Paul Pope Talks About His New 'Battling Boy'

"I just wanted to do a kick-ass story with a kid superhero which feels like something out of Heavy Metal magazine, if Jack Kirby was published there rather than at Marvel or DC," according to the creator.
Paul Pope/First Second
"I just wanted to do a kick-ass story with a kid superhero which feels like something out of Heavy Metal magazine, if Jack Kirby was published there rather than at Marvel or DC," according to the creator.

Paul Pope's amazing Battling Boy is released this week, after almost a decade in the works, finally letting the world see the 100% and THB creator's new take on the superhero genre.

The book -- the first in a series -- focuses on the arrival of the eponymous hero, a teenage child of godlike beings, in Arcopolis, a city that has recently lost its superheroic protector, Haggard West. As Battling Boy saves the city from a monstrous threat (with some help from his father), West's own child, Aurora, deals with her loss by trying to replace him as the city's own superhero. The combination of those two stories about children's relationships with their fathers (as well as villains who kidnap kids for mysterious reasons) gives the book a wonderfully fresh, fairy tale quality -- something that Pope said was entirely intentional.

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"I approached Battling Boy from classic fantasy and fairy tale rules, rather than straight superhero comic book rules," he told THR. "There's a lot of action and superhero elements to it. There's a lot of science fiction and pulp serial to the vibe of the book as well, but the story is a classic 'call to adventure,' hopefully made fresh again."

Part of that freshness comes from the book's rejection of the mainstream superhero comic trend toward realism. "I imagine the world of Battling Boy to be a mid–20th century update of the worlds of the old Disney films, like Sleeping Beauty, where the Queen is also a giant fire-breathing dragon, and nobody questions the realism of that," Pope said. "I wanted a timeless, Disney-like vibe to offset the violence and mayhem of the action. We see something like this in Adventure Time, where Jake and Finn are in the land of Ooo. It's a fantasy place filled with believable characters. We don't question why Jake is a talking dog, you know?"

That kid-friendliness was a large part of why Battling Boy was created, Pope explained. "I just identified a lack of quality comics for young readers which don't also pander or talk down to the audience. Comics like Batman or X-Men were initially for kids, but they've been aimed at older readers for a long time now. At first, I just wanted to do a kick-ass story with a kid superhero which feels like something out of Heavy Metal magazine, if Jack Kirby was published there rather than at Marvel or DC. The mythological undercurrents came later as I started exploring the story's potentials…The story sort of set its own agenda as it came to life."

Explaining the book's two protagonists, Pope said that there's a lot of himself in Battling Boy. "Sometimes it gets tiresome to see superheroes come off as so polished and perfect, like, they know kung fu and have super armor and all that. Battling Boy, being just a kid, has more faults and hang-ups," he said. "I based Battling Boy sort of on a combination of myself and my nephew at the eve of teenage years, so I channeled a lot of the anxieties and faults of being 13 in his persona." Aurora West, however, he "wanted to hold off on revealing until the very end," to keep some mystery about her.

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"She is a bit of a showstopper, another, unannounced, kid-superhero in training, but much more angry and determined," he elaborated. "As Battling Boy is the offspring of demi-godlike superheroes, Aurora is the offspring of a techno-champion, more in the vein of Doc Savage or Indiana Jones, if he were a costumed hero. You’ll definitely be seeing more of her soon." (In addition to the announced follow-up to Battling Boy, Pope teased that "there are other stories to be told in this universe for sure.")

Battling Boy was originally announced when the book's publisher, :01 First Second, launched in 2006, and Pope admits that "there was a lot of stop and start with this first book," including designing a clothing line for DKNY JEANS; creating advertising artwork for Diesel Industries; teaching at the American Council of the Arts for the ACA in New Smyrna; and working in Hollywood on multiple projects, including the Dune reboot, the stalled adaptation of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and the movie version of Battling Boy itself, which was optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B based on the initial book proposal.

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"I worked on both the Battling Boy film and book at the same time, and they feel like the same story, although the structure of each is slightly different," Pope said. "The film is more of the classic Hollywood three- or four-act structure [but] the books are designed to be more operatic, with long passages and lots of side characters, some of whom haven't made it to the current draft of the script." Currently, the movie is on hold "so I can finish the second book without big interruptions," according to Pope. "The film requires hundreds of other people, but the book is basically just me, with input from my editor at :01, Mark Siegel."

With the second book still in progress, Pope admits that he's "in the vortex" when it comes to appreciating Battling Boy's publication. "It hasn't really sunk in yet that this monster has been let out of its cage, but it feels good to get it out into the world since it's been gestating for so long, and with both the book and film, you can't leak anything before it's time, so only about a dozen people have been able to see the work until now," he said. "I really tried to make the best, most kick-ass graphic story focusing on a superhero who is also a kid, and I do feel good about that coming to light."

Battling Boy is available in bookstores now.