Andrew MacLean’s ApocalyptiGirl is a bold and delightful first graphic novel dropping today from Dark Horse Comics. I was deeply impressed by the work that Andrew did on this book, with smart world-building and an intriguing lead character (and her cat). I caught up with Andrew at this year’s Emerald City Comic-Con to discuss ApocalyptiGirl and much more.
Jason Sacks: This is your first graphic novel, right?
Andrew MacLean: It is. My first graphic novel, my first solo thing. I have a comic called Head Lopper that I’ve self-published for a while. I’ve done a handful of things at different publishers, but this is my first full-on solo effort like this.
CB: Tell me about ApocalyptiGirl.
MacLean: It takes practice to say the name. It’s a tongue twister. I have a hard time talking about it.
It’s basically about this post-apocalyptic world with the main character, Aria, and her cat. They’re on a mission searching through the rubble and the forest for this ancient relic of immeasurable power. Basically it was the catalyst for the destruction, but it also could have been created a paradise on earth, basically. So they are trying to find this thing. And the original residents, the actual original humans, kind of have reverted back to an old way of life. They are all savages. So they don’t even know about that history anymore. They are very territorial. They basically are a hindrance on her mission.
So as you go through different levels, technology comes into play, some other types of humans. There is like tribes kind of thing come in. Levels of technology come in. Because it is a post-apocalyptic type genre, I was really inspired by Tekken and Akria. I just felt like manga really grasps that apocalyptic feel better than a lot of American things.
CB: But it has a lighter and smoother style than most apocalyptic stories do, if that is fair to say.
CB: Is that one of the words you’ve used to describe your art on it?
MacLean: Surely, yeah, definitely. Well, in my comic Head Lopper, the scenery is based on the highlands of Scotland. And I found it really beautiful to draw nature by the time I did a lot of that. Then the idea of going into this post-apocalyptic thing and drawing either sandstorms or just rubble sounded dull. I didn’t like the idea of a whole year drawing things that weren’t beautiful.
So I wanted an apocalypse that was just beautiful. I’m not the first to do it. It is like crumbed cities and destroyed craters of stuff, but it is full of pine trees and waterfalls and stuff, weaving in and out. So you will see a skyscraper that is crumbled in half, but all of these trees are growing out of the inside of it.
CB: That is an intriguing thing. If mankind was to die tomorrow, would the world be a better place?
MacLean: Exactly. I guess, not that I usually have a deeper point to things, but that is kind of the question I ask myself. And that kind of inherently shows up in the book. How fast would nature reclaim what we have undone?
CB: It’s a great question.
MacLean: I think the answer is probably pretty fast and it would probably be really beautiful, you know what I mean?
CB: Right. And then we’d have no idea how to survive in that world.
MacLean: Exactly. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. But more than anything, more than trying to make a point of that, I just wanted to see what I imagined what it would look like.
CB: Did the visual come with the story or did one come before the other? How did the story evolve?
MacLean: Basically I had the character. And this is usually how my stories evolve. I have a character and I can’t help but wonder what kind of world they are in or what their personality is like. And with those answers come the events that would take place. It is usually kind of fluid. I’m not usually sitting down laboring over it. I’m not doing some kind of structure really. It starts there. When I sit down, I’m like, “Oh, I just came up with something. What order does that come into?” That’s kind of where it goes from there.
CB: I think your art is also very detailed. Is that a style you have developed yourself or is that particular to the story?
MacLean: I drew the whole thing in my own style. However, being that it is all forest mixed with rubble, the story itself is just higher detail. Like I said, my Head Lopper stuff is wider landscapes, so it feels much simpler. ApocalyptiGirl is buildings and trees and stuff. I had to be drawing them weaving in and out of each other, nature and man stuff. So it is just kind of inherently that it is going to have to be more detailed.
Like her home is an abandoned subway car in a subway station. It’s like, “How do I take the image of a subway car that I am familiar with and fill it with all personal objects?” It is just going to be getting more and more busy, but also hopefully beautiful. I want it to be kind of pretty.
CB: Well that is the coloring, too. You did the coloring yourself, I assume.
MacLean: I did.
CB: The art really responds with pastel coloring in it.
