A few years ago, a simple request for a t-shirt design to artist Mike Norton grew into an Eisner Award-winning, multi-volume webcomic. Norton publishes a new page of his Battlepug saga every week, and hardcovers collecting the series are released yearly. To celebrate the release of the third Dark Horse-published volume, I spoke with Norton about his dog-starring epic.
Did you have a specific plan when you started posting pages for Battlepug?
Yeah, I figured if I was gonna start doing it I should know where I was going. Not having written a whole lot before, that was one thing that I did know, that you should have a beginning, middle and end for your story. I didn’t write it down but I had it in my head so it’s just kind of meandered from point A to point B but I know how it ends and all that stuff.
Did you know it was going to be published by Dark Horse at the time?
No. I didn’t know any of that. I just put it out there because I’d just done the 24-hour Comics Challenge [Note: also about pugs] and I really liked the experience of it. I have a lot of writer friends who make comics for a living and I didn’t want to go through the whole come-up-with-a-story pitch process thing; I just wanted to get it done. I was just super-excited and wanted to do something so I put it online and I think it was less than a month before people started asking me about it. I didn’t have any publishers in mind when I put it out there.
How do you write Battlepug?
It’s Marvel style, sort of. I don’t really write it. I’ve gone back and forth with writing out the plot on paper… an outline! That shows you how much experience I have I struggle with the word outline [laughs]. I have major milestone points written out and every week is kind of a page and a scene, but I also wanted it to be a full beginning-middle-end strip because it only comes out every week. So I started writing those as I was drawing them. It felt more like I was drawing a comic book because with a comic book I know where one left off and the other started so I would write them as I went along knowing where I was going. So I know where it’s going while I write it, so I kind of draw-write it.
I was going to mention they all seem to hold up as pages on their own.
Yeah. A lot of the webcomics out there tell stories in one page. And there are the old time serials where you kind of have to assume the person reading it is never going to read it again, so you wanna sorta give them something to end off.
Does it take longer to write that kind of page than a typical page?
Yeah. I mean, you have to think about that stuff while you’re drawing it. If you’re writing a comic book you already know what’s gonna happen on the next page and you know that person is gonna flip the page after that and you can leave things unsaid. You don’t have that pressure. But I’ve only written a couple things myself for comic books and those I prefer to type out so I know what’s happening from page to page.
This is kind of a technical question, but what are the dimensions of the Battlepug pages?
I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head! I kind of tried to get the ratio that you would see with the browser open so that you’d be able to see the whole thing. I looked at a couple other comics that were using it and it’s pretty much the same dimensions as I think maybe Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo.
I think I read that Scott Allie told you it was the longest comic he’d ever publisher at DH?
Yeah, like physically longest?
They may have made bigger by now. They hadn’t done a horizontal size like that. When I started drawing it I was thinking of something like a French album and luckily they went with that.
It looks great on the bookshelf. You’ve been very adaptable with your drawing style over the years. Would you say Battlepug is your ideal drawing style?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think I’d get bored if I just drew… it’s hard to answer that. I mean, Battlepug is the most natural for me. If I were sitting at a restaurant drawing on a piece of paper I would probably draw [in that style]. But I enjoy drawing the way I do with my straight comic work where it’s more representational and more comic book-y. But I do like cartooning. Cartooning is very natural and easy to me and I don’t think of it as work. That might be why I am hesitant to even think that I write Battlepug. It’s kind of just a thing that I do just because it’s very natural. But yeah, I would say that it’s more me than it’s what naturally spills out but I have a lot of fun doing the other things.
Battlepug is on its fourth volume as a webcomic. Do you know how many volumes the series will be in total?
Five, I think, but I’m trying to make everything work out in my head. Now that we’re close to the end of Volume 4, I have to wrap up all the loose ends in 52 pages of story. I’ve never had that kind of problem before and I said I know where everything is heading, but now I have to make everything make sense [laughs]. I mean there have been a couple of times from the past four years that i’ve allowed myself to meander and wander around the story. Now i have to buckle down and start actually paying attention.
Last question: what do you like so much about pugs?
What do I like so much about pugs? [laughs] I like the what do you call it… not the dichotomy… they don’t make sense. They descended from animals that probably hunted and stuff and now they’re just these ridiculous animals that can’t live without us. I just kind of like the absurdity of that. I think that they are ridiculous and lovable and I just like animals in general. That’s kind of why i wanted to do the comic. So I could just draw whatever stupid animal comes into my head. But dogs are a big favorite and I have two of my own pugs and I think they’re just ridiculous animals. They just make me laugh is all.
[Laughs] Well, your love for them definitely shows.