By Chris Ricci
To say the world of comics has gone through a revival is quite the understatement. Just a few years ago, the idea of superhero movies and television shows were almost strictly synonymous with nerd culture. Now, everyone has embraced the world of comics in more ways than one. We’ve got our obvious super-hero blockbuster films, but we also have television series (The Walking Dead, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones to name a few) that have sprung from the pages of a comic book to the mainstream. Comic publishers also have gone through a sort-of revival, as not all publishing houses feature the cliché men-in-tights superhero stories you may assume. One such publisher is Image, which proudly hosts The Walking Dead as well as bunch of other comics that are, for the lack of a better term, cerebral. As a major fan of Image comics, I was surprised to learn that a local artist and writer was not only going to be working for them, but also would be featuring one of their most ambitious projects yet.
Head Lopper is local artist Andrew MacLean’s epic tale of a warrior by the name of Norgal and his severed-head companion Agatha the Blue Witch and their journey through the Scottish Isle of Barra where countless colorful foes await. “It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on Conan The Barbarian meets Hellboy” said Andrew. “I wanted to do something that was very heavy metal and also made me feel like a kid watching the original Conan movies or the original Clash of the Titans.” Head Lopper is also a bit of a step in a different direction for Andrew, who has had a very diverse career in the comic world thus far. “First, I started out drawing from other writers' scripts and still do at times but I write and draw Head Lopper myself” he said. “Also, much of my past work was more Sci-Fi based, which I LOVE, in fact my graphic novel ApocalyptiGirl (Dark Horse Comics) is a sci-fi, but Head Lopper is total fantasy like Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones.”
Andrew had a youthful passion for comics that dwindled. “I was really young, probably five or younger. I have an older brother and somehow we always had at least a handful of comics in the house. I fell in love with the characters and the art” he said. “I did stop reading comics in high school. I got into music and didn't draw as much at the time and they just didn't interest me as for a while.” Then, Andrew got a taste of what the comic scope became, and was rather excited to get back into them. “I got back into comics when I was maybe 24 or so and I think it was mostly because I found Hellboy and Mike Mignola's work and it showed me that comics were something more than just Marvel and DC superhero stuff” said Andrew. “The art could be anything, the stories could be anything. And just like that comics were exciting again.”
One thing that makes Head Lopper a bit different than the others in the same field is the sheer size of it. Because it’s a quarterly comic, there are far more pages than you would see in a more traditional comic, and this was done for a very good reason. “Head Lopper is an action comic, if there is a long fight scene its eats up a huge chunk of the book. But I can put out a 60 page book quarterly and include all the action I want without subtracting from story” he said. “Also, it gives me three months to make each book, which hopefully means I can create a more positive work-life balance instead of spending all day and all night, 7 days a week alone, hunched over the drawing table neglecting my wife.” Andrew and his wife moved to Salem a few years back, and noticed immediately that the city had an awful lot to offer. “My wife and I moved to Salem because it seemed like a fun town, and it is, but I didn't realize how many artists are in the area - including other cartoonists” said Andrew. “So the North Shore is a super great area to be an artists, at least socially speaking.
Andrew, like many of us, has noticed how the town has changed in such a short period of time. “I've only lived here in Salem for three years but it does feel like it has changed. New artsy shops open up all the time, art shows are becoming more and more common, and it seems like the Peabody Essex ‘ups’ its game all the time” he said. “It's been exciting to see. I expect the shift will continue to be more art friendly. With an environment and community like this more and more creative people are attracted to the area. It’s great!”
Head Lopper and Image seemingly go hand-in-hand, as the comic initially was a Kickstarter campaign. Self-publishing was fun, but for Andrew, working with Image has certainly changed the game. “Image is doing great these days and it's in large part because they really respect the creators and treat them well. When I started making the Head Lopper comic I self-published it which is a ton of work” he said. “Eventually I got tired of all the extra, non-creative work, and threatened to get out of self-publishing. A friend of mine who works a lot with Image recommended Head Lopper to their Editor in Chief, who really liked it and contacted me about bringing it to Image.” Head Lopper is due to conclude next October, but Andrew is already working hard on the future to some extent. “I'd like to continue with Head Lopper after we complete this story, but I have other ideas for books some I'd like to write for other artists and I have had other writer's express interest in working together” he said. “But at the same time I try not to plan too far out into the future because things seem to change in a flash in this industry and I don't want to make too many obligations that I may or may not be able to keep when that time comes.”
Andrew MacLean’s jump from Kickstarter to Image was certainly not the easiest transition in the world, but has proven again that sometimes it’s best to take risks as opposed to waiting for things to happen. “Personally, I would much rather fail miserably then go to my grave only ever having sat on my hands” he said. “Besides, it's not like there's a group of people waiting for you to make a comic so they can throw darts at it or something. You want to make comics? The path is simple. Make comics.”
Head Lopper Issue #2 is out on December 9th, and you can pick it up at Silver Moon Comics at the Museum Place Mall, Harrisons Comics on Essex Street, or wherever comic books are sold closest to you!