MacLean: Oh, thanks.
CB: It feels natural. You know, it is not the Walking Dead post-apocalypse world.
MacLean: Yeah, that is exactly it. I didn’t want it to be that. Not that I am against that.
CB: No, it’s a contrast.
MacLean: I just wanted it to be pretty. I wanted it to be something my eyes would be comfortable looking at for a year. But I went into it not even saying I want xyz type of palettes, but I wanted it to be almost expressive in a way. Or reminiscent of a time of day or that area. So if it’s in the subway tunnel, everything is going to be brownish or in warm colors. When we’re in the subway car, it is kind of like pinks and purpley kind of things. If it is like sun setting outside, it’s going to be yellows, oranges, reds, and stuff. So I tried to not to be literal I guess with the colors. I guess it is expressive.
CB: I think it is expressive.
CB: It all fits the overall vision, right?
MacLean: I’m happy with the way it came out. Even the book design they did for me and the paper it is on, I am really happy with it so far.
CB: So as a first full graphic novel, it sounds like a very happy project for you.
MacLean: Yeah. I love making comics anyways. I never went into it thinking I would be a graphic novelist. Any length is just a comic really to me. But there are certain types of papers. And I love graphic design. So there are certain ideas I have and Dark Horse nailed it head to toe.
CB: You just put your finger on what struck me. The book has a design element to it.
MacLean: Yeah. I love shapes and I love color. I am big Mike Mignola fan, Gabriel Ba, a lot of artists. I know a lot of French artists and stuff, more and more anyways. And a lot of artists I gravitated towards are really shaped based. And that is why. I used to do some graphic design. When I used to do some posters or flyers and things, I really enjoyed that because all it was shifting shapes and color around. I think once I got into comics, I think that just kind of came with me.
CB: I think you just put your finger on why I liked it so much because I am a big fan of Moon and Ba.
MacLean: Oh, god, right?
CB: I’m a huge fan of that stuff. We actually met him at San Diego. He had read the twelve-part that we ran on Comics Bulletin about Daytripper. He actually said, “I am not going to respond to them, not because I didn’t like them, but because I don’t want to give you any opinions. I want you to have your own opinions about what I was telling.”
MacLean: That makes sense. Yeah, yeah. You got this from that, and so that is your own. Rather than being like yes or no, you get the experience that you desired. It is more authentic.
CB: Such a special series though.
MacLean: Yeah, yeah. It is cool.
CB: Are you working on your next project yet?
MacLean: Yeah, well I am going back to the Head Lopper series. Head Lopper is kind of like Hellboy meets Conan, if I had to nail it down that tight to something. So it is about my character, Norgal, who is a big Nortic, huge bearded. I wanted to make a book that is very heavy metal.
I love heavy metal. I grew up listening to heavy metal, so I wanted to make a really heavy metal book. So it follows Norgal on this small Scottish island of Barra. It’s a real island. It’s plagued with beasts. There’s this demi-god that is constantly sending all these beasts everywhere to attack all the people. So Norgal travels there with his big sword. And he travels there with the severed head of a witch named Agatha. She talks and they hate each other. So it is just like dark humor.
CB: That sounds funny, yeah.
MacLean: Yeah. My favorite Monty Python joke is, “Bring out your dead. I ate it.” It is like the old lady slamming the cat against the wall. Just so those really dark humored goofy jokes.
CB: “I’m not dead yet.”
MacLean: Exactly. It’s like monster killing riddled with those types of jokes. The dynamic of the warrior and the magical head just constantly fighting and the grimness. It’s Head Lopper because it is a running joke. More often that not, he cuts off the head of the monster. It’s almost like, “He did it again. He did it again.”
CB: You’re self-publishing it?
MacLean: I self-published it to begin with. I just got tired of the post office runs. So I ‘m shopping around. I’ve got some folks interested in it.
CB: Maybe some time in 2016?
MacLean: I was hoping for 2015 because I started talking to folks six months ago or so. But schedules are always pushed out farther than I’d like them to be. So most likely. I still have self-published first two issues. I just do whatever page count feels good. So the first one is twenty-three. The second one is like forty-five or something.
MacLean: It is kind of fun. It is kind of a neat thing.