Mike Norton is everywhere these days, from his highly successful web comic "Battlepug", to the gothic horror of "Revival", to work on Marvel's "Defenders" and "Young Avengers". We snagged some of the creator's precious time to chat over e-mail about where he is now with his work, what's coming up, and managing a busy schedule:
MTV Geek: Mike, you seem to be everywhere these days… How are you working on so many projects at the same time? Are you magic?
Mike Norton: Yes. I have the magical ability to not be able to say "no".
Really though, I just lucky that a lot of projects I was working with happened to hit at the same time. After my last Marvel project wrapped, I kind of decided that I needed to see how much of my own stuff I could do for a while. I spent a lot of time and had a lot of fun working on other people's characters (and still do), but I have the itch to make my own stuff now that I didn't really have before. That leads to now where I'm kinda just doing it all at once.
Geek: What’s your work-flow like? This is such a wonky, freelancer question, but I am honestly curious how you organize your time and projects.
Norton: It used to be much more organized, but I find that I'm a little less stressed if I don't exactly know what's actually bearing down on me. That sounds stupid, I'm sure. I'm able to manage pretty well by staggering when the projects are due so I can switch concentrations. It usually breaks down to trying get two pages done a day, and moving on to whatever else is around at night.
Art from the upcoming Dark Horse series, The Answer
Geek: How are you approaching your projects? Generally what tools are you using? And how have things changed in your approach over the past few years?
Norton: It really depends on the project, but mostly when I'm drawing the art boils down to me making rough pencil layouts on regular 8.5x11 paper. I used to blow those up to 11x17 on my computer and printing them out in blue line and then tightening those even more before sending them off to an inker. For the last four years or so, however, I've been doing everything mostly digitally. I started by doing some Blue Beetle stories using a program called Manga Studio. It had some really simple tools that I was able to get the hang of pretty quickly. Since I was able to skip a lot of the steps I used working on paper, I was freed up to ink my work for the first time and it sped me up significantly. So that how i make everything pretty much these days. i still do roughs on paper, but scan them in and ink with Manga Studio. I don't have any originals to sell, but I'm able to make more stuff, and I'm much more confident in my work.
Geek: Let’s talk about "Battlepug", which seems to have really taken off… What’s the journey been like there?
Norton: Fantastic. I couldn't ask for a better experience. It's such a silly idea, but I love doing it. I'm really lucky that people seem to dig it. When I started it, I knew what I wanted to make, but I didn't expect it to really take off. It's only the second project I've written, so the web thing was just a way to experiment without much risk. Turns out, that's a great model to get your ideas out there.
A digitally penciled page from "Battlepug".
Geek: It also seems like taking on a creator-owned project like "Battlepug" has really pushed you to a bigger place both with indie work, and Big Two work at the same time… Is that true?
Norton: I don't know how far it's gotten me with Big Two work. I've been helping out Jamie McKelvie on "Defenders" and the upcoming "Young Avengers", but that's purely a support role. Jamie is running the art show on that. I'm pretty much only involved because its fun to jam with McKelvie. We both use Manga Studio and switching pages between us is seamless that way. I'd love to do more with Marvel again drawing a book myself sometime, but with all the stuff I have going on now I don't know when that would be.
With indie projects, it's definitely made a difference. I'm "that Battlepug guy" now, and I think it's helped grab eyeballs for my other projects like "It Girl", "Revival", and my new series "The Answer". I'm sure they've done the same for "Battlepug". Like I said earlier, I've been really lucky.
A partially inked page from "Battlepug".
Geek: What’s different in your approach to something online like "Battlepug", versus print comics like "It Girl"? Or is there no difference?
Norton: Other than approach to format ("Battlepug" is designed to be viewed on computers in a landscape once every week, while "It Girl" is a standard 24 page superhero comic), there's not really a difference. I started out drawing a little less cartoonier for "It Girl" than I did "Battlepug", but I feel like they're starting to meet a point of convergence.
Geek: Do you have any recommendations for someone looking to publish their own webcomic? Pitfalls you hit that you’d avoid the next time?
Norton: I would recommend if you have a comic project but no home for it and have the guts just to throw it out there, webcomics is a perfect solution. If I had any advice, it'd be to bank a LOT of finished pages before you start. I started out with Three month's worth of material, and now I'm drawing two weeks ahead. That lead whittles down quickly.
Geek: What was it like taking the book from online to print? You kept the same aspect ratio, so I assume that helped; but was there any reworking that needed to be done in the web-to-print process?
Norton: Dark Horse was amazing that way. They changed nothing. My editor, Patrick Thorpe, made a lot of grammar and spelling corrections, but virtually everything was unchanged. They made the book that I always wanted...oversized and landscape format. I'm really proud of it.
Some early development art for Mike's Image comics series, Revival.
Geek: Let’s talk about "Revival" a bit… How gross was it to draw that old lady with the teeth over and over? Pretty gross, right?
Norton: Is it weird to say I really enjoyed it? There's something really finally out drawing a scene that you know will creep people out.
Geek: One thing I’m very drawn to with "Revival" is that you have a supernatural/zombie story, but it’s very brightly colored. Everything seems to take place in the light of day, which is unique to horror. Why take this approach?
Norton: We didn't tell Mark to color brightly, and I don't think that it is all THAT bright, but he doesn't shy away from coloring things as they appear in real light. The horror in Revival comes from the realistic setting. If everything is dark and spooky looking, you expect something scary. It's the scare that comes in broad daylight that you don't expect. I love Mark's coloring.
Geek: You’ve drawn everything from Fantasy, to Horror, to Superheroes… Is there a genre you haven’t gotten to yet that you’d like to tackle at some point?
Norton: I haven't done much Sci-Fi Fantasy, but I'd like to. I'd love to draw "Star Wars" or "Mass Effect". I've never done a western either, but I'm working on rectifying that sometime next year.
Geek: What else is coming up for you? Sleep, I hope?
Norton: Right now it's "Revival", "Battlepug", "It Girl", "The Answer", and some "Young Avengers" stuff. I would like some more time to play video games. Some more sleep would be good too. I like drawing though, so I'm not going to complain.
You can find out more about Norton's work on his website.