Andrew MacLean is an example of how hard work, creativity and perseverance can lead to success. What started as a random drawing in a sketch blog turned into a self-published comic which turned into a Kickstarter which turned into the smash hit Image Series we all know as Head Lopper. MacLean is a fiercely independent creative force who exemplifies the new generation of comics creators. He was kind enough to sit down for a conversation about his career, inspirations and plans for the future.
Andrew, thanks for taking some time to chat with me. How is life treating you?
I can’t complain. Just finished drawing Issue 6 [of Head Lopper] yesterday. It feels good.
I first discovered your work via Kickstarter, where you ran a successful campaign for your creator-owned work Head Lopper. Talk about your experience with Kickstarter, and why that was the best avenue (if you thought it was) to get your work out into the ether?
Yeah, Kickstarter was great. We actually used it for the second installment. We funded the first ourselves, and that’s why we went to Kickstarter for the second. Self-publishing is so expensive. But then for the second, moving to Kickstarter, we also found it has a great community. And so, bringing the second installment to KS introduced the comic to a whole new group of people. So Kickstarter is really a great platform for so many reasons. I really do recommend it to everyone.
Speaking of Head Lopper, it’s since gone on to great success and acclaim at Image Comics. How did you end up moving from self-publishing to Image? And how has the experience been?
While I was drawing ApocalyptiGirl at Dark Horse, I was still selling and printing my Head Lopper comics. It was getting pretty old getting abused at the post office every day, so I started thinking about getting out of publishing in some way and then Image reached out and asked if I wanted to continue Head Lopper with them. And they’ve been great. They’ve let me take a chance with a quarterly format and everything. It’s been a really positive relationship.
How long have Norgal and Agatha been in your brain? What’s the inspiration for Head Lopper? Are you a big fan of fantasy and swords and sorcery? If so, what are your favorite examples of the genre (comics, movies, books, whatever)?
I think I first came up with these guys in 2011 or so. I was running a sketch blog with some really amazing artists, and we were having fun drawing from themes every week. One week the theme was “Vikings,” and I drew mine as “metal” as I could, and I drew an early version of Norgal and Agatha for the first time. It was just super fun to draw so when I found a little time in my schedule I drew the first 23-page story. I honestly kind of thought it’d be the only comic I made with them. But I had a ton of fun, and people dug the idea, so I had to make more.
When I first set out to write the comic and flesh out a world, I wanted it to be fun the way watching Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans or Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Conan was for me as a kid. I have fond memories of being a kid and watching movies with my older brother. But when I started working on Head Lopper I started pulling things in from everywhere. Most recently I have been inspired by Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber.
Let’s talk about your artistic process. At a time when a lot of artists try to cultivate a “house style” to get work at the Big 2, you stand out as having a distinct aesthetic. You have a strong, bold line and have an economy to your composition that exudes confidence that belies your age. How would you describe your style? And am I right in seeing some Mignola and Paul Pope in your work?
I really try not to define my style. I just go with it. My style changes and shifts as I get excited about different artists or books or movies or whatever. I would say there’s definitely both Mignola and Pope in there because at certain times I was super into their work. But I spend more time now with Jaime Hernandez, Jack Kirby, Moebius, Miyazaki, whatever else I stumble upon, and whatever my friends are making at the time.
How did you get into comics illustration, was it always a goal?
I wanted to be a comic artist starting around the age of 11, I’d say. There were detours, but I always came back to it. But like anyone else, I just kept drawing things and making things. I just like making stuff, and that’s never really changed.
Are you able to have work/life balance? Drawing comics can be as much obsession as occupation, what else do you do to offset the insular nature of sitting at a drafting table for hours on end?
Yeah, it’s a battle. There really is no balance. More often than not I am working seven days a week at 14 hours a day. It’s quite unhealthy, haha. I’m always trying to find ways to have a better balance. Maybe with Issue 7? But that’s not even unique. I’d say most artists live a similar life. It’s bonkers.
The struggle is, indeed, real.
You chose to work with Dark Horse on ApocalyptiGirl, why opt for different publishers for different projects? I see a lot of creators do the same, but rarely do we hear about the logic driving that decision?
Haha, well, I think sometimes the internet gives the illusion of choice! Though I was a big fan of a big chunk of Dark Horse’s catalog, they were the first publisher to give me the green light. I was sending pitches all over the place. Rejections were commonplace. The Image deal happened a bit by luck. That all said, I’m pretty grateful I’ve gotten to work with both of them.
Thus far, you’ve exclusively done creator-owned work that you both created, wrote and drew. Is that a fundamental part of your artistic process? Do you have an interest in illustrating other writers’ ideas? Would you be open to having other cartoonists draw your scripts? Might you ever do work on licensed characters?
Yeah, I’m open to all possibilities. I don’t have anything in the works at the moment because Head Lopper takes up literally all of my time, but I’m always trying to find ways that I can make more stuff.
Let’s talk about your wife, Erin. Every time I see you at a convention, Erin is by your side. How important is having your partner at conventions? Does it make the grind of attending a lot of shows infinitely more palatable? And is she as good-natured and kind as she comes across in my interactions with you two? [haha]
Haha, yeah, she’s pretty damn great and we are almost always together. We just click, we almost always come to the same conclusions but take two different roads to get there. We’re a pretty effective team. The longer I work in comics, the more she becomes entrenched in its process. She did much of the lettering and design work on Issue Six; and she does our comics accounting and scheduling.
This year we launched LASER WOLF ATTACK, an apparel/accessory brand. I’m the art director, and she’s basically everything else. It is now become her full-time job.
If you could impart one piece of advice to up-and-coming creators, what would it be?
Self-publish a book. Any book. You think you need a writer? You don’t. Make something and make it short. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Just show the world and the publishers you can sit down and tell a complete story. Kickstart it. Print it. Then starting buying table space at comic conventions and sell your book there. Just jump in with both feet and keep at it.
Would I imagine you garner inspiration from all over? Whose work inspires you? Do you make time to read comics and, if so, what has rocked your world recently?
I’d say my favorite books I read over the last year were Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez, The Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius and then Nausicaa by Miyazaki. I really hate picking favorites, haha.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Not at the moment. I’m trying to line up some writing with friends but right now it’s just Head Lopper. That said, I think we’ve got a ton more Head Lopper coming.
It’s never been easier for an artist to get their work into the public’s hands, but it’s also arguably never been harder to be noticed and to rise above the fray. How important is having a strong web presence these days? How would you compare cultivating a digital brand with the importance of attending conventions and meeting fans in person?
I feel it’s nearly impossible to pull it off without being all over social media. At first, I was uncomfortable posting constantly about what was on my desk; it felts arrogant and gross. But people like that artists display their work. I certainly do. I spend too much time scrolling through great art on Instagram. Some of my favorite artists have like 130 followers or something. It’s a special time to find brilliant, young artists hiding in bedrooms and basements all over the planet cranking out masterpieces. I love it.
Nothing gets me more excited than discovering a new artist. Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Comic Art Fans…there are so many places to stumble upon greatness these days.
Do you ever do commissions or have you gotten too busy? I’m the proud owner of a sweet Rocket Raccoon you did a few years back, but I haven’t seen too many commissions on CAF from you lately? If you are doing them, how can fans get in touch?
Haha, I haven’t had time lately to take at-home commissions. I try to, but it just hasn’t been in the cards. If I do open them up I’ll chat it up online I’m sure. Otherwise, I do always offer sketches at conventions.
What’s the best way for our readers to keep track of your work and appearances?
Thanks Andrew, I’ll see you at Heroes in June.
Thanks Jason, see you in a few weeks!