Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally a webcomic, the first year of Mike Norton‘s 2012 Eisner Award winning Battlepug has now been released by Dark Horse in a hardcover version.  It’s so crazy and cool–and strange–that you might just skip over it.  Originally it was online for free, so why a hardcover version?  Simply because it’s worthy of a hardcover version, and its a nicely designed volume at that.

So what the heck is a Battlepug?  Intentional or not, Norton artfully scribed another story of the Arabian Nights, even told by Sheherazade herself, only in Battlepug her name is Moll, a storyteller recounting the “Tale of the Warrior and the Battlepug” to her two pug dogs.   Norton goes where no one has gone before, recounting the origin story of a Conan type warrior set upon revenge resulting from a certain hell that laid waste to his people, leaving him the last Kinmundian.  And the form of destruction?  A giant (cute), evil (really cute), white harp seal.  And yes, our warrior has his revenge, off-camera beating the seal to death with a giant candy cane.  In taking that revenge he must defeat another oppressor, the king of the Northland Elves, who decrees a life of servitude for our hero.  The king himself is none other than Santa Claus himself, although not referred by that name.

This all sounds very dark and awful, doesn’t it?  How can it be funny and so good?  It’s in the delivery and the absurdity of it all–the gall of putting such untouchables in such unthinkable situations.  It’s something that I think big kids would get a kick out of.  This book is clearly written for me as an audience, but who else?  It’s worth noting that our storyteller is lying naked in bed telling the story to her two dogs.  Of course she is covered and I really don’t think little kids would even notice, but it’s all so strangely subversive, and… really, really good.

I haven’t even mentioned the curse of the thousand angry gophers, the “scribbly scrabbly” crazy man who accompanies our hero, the fate of the witch toad, the almighty God-dog the White, or even the entry of the eager and brave Battlepug into the story.

It all reminds me of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard, a series of comic books that when compiled read more like children’s storybooks (which we will review here on a later date).  Norton and Petersen have this niche in common with both of their hardcover presentations–you want to sit down with these books and have storytime.  These guys are comic book artists, yet these projects harken back to something like oversized Little Golden Books but for a more mature audience.  With Battlepug you have beautiful images, interesting and funny surprise characters, and a narrative structure and tale that would fall alongside any other classic tale on your bookshelf.  It’s no wonder he was recognized by the Eisner committee–this isn’t only crazy silliness, it’s a story with roots in classic fiction and the beginnings of a character who could hold his own with Conan and Tarzan.

You won’t be disappointed with Mike Norton’s Battlepug.

Mike Norton’s Battlepug: Volume 1–Blood and Drool is available in comic book stores, other bookstores and online.