybe more so. The story structure is more Miyazaki-ish than anything else I think. One of the new and very central characters, Arlenfor, reminds me of Nausicaä mixed with Arya Stark. But there will also be a bit of the Lord of the Rings this time around, particularly when it comes to the Goblin armies; there will be catapults, and ladders, wall fights and probably a giant flying snake. That all feels very LOTR to me.
3. With this latest volume, I’ve noticed yet another evolution to your artwork. For one, you are using far more lines—be they straight, squiggly, or otherwise—to depict depth and shadow, something I noticed was developing over the course of ‘The Crimson Tower’. Where is this change coming from, creatively? Where do you think your craft is evolving towards?
AML: Last year I read a lot of Jaime Hernandez, Moebius, and Miyazaki and I think a lot of that stuff has really started to show up in my work. I’ve been particularly taken with Miyazaki’s Nausicaä manga. His drawings in that book are so gorgeously rendered with such dramatic lighting. I really started to think about lighting more and in doing so I had to start thinking about how to express more greyscale rather than the more stark contrasts I’ve used in the past.
4. I’ve read issue #9, and immediately I couldn’t help but notice that Agatha was up and walking around on her own two legs. What kind of hints can you give readers about this alarming development? How will this change the established paradigm between Norgal and Agatha?
AML: Well, it’s a flashback. Each issue of the arc will show the origin, or the beheading of Agatha from a different point of view. Each point of view offers us new and vital information that not only paints a picture of their first meeting but also ties into what’s happening in Venoriah now and what that means for Norgal and Agatha going forward. This volume is pretty pivotal for our main cast. I’m leaning a little heavier into big picture stuff this time.
So their dynamic is much the same, only change being Norgal has to really keep Agatha hidden all the time. She has to remain quiet or risk getting thrown out of Venoriah. Norgal tries bribing and jamming her in a basket but as you probably guessed, she’s not too crazy about it.
5. Your scheduling of ‘Head Lopper’ is structured incredibly well: 4 issues, 38 pages per, delivered quarterly. We’re seeing more creators opting for the graphic novel series approach, such as Fletcher/Tarr/Stewart’s ‘Motor Crush’ and BOOM! Studios’ ‘Fence’. Have you considered dropping a new volume of ‘Head Lopper’ once a year in this fashion? What are the benefits to publishing quarterly, aside from the obvious creative ones?
AML: I’ve thought of just the graphic novel approach a few times but mostly because the schedule would be easier to keep. But people still read the individual issues. If no one read the singles, I’d say OGN all the way. For the moment though it’s not broken, so don’t fix it.
What do you think about the graphic novel series approach? Do you think we’ll see more of this in the years to come from other creators and publishers?
Yeah, I think we’ll see more of it. It’s akin to dropping an entire series of a show on a streaming service. We want it all at once so we can absorb it at our own time and at our own pace. We’ve been spoiled in that manner and I think comics will adapt to meet those expectations.
6. You once said that you’re happier with the final product when you letter the book yourself. This volume of ‘Head Lopper’, much like most of Vol. 2, brings your wife, Erin, to the series as letterer, editor and designer. With Jordie Bellaire coming back as colorist, ‘Head Lopper’ has become a larger team effort. How has this growth changed your approach to producing the book?
AML: It’s made it easier. Time is still always the thing there isn’t enough of. But Erin runs our company Laser Wolf Attack and she’s really good at streamlining processes. She’s got a real talent for spotting inconsistencies or issues before they arise. Working alongside her for a couple years now, we just have our heads together on every project we tackle. Slowly but surely she started picking up more comic jobs to ensure Head Lopper made its deadlines and so along the way she’s gotten more and more credits in the titles. Now going into Volume Three, which has a lot of moving parts, I felt I could use her help on my scripts in an effort to keep it all consistent and on track. The comic will definitely be better for it.
7. Can you imagine bringing on other creatives to the series for, say, a one-shot or standalone OGN? Artists, writers? If so, who’s on your wish-list?
AML: Yeah, sure. I always thought it would be fun to give the characters to someone like James Harren or Toby Cypress and let them loose on a backup or an issue. I’d have them write it and draw it. I just think it would be exciting to see what they came up with. Really there are a lot of creators that would be fun to see mess around with it.
I also always thought that there’s so many damn characters in the world, I’m sure a few could support a spinoff of some sort. I’ve been much to busy to consider it beyond a passing fantasy, but think it could be done.
8. One thing that has always stood out to me about ‘Head Lopper’ is your pacing. It reminds me of spaghetti westerns, mostly, where there are stretches of silence followed by subtle character moments followed by raucous action mayhem. What goes through your mind when you’re pacing an issue, and what techniques have you applied over time to maximize its effect?
AML: Well I really love a little atmosphere in a comic. I love how in Lone Wolf and Cub you can have six pages of just grass in the wind and maybe Ogami Itto pushing his cart. That kind of atmosphere carries a lot of attitude and really highlights the moments to come in contrast. That’s something I try to accomplish in Head Lopper.
I don’t, however, pace out an entire issue beforehand. I really just have an order of scenes in my head and some are in your face and some are subdued. And while I’m not specifically a fan of silent comics, I do love a moment where you can feel what a characters feels without any dialogue. So in those moments I do a lot of facial close ups or even just a look at a characters eyes.
Silence can be used humorously too though. Each panel takes a moment to look at, and there can be a lot of comedy in timing. So sometimes I will use silent panels as a way to either give the character a second to think about their response or just slow the reader down before they get to a punchline. I think those pause panels go along way in bringing the reader into the pace of the conversation happening on the page.
9. What does a day in the life of Andrew MacLean look like these days? Between this, your frequent con presence, and your apparel brand Laser Wolf Attack, where does sleep/private life/hobbies fit in?
AML: I don’t sleep, have a private life, or a hobby. Not that I’d dare complain about it. I really enjoy it even if my body is slowly breaking down.
On the average day my wife, Erin, and I get up; she goes for a walk because she’s a healthy responsible person, and I grab a book and a coffee and plunk on the couch with the dog. When she gets home we have breakfast together. Then I draw until lunch. After lunch, I draw until dinner. Then we walk the dog together. We watch an episode of whatever TV show we’re working our way through. Then we read in bed for a bit.
That’s it! While I’m drawing Erin runs all the Laser Wolf Attack stuff, which is a lot. She works just as long and hard as I do. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but we probably work probably 10-12 hours a day 6-7 days a week.
10. Your pick for the ultimate published ‘Conan’ novel, please.
AML: Oh god, on the spot. Honestly, I have a poor memory for titles—but I remember one where he fought a giant snake, which of course brings to mind the famous Frazetta painting. Reading it for the first time it just felt so simple and perfect. I loved it.
The other that still stands out in my mind started with Conan on a small boat where he was trying to find a place to climb onto this weird forbidden island. He found a way on of course and was able to slip into this super bizarre city. I forget the details of the city but I just remember it being a really surreal and strange setting.
Not a great answer, its been quite a few years since I’ve read them.
‘Head Lopper’ #9 hits stores this Wednesday.
Check out Alan Brown’s variant cover to ‘Head Lopper’ #9, courtesy of Image Comics!
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