In 2012, All-Star Marvel and DC artist Mike Norton further moved toward creator owned projects, continuining his Eisner Award winning Battlepug saga online (and in collected editions through Dark Horse) while also co-creating Image Comics’ rural noir zombie book Revival and Dark Horse Comics’ brand new costumed hero book, The Answer, which debuts today.

Here, Norton tells us about how he picks his projects, why he doesn’t hide from superhero tropes, how Revival isn’t your typical zombie book, battling zombie fatigue, and if he’d like to see Battlepug live on as a cartoon series.

Along the way, we also discuss the challenges of telling a slow burn story, the appeal of The Answer‘s female lead, and how a costumed hero fits in at Dark Horse.

All that and more with Mike Norton after the jump. 

With Revival, Battlepug, and The Answer, you seem to be moving toward projects where you have a direct hand in the overall story and their creation. I, and many others are stunned by your productivity, but everyone has a limit — is it fair to say that you’re more likely to choose more projects like those that I just mentioned over work-for-hire when your dance card fills up, and when you do do work-for-hire, what is it about those projects, like Young Avengers, that appeals to you?

Mike Norton: Yeah, I say that sums it up pretty well. 2012 was a conscious effort on my part to make a go of things without having to scrape around for assignments from Marvel or DC. That may sound like I don’t want to work for them, but that’s not true. I’ve been working there steadily for the past seven years, and while work was consistent for me, there was always the chance that one month it could all be gone. That is the nature of freelance. Sooner or later, you see the advantage in taking that risk with something you own instead of just doing it for someone else.

So, I’ve been trying to do stuff I either own or think would be fun to do. I did It Girl and the Atomics because it was a chance to work with Jamie Rich and the Madman family of character. I’m working on Young Avengers because Jamie McKelvie asked me to and I thought it’d be fun (and it is!).

With The Answer, your new costumed hero book from Dark Horse, which characters and books did you and Dennis Hopless pull from to create both The Answer and Devin?

Norton: The Answer is inspired very much by mysteryman characters of the pulps and crazy Steve Ditko style superheroes. Devin’s kind of the perfect protagonist to me. She’s just what came to mind when I needed a star for my story. She’s not really based on anything I’ve read before.

What is there about Devin that you think will speak to female readers and other fans of strong female characters? Issue 1 shows her to be the possessor of an uncanny mind, is she going to be more than a damsel in distress?

Norton: She’s a real person. A real woman. She’s got normal proportions and she doesn’t wear a costume. She has a spectacular intellect and uses it. While this story begins with The Answer saving her and essentially becoming her bodyguard, you’re going to see her saving him just as much as he saves her. I don’t know if any of that will appeal especially to a female audience, I know it’s something I’M interested in seeing. Hopefully that’s universal as well.

Dark Horse isn’t the typical repository for costumed superheroes. That’s not a knock on costumed superheroes or Dark Horse, they just don’t usually come together. What do you think made The Answer the right fit for Dark Horse and vice versa?

Norton: I’ve been developing a good working relationship with Dark Horse for a while and friends like Eric Powell and Tim Seeley have been vouching for me there. They’re also starting to dip back into the superhero genre lately, so I think it was just a lucky alignment of things going right.

How will the book shy away from some of the superhero tropes that have driven some away from costumed superhero books? 

Norton: I don’t know if I shy away from tropes as much as I embrace them these days. I feel like if treated the right way, even the most cliche of superhero routines can be turned on it’s head. I think we do a good job in The Answer of keeping things new while keeping a foot in what everybody loves about superheroes in general. Dennis had a lot to do with that. When I first conceived of the project, it was MUCH more of a superhero story. Now it’s a story about a woman dealing with this conspiracy that for some reason has a superhero attached. Have I mentioned he may not be a superhero?

You’re co-plotting the book with Dennis but he’s got script duties. Can you describe the collaborative process as it occurs between you two between the concoction phase, the scripting and the art?

Norton: I just gave Dennis an overview of what I had in mind for my original story. I guess you could call that co-plotting, but Dennis really did it all. He knew what I wanted and designed the story with that in mind, but he wrote it. I’m more of a supervisor. He’s been amazing that way. While he adds plenty of his own to the story, he’s had no problem with sticking to my key story tenets.

The Answer is booked for 4 issues, any chance that this could become an ongoing book, or at least something you revisit from time to time?

Norton: I would love for that. There is a much bigger story than just four issues. It’s up to the readers and Dark Horse to decide, I guess!

I was in my local comic shop the other day and I had to push a friend to buy Revival #1. He was turned off by the fact that it starts out in a small town. That it was a story that lived on a somewhat smaller scale. To me that’s part of the appeal. Do you feel like the setting allows you to tell more personal stories and really flesh out (no pun) this world that you and Tim Seeley have created? Also, do you feel like it’s a challenge to hold people’s attention while telling a story that feels like more of a slow burner?

Norton: If there’s one problem with a book like Revival, it is probably something like that. It IS a slow burn, and it’s designed to be that way. But Tim is writing the HELL out of it, and some of the most fun and rewarding experiences I’ve had lately are coming up with ideas with him for the book. I believe in what we’re doing so much right now, that I don’t worry about the percentage of people that would rather it be more bombastic. I think it’s great as is.

The zombie stories that live on film and TV now and for the last long while seem to fixate on gore. They haven’t aimed to say as much or be as personal. Revival isn’t like that, it isn’t a standard zombie story in any way really. Do you feel like you’re telling a story that is closer to the earlier Romero films, something that is truer to the origins than even The Walking Dead comic? Also, with the popularity of The Walking Dead (in print and on TV) and with things like Warm Bodies and World War Z headed for theaters, do you think people will ever tire of zombies and is that why you and Tim have crafted something that feels so different?

Norton: Zombie fatigue is definitely upon us. When Tim pitched the concept, I even said it had to be more than just “zombies”. I think what the general public is realizing now is that that horror is an exciting way to tell stories with messages. That’s what Romero’s movies were about, and what Kirkman was doing with Walking Dead. Where Walking Dead is about survival in a world gone crazy, Revival is about dealing with death in general and how people do it.

Is Revival something that you would like to do for a long time, is it something that could get to 100 issues in your opinion?

I love working on Revival. LOVE it. I want to keep it going as long as Tim and I can possibly do it. But we both know it won’t be forever. We have an ending, but it’s not 100 issues away. More like 50 at the most.

Sort of an out of left field question, but Axe Cop carved a path from web comic to collected edition via Dark Horse, to animated adaptation for Fox. Any chance Battlepug could walk a similar path and live in another medium or would you be uncomfortable surrendering control?

Norton: I would love for that to happen! Just haven’t had any interest yet. I want Battlepug cartoons and toys and breakfast cereals. Lets do this, Hollywood!

As if you don’t have enough projects, what’s next for you, and what’s the “push everything aside” dream project, or are you in the midst of a half dozen of them right now?

Norton: Honestly, I feel like I’m doing my dream projects right now. My main goal is to keep Revival, The Answer, and Battlepug going as long as I can and make them as successful as I can. There will be other stuff that I’m doing, like It Girl, Young Avengers and other stuff, but I’m happy with where I’m at. I have to maximize the potential of what I’m working on now before I think up a new “dream project”.

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