Mike Norton Embraces Swords, Sorcery & Snorts in Battlepug: The Compugdium

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Mike Norton Embraces Swords, Sorcery & Snorts in <i>Battlepug: The Compugdium</i>

At first glance, it would be easy to confuse Mike Norton’s Battlepug for a one-note gag comic: the sight of a burly barbarian atop of a horse-sized pug enough to give anyone a good chuckle. But Norton’s rich sense of humor and affection for sword-and-sorcery stories turns what could have been a quick joke into an adventurous and emotional journey across an imaginative world. Battlepug: The Compugdium, out this week from Image Comics, collects the full webcomic that Norton published from 2011 to 2016, telling a story of revenge and found family dotted with giant, often adorable animals like the titular pugs.

Battlepug revolves around The Warrior, a Conan the Barbarian-type figure and the surviving member of the Kinimundian Tribe, bent on getting revenge for the death of his people. As he travels, he collects a ragtag group of friends including a foulmouthed young girl and an elderly man who doesn’t appear to be entirely in touch with reality. Fans of Norton’s work on books like A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong will find the same kind of physical comedy and absurdist humor in Battlepug, and it’s no wonder the comic won an Eisner in 2012.

Norton, along with colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Chris Crank, have created a wild, wonderful, canine-filled tale, and Paste had a chance to ask the Battlepug creator a few questions to commemorate the release of The Compugdium. Check out our interview, along with a peek at interior art, below.

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Battlepug: The Compugdium Cover Art by Mike Norton & Allen Passalaqua

Paste: From the first panels, Battlepug feels like diving into a classic adventure comic or movie like Conan the Barbarian. What made you want to try out something in the sword-and-sorcery genre?

Mike Norton: Honestly, it’s just what came to mind. The image of a barbarian on a pug came to me, and the story written for it just became a repository for everything I loved as a child: Star Wars, He-Man, Conan, every bad movie my parents let me rent at Blockbuster, etc. Once, I chose that path, I just jumped in full-force.

Paste: Because it’s framed as a story within a story, there’s also a shared sense of history with the Princess Bride, perhaps one of the best-known fantasy movies of the ‘80s. Did you approach Battlepug with a list of influences you wanted to weave in, or was it more organic?

Norton: It was much more organic, but Princess Bride is a great example of how those kind of influences probably guided me. I never even thought of it until you asked this question. The only approach I took was allowing myself to do ANYTHING I wanted. No matter how stupid I may think it was (or anybody else, for that matter).

Paste: Like a lot of movies along the same lines, Battlepug slides back and forth from comedy to adventure gracefully, comedic beats serving to lighten up what could be a very heavy story. Do you think of Battlepug as a sword-and-sorcery tale that’s funny, or a comedy that has adventure? Do you think there’s a distinction?

Norton: I started out just aiming for plain old absurdist humor framed as a serious story. Along the way, it became much more of an epic. This became my Cerebus or Bone, sort of. The story kind of just went in its own direction. And along that way, actual dramatic themes occur. It was a happy thing for me. I don’t think I could’ve done it if I set out to. It had to happen like that, I think.

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Battlepug: The Compugdium Interior Art by Mike Norton & Allen Passalaqua

Paste: When you started Battlepug, you already had a career in print comics. Was there something specific that led you to want to make Battlepug as a webcomic instead of going a more traditional publishing route?

Norton: I wanted it to have a widescreen look because that’s the ratio that your screen is. I also thought if were ever printed, a large “European album”-looking book would be cool. Aside from that, I went the webcomic route mostly because it was the quickest and cheapest way to find out if I sucked at writing my own stuff.

Paste: Battlepug is also different from some of your other work in that you were responsible for the story and the art. You still had collaborators in colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Chris Crank, but no writer or publisher. Did you find there were unexpected challenges or benefits to working like this? Would you do it again?

Norton: I AM doing it again! I loved the experience. It took me until I was in my late ‘30s for me to realize the joy of making my own material and I don’t wanna look back. I LOVE doing work for hire, and am still doing it, but I will continue to write and draw my own stuff from now. Hell, I’m making more Battlepug as we do this interview!

Paste: The titular Battlepug is both cute and hilarious, a critical part of the story at every turn. Why a pug? (Please see this as the thinly veiled invitation it is to tell us about your pugs.)

Norton: I love animals. Dogs especially. The pug is special to me because I think they are little mistakes of nature that require us to take care of them in order for them to even exist. I have two of my own and they are definitely my children. I fought being that “pug guy” for a long time, but I’m just embracing it now. I can be the pug guy AND draw Superman or Hellboy sometimes, I think. Hell, that makes it more interesting!!!

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Battlepug: The Compugdium Interior Art by Mike Norton & Allen Passalaqua

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Battlepug: The Compugdium Interior Art by Mike Norton & Allen Passalaqua

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