Aurora West, daughter of the science hero Haggard West, made her first appearance in Paul Pope's monster-filled comic Battling Boy. Today, The Rise of Aurora West comes out, revealing the fledgling heroine's backstory, and we spoke to Pope about his two very different child heroes.
The Rise of Aurora West was written by Pope and JT Petty and drawn by David Rubín. While Battling Boy focused primarily on the god-like Battling Boy who has been dropped into a city filled with monsters, The Rise of Aurora West tells the story of the girl who was raised to defend that city and who has been investigating the secrets behind the monsters with her father.
During this past summer's San Diego Comic-Con, we got a chance to sit down with Pope and talk about the relationship between Aurora and Battling Boy and why he decided to start making comics for kids.
What made you decided to tell Aurora West's story in this book?
It was always designed so that she had a story of her own. And also Haggard—I didn't want to kill him. I had to kill him for the sake of the Battling Boy storyline, and there wasn't time for me to draw two series at once, but I knew I wanted a European, so I was lucky to get David. I specifically wanted a Spanish artist and he and I have been talking about collaborating on something for years now.
I've never done this before. I sat down with JT and he said, "What do you want to do?" because I'd thought up the backstory to this character. So JT and I hammered out the script. David's really fast because he comes from animation, so I'm slower and it's good because it buys me an extra year to get the next Battling Boy book out, the next book in the series.
So will this affect the Battling Boy story at all?
Yes. It expands the–because Haggard's an archaeologist, when you read, you'll see he's been investigating where the monsters have been coming from. And there might have been another Battling Boy at some point in the past.
What I love about Battling Boy is how grounded the world feels in a lot of ways. It feels really fantastical, but at the same time, really familiar. What was the idea for creating this particular city?
Well, I really like old Disney movies. And somehow in those movies, nobody questions how Maleficent turns into a dragon. Everyone just accepts it. Or kids get kidnapped and put in cages. So the world has to be fantastical. It can't be Earth. It has to be another planet where it's just assumed that monsters come out of the ground and steal kids. I also love old Universal serials like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan and Flash Gordon. I wanted the world to feel like that, which in a way is sort of like vintage—there's a sort of innocence to it, but they can still deal with mature themes. They just deal with it in a subtle way. Like when you watch Cary Grant movies, it's hard to imagine the guy's having sex with anybody. When you get older, you can see the implied stuff. Also, I wanted it to be for kids, so I didn't want to put anything in it that was too subversive. And that was the cool thing, because Mark [Siegel], my editor, was like, "Do you really think you can make a book for kids?" because most of my catalogue is kind of adult. And he was like, "Why don't you make it and then we'll decide who it's for once you've made it."
Battling Boy is a very powerful being, but he's very reluctant, while Aurora West has been training her whole life to defend her city. How much of the story was built around Battling Boy and Aurora having very different experiences?
That developed because I knew I wanted a second character—a foil character. At one point, I was thinking that it would be two magician kids, but that's too much like Harry Potter. And I knew I wanted one kid, the main kid, to be the reluctant one who has great power, great potential. And as I started working on the book and developing the characters, I realized that Aurora's a pretty awesome character. There's a lot to her. And she's fierce. And Larry Marder, he had a theory he told me one time about Batman and Superman, that one represents the sun and one represents the moon. So one is the dark character and one is the light character.
And I realized that what these two are, they're both kids, so they're just potential. They don't know what they can do yet. And that makes it more interesting, because I get kind of tired of suddenly the hero knows karate or suddenly, "Dude, I know kung fu." I hate that. There's no weakness to them. Or, if they have a dilemma, it's false. But losing a parent is traumatic, so her story is all about that. And Battling Boy is the latchkey kid. He has a code of honor. He's got a family imperative—they both do, actually. It's an interesting pairing, because she's the one who really wants to fight and he doesn't.
And he's the one who's always reaching out to his father and she can't do that anymore.
Yeah, exactly. So they're cool characters. They're fun. And I think that David is doing a great job on this. Our styles are similar, but we've collaborated before and his style is his own.
The other interesting thing about this narrative is that you follow Aurora' entire life up to age 15 or 16, whereas with Battling Boy, you get two weeks of his life.
Battling Boy's parents obviously have a very mythological feel. Are they inspired by specific deities?
