Mike Norton is a fortunate man. Not only did the award-winning creator know from a very early age that he wanted to draw comics for a living, but he was also able to achieve his dream of drawing one of his childhood heroes for Marvel.
Norton has made the rounds in the comics book world, working for everyone from Devil's Due Publishing (Queen and Country, Runaways), Valiant (Archer and Armstrong) to Dark Horse (Hellboy) and DC, where he worked on titles such as Mr. Miracle, Superman and The All New Atom with Gail Simone. Norton is also known for his work on The Answer! with Dennis Hopeless and for his artwork on Tim Seeley's hit zombie horror comic Revival.
But Mike wanted to write and found success with the award-winning webcomic Battlepug, a sword and sorcery adventure about a man known only as 'The Warrior' who, as the last living member of his tribe, goes on a journey of revenge and redemption with nothing but a mentally unstable hermit and giant-sized fighting pug.
Norton's been keeping busy working on Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 with Mike Mignola as well as with his ongoing creator-owned Grumble (Albatross Funny Books). With The Warrior making his return in another an all-new Battlepug due out this fall, it's a wonder he has any time left to work on his latest comic, Lil Donnie. A Trump-themed political satire webcomic recently released in paperback.
We talked to Mike about how "easy" it's been for him to reach his comic book career goals, what advice he has for anyone trying to get into the industry, and why sentient canines make for an incredibly engaging plot device.
Growing up, what were your comics that you were into?
Mike Norton: The Amazing Spider-Man. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee. My dad would buy comic books at the gas station on his way home. One day, he gave me this Spider-Man comic; it was issue 163. From then on comics were the only thing I ever wanted to do. So I pretty much geared my life around only that, much to my parents' dismay, several times.
Did you know early on that you primarily wanted to be an artist?
When I was a kid, all I was doing was making up my own stories. But when I was researching how actually to get a job in comic books, I learned there's a penciler, writer and inker and I thought I'd better pick one of those. So I decided to be a comic book penciler for Marvel, I was going to draw Spider-Man. And I spent all my time [working towards that goal] and I finally got to do it in 2004. I was like 31 when I finally achieved my childhood dream.
Which Spider-Man issue was that?
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man (2005). It was a Spider-Man series geared towards younger readers, but it was mostly retellings of older Spider-Man stories. I got to draw him fight all the old classic characters like the Mad Thinker and Mysterio. And after that I just pretty much stayed steadily drawing Marvel and DC characters.
Was that your first published comic?
No. I'd been working about ten years before that. My first comic was called The Badger and it was for Image comics, back in 1997. That was also a comic I read when I was younger. I was fortunate to get the work, but [back then] it was mostly independent publishers like Oni and Slave Labor Graphics and lots of little tiny companies before Marvel and DC gave me a shot.
So you were years into working for the Big Two when you decided to go indie.
Yeah! And most people I know don't do that. I had figured what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life was drawing comics for other people and then about10 years ago I thought, "Hey, I used to make these stories up and that's way more fun." I think a lot of artists or writers would say, that's true for them as well.
Most people do the opposite. You peaked young.
Exactly. Well, I always do things backward, it seems.
Where did Battlepug come from? Did you have a pug and then decide one night after too many beers that they needed an origin story?
Yes, basically. I love pugs, I love beer and I love comics. When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. Why not put them all together and put a pug in it? I'd never written anything before, so I decided to write what I know and make it a comic book. I was heavily influenced by the cartoons I watched as a kid on Saturday morning.
Well, it worked! Battlepug won you an Eisner.
Yes! And next year will be the 10th anniversary of it.
You're dropping a new Battlepug in the fall. What made you decide to bring it back?
I always wanted to do more. I just needed a break after the five-year long story I did online. I thought this time I'd try something new and do it as a straight comic series. So far, it's been pretty exciting. I can't wait for people to see.
Your current comic Grumble, also features a pug, correct?
Yes, it's another dog-related comic.
You've got the market cornered on animal-related comic book content.
If I can make a living just drawing comics about animals and dogs, I'd love it. Grumble is a book about a jerk wizard who gets in trouble with the Magic Police. So he turns himself into a dog to hide and then realizes he can't get reverse the spell. So it's the wacky adventures of this jerk who's now a dog. It's fun stuff. The things I work on now are really interesting to me and I hope that other people agree. I never get bored.
What's it been like working on Hellboy with Mike Mignola?
Other than overseeing everything, I don't have much contact with Mike often. I primarily interacted with co-writer Chris Roberson and my editor Katii O'Brien. It's a lot of freedom for something that belongs to someone else, but it's fun and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. Wait, I made the pun, didn't I?
How fascinating is it for you to see some of the characters that you worked on now on the screen?
It's super exciting. When I was a kid, that's why I wanted to draw, you know? My family always thinks because I work in comics, I'm rich and famous and I know everything that's going to happen [onscreen]. But I'm just [as much of a fan] as you guys watching these movies. It's cool times we live in.
What advice you have for somebody who wants to create their own comics but also has the dream of drawing for the Big Two as you did?
Aside from the basics, being able to draw or write, the key is never give up. There were many years between high school when I decided to do this for a living and achieving my dream at 31 years old. It was many years of getting rejection after rejection and saying, "Yeah, I think I can improve and get better." It can take a long time. People have families, they do other things, and the key? Never give up.
You didn't win that Eisner overnight.
Exactly. That was an good 20-year journey right there.