There is a common misconception about Paul Pope. He is neither a cartoonist, nor an artist: He is a product of alchemy and poetry, a djinn made of ink and movement. He is a mathematical complexity, not to be solved. His latest project, the one-shot, "The Death of Haggard West" (being the title of the last issue of the non-existent series, "The Invincible Haggard West") from First Second Books, comes out in July, and will once again remind us that Pope is not of this world.
A single-issue precursor to Pope's October-releasing original graphic novel "Battling Boy," "West" sees the pulpy, eponymous hero do his best to defend Arcopolis from a bunch of hooded monsters. But things go south for our hero before issue's end, and neither his ray guns nor his jet pack can save him from death. But when one door closes, another opens, as Pope uses "West" as a set-up for "Battling Boy," also from First Second. Pope spoke with CBR News about why it was necessary to introduce the world to West, the vacuum the hero leaves in his wake and the heartbreak of killing him off.
CBR News: As a one-shot, "The Death of Haggard West" works well as story unto itself. But why take this particular approach leading into "Battling Boy?" I feel a little wrong in calling it a prologue --
Paul Pope: Yes, it is designed to read like a single issue of a comic book. It isn't a prologue, you're right. It's the end of the epic adventures of Haggard's life, and it ends in tragedy. It's a counter-intuitive way to introduce a new hero. I was hoping we could just release the comic as his "last" issue, not let people know he's doomed to die in the end, let that be a shock. Marvel and DC routinely kill off their heroes then bring them back again. Haggard is dead for good at the end of this one-shot, but his tragic ending sets a much larger wheel in motion, which sucks in the realms of gods and monsters, battling it out in the realm of humans.
Do you think that in the world of comics, a hero must die or fall in order for one to take its place?
No, but when a hero dies, it creates a vacuum. There is opportunity in that tragedy.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked West's character, an analogue of all those Batman-type characters that seem to be everywhere now. How did you get past the mundane when creating West?
A friend describes him as "Batman without the baggage," which kind of works. I've been pretty surprised he is being received so well. With Haggard, I'm trying to channel the vintage pulp hero types, like Doc Savage or The Shadow. He has some Indiana Jones in him, too. With Battling Boy being a young god, it was necessary to invest his story with a more familiar superhero, someone more experienced and wise, yet mortal.
Did you find it all heartbreaking killing him off like that?
Yes. I remember the day I drew his death scene. I woke up feeling foreboding and depressed. I don't usually have death scenes in my stories, come to think of it -- certainly not the death of the main hero!
What went into the design of West? It feels like there was a good amount of planning, since readers are treated to a fully-fleshed character complete with design schematics found at the end of the book. In fact, the entire book felt like a labor of love, like it could keep going.
I tend to put a lot of research into my characters' backstories and I try to design their gear and weapons in a realistic way. I like the challenge of drawing wrinkles and seams, trying to ink surfaces so the metal or chrome feels reflective and hard, the leather and wool feels soft and pliant. There are a lot of subtleties to his weapons and design which aren't apparent at first, but which you can pick up on a second read.
I wouldn't be surprised if your readership asked for more of "Haggard West." Is there a possibility of that happening?
The story is designed to be expandable, that's for sure. There's already a lot of interest in Haggard as a hero, and he has a larger role in the "Battling Boy" series, so this isn't the last we'll be seeing of him!
"Battling Boy" is coming soon, and everyone is anxiously awaiting its release, so I take "Haggard West" as a comic book trailer of sorts, if that makes sense. Is that its end goal?
Haggard's story introduces the problems plaguing Arcopolis, the massive city Battling Boy is sent to by his warrior god father. It primes readers for the larger story. Haggard still has a big role in the two books, and his presence is felt throughout the book. In ways, Battling Boy must measure up to Haggard, even though they never meet. When we were kids and "Empire Strikes Back" wasn't out yet, they released Boba Fett as a toy, introducing him to fans. I remember loving that -- that's kind of what I wanted for Haggard West.