When I first thought of the series, I was reading a lot of Silver Age comics and I just love the grandiosity of [Jack] Kirby's work and I love Heavy Metal magazine and all the old European stuff from the sixties and seventies. It's, like, so far out. It's not overly self-conscious. It's just experimental and cool and sometimes kind of risqué. So, I mean, obviously Battling Boy's dad is kind of a Thor or a Hercules or a Genghis Khan. But he isn't any of those—that's why he's just called "Dad." And Mom is just "Mom." I mean, they have a story as well. If things work out, there's another series that I'm thinking about that has to do with their story. So there's more than just Battling Boy's story at this point. It's great. The more I work on it, the more and more ideas keep coming.
But it still feels very from your gut. It has that quality to it.
Yeah. Well, at the core is the belief that children can handle heavy subjects: child abduction, abandonment, those kind of things. And they don't want to be pandered to. Because I remember when I was a kid and people would try to give me comics or movies that were made for kids, they really felt like they were pandering. Kids can smell fakes.
And Battling Boy's dad feels very real with his being constantly annoyed.
The thing that's exciting with this is that as the series expands, it's so hard to resist putting too much of Dad in at the beginning. There's a couple of scenes that I wrote out of the first book because it's not about Dad. I can't make Dad the main character. It's about the boy. And Mom, there's a lot about Mom that you're going to find out about. And the big boss character, the scribble monster. As it expands there's some interesting stuff to cover.
Is Battling Boy going to grow up? Are we going to see him becoming more adult?
That's a question that people ask me a lot, like are Battling Boy and Aurora going to get together? For now, the Battling Boy story, it's about his birth as a hero, so his series ends with that resolution. I don't know. We've talked about it. There's definitely more stuff, but the thing I'm more interested in doing with him now and with the Aurora series is investigating the monster problem. Like, who is the original monster? Where do they come from? What are they really doing? And that's cool because the boy comes from a mythological world, so he has more of a sense of monsters. He's seen monsters. It's normal.
Yeah, I mean they're scary, but he's unfazed.
He's fazed by his mom and dad. He's not fazed by monsters.
When I first sat down with Mark and talked—I did the Batman book and won awards and it was great. But I knew I wanted to do something original. And Mark's like, "What do you want to do?" And I was like, "I've kind of got this idea for a kid's superhero. It's a book for kids. It's a kid's superhero." And that was kind of the germ. And he like, "Great. Flesh it out. What's it called?" And I was like, "I don't know yet." Like I said, I thought it might be about magic kids. I don't know what it is, exactly. It might be one kid that wears black and one kid that wears white or one kid's black and one kid's white. They're both boys. One's a girl, one's a boy. And literally, a lot of this series, I write when I'm sleeping. I dream the ideas. The name "Haggard West" came in a dream. Aurora came in a dream.
I woke up from a nap. I programmed my brain and I knew I had to come up with a title. I'm one of those writers who has to come up with a title before I can write. And I woke up and I was like, "Battling Boy. That's what it's going to be."
Why do you think so many people are moving away from telling superhero stories for kids?
I don't know. I think if you're looking at pop culture, I mean, we're in the middle of the Mecca for it, right? I mean, zombies, magic, giant robots, all these different metaphors we can look at. I mean, comics used to be for kids. I remember reading Fantastic Four, or something like that. I remember reading those as a kid and being really into Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer. Like, kids can accept that. But you also know that Doctor Doom blew himself up and he dabbles with the black magic and stuff like that. That's kind of dark when you think about it. Or Spider-Man's mom and dad died—at least the old version of it.
But most of my work has been adult-oriented and I wanted to do something that my then-adolescent nephews could read. Because they thought it was cool that I made comics, but they weren't able to look at them. In fact, when I published my art book, my monograph, they really wanted to look at it. So my sister taped certain pages so they couldn't see all the erotic stuff. Because there's also drawings of Donald Duck and stuff like that.
I must say, I was really excited when you announced this book. After reading Battling Boy, I found myself thinking, "This is the book that I want."
You know what's really great is that I've never really had kid fans before and I have a number of girl fans now because they like [Aurora]. That's so cool, because getting into this area of comics and fiction—hero myth creation—it really was to do something for kids. Because I miss those classic Silver Age comics, something that was really cool, but also a little edgy.