Paul Pope on his bad-ass, kid-friendly comic, Battling Boy

The final panel I attended at this year’s Comic-Con was a conversation between Gene Yang and Paul Pope about their upcoming all-ages comics. It’s a genre that I hadn’t really considered beforehand, probably because I grew up reading comics without ever thinking that they were written for kids. From the heaviness of The Silver Surfer to the gore of pre-code E.C. Comics, it was all great. But as mainstream comics have amped up the sex, violence, and controversy to new heights in an effort to keep readers interested, offerings for kids are dumbed down, cleaned up, or just plain stupid. Those sweeping generalizations are mine and not the panelists’, but perhaps it’s time to make quality comics more available to kids–like having all-ages punk shows.

Gene talked about his Boxers and Saints books, which tell story of the Boxer Rebellion through the Chinese patriots’ and Chinese Christians’ points of views, respectively. Especially interesting, considering that Gene is a student of either point of view. His books are already out and available now.

And then there’s Paul Pope’s new book. I grabbed reader’s edition and it blew my mind with its Jack Kirby meets The Twilight Zone vibe. Main characters perish, the populace is afraid, and there are awesome monsters. The hero just happens to be a kid, and he’s kind of freaked out. This ain’t Scooby-Doo.

The first installment of Battling Boy drops next month, and I want everyone to know in advance that it rules. So here’s a quick Q&A with the creator of THB, Heavy Liquid, and Batman: Year 100 to get you excited and maybe even share with your friends.

MW: Tell me why you’re making an all-ages comic. That’s something many artists don’t do unless they have kids and are stuck reading lousy kids’ comics!
PP: I think there aren’t enough good comics which are directly aimed at a kid audience. I love the challenge of making a bad-ass comic which is kid-friendly and does all the cool shit we remember from Heavy Metal magazine and old Jack Kirby comics, and delivers in such a way as to be accessible to kids. Nothing too violent or too harsh, but still not too sugar-coated and dumbed down. Something genuine. I don’t have kids, but I was a kid, you know?

MW: Do you recall what you read as a kid?
PP: I read everything. I was a voracious reader. Donald Duck through Heavy Metal through Dune, I read it all.

MW: How do you see all-ages comics these days in comparison?
PP: I dunno, I don’t look at all-ages comics, outside of Adventure Time. But if kid’s comics means Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny, that stuff is like 40 or 50 years old. Those are classics, for sure. But kids need new comics.

MW: Did you arrive at the proper tone pretty easily or did your editor have to do a lot of stepping in?
PP: I like something Frank Miller told me one time: “The dirty little secret of comics is that cartoonists draw what they like.” So I took that idea and just threw everything into Battling Boy that I like to draw and that I’m into and was into as a kid.

MW: When you started drawing Battling Boy, was it all already in your head or did it gain a life of its own?
PP: I started with the notion of making a kick-ass comic with a kid superhero as the lead character. Over time, surely, others have chimed in. Nothing gets made in a vacuum. But it’s my project and idea and dream… I’ve had time to shape this and I have a few mastermind contacts who provide some input, such as my editor Mark Siegel, who is also a cartoonist and writer.

MW: Can you compare the challenges and benefits of creating an entirely new universe versus working with established characters?
PP: It’s much better to go off on your own and make something new, although more challenging and more risky. But I trust the great artists I’ve studied. As Newton said, “If we can see any farther, it’s because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants.” For me, the giants are Jack Kirby, Moebius, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kubrick, Alex Toth, Picasso, Federico Fellini…

MW: Do you enjoy being a one-man army who writes, illustrates, and letters?
PP: Yes. I subscribe to the “auteur” camp. Comics is one of the few pop culture media where you can pull that off. Also, I’ve learned directly from some of the best writer-artists in the field, and it would be a dishonor to them to not use what I learned from them. And it’s much easier to get myself to try to pull the best out of myself than from another, so I don’t have to feel embarrassed to be a harsh critic, whether it comes to the art or the writing.

MW: I think that while there’s a lot of mainstream crap, there are probably more kids with good or cool taste then ever before. Do you think about your audience at all?
PP: I think about an “ideal” reader, who is sensitive and curious and open to being warmly surprised by something new and cool. I think about my nephew when he was 12 or 13. I made this book for him. Kids have a sort of openness which is genuine. Most of them aren’t cynical, and are open to new ideas and stories.

MW: Is the second installment still in the works or have you already moved onto your next projects?
PP: I’m working on the second Battling Boy book now. :01 and I have other projects lined up for future as well. We hope to be at this for some time.

Battling Boy hits the shelves on October 8, but why not pre-order a signed copy from Paul’s favorite local bookshop instead?