It’s been said that we’re currently living in a Golden Age of comics. While this is under debate, one look around the libraries, bookstores and artist alleys of the industry will tell you it’s certainly the Golden Age of all-ages comics.
Enter The Legend of La Mariposa by James Lawrence. Despite not seeming out of place at a publishing house like First Second or BOOM! Studios, The Legend of La Mariposa was entirely independently produced and self-published by creator James Lawrence from Manchester, UK – first as a 200-page webcomic and now as a Kickstarter campaign. The rubber-ball bounce of the strip, and the fresh style which breezes through – a mix of classic adventure, Saturday morning cartoons and American newspaper strips – stars a plucky rookie Luchadora that learns the warrior’s road does not run in a straight line.
In this BF exclusive interview, writer/cartoonist and fan of The Legend of La Mariposa Owen Michael Johnson sits down with its creator James Lawrence to discuss influences, Kickstarter, and his legendary Luchadora.
OWEN MICHAEL JOHNSON: We first met back on the UK small press scene over a decade ago. At that time you were working on superhero action comic Dangerine, honing your style of action cartooning I felt was rare in the UK at the time. Talk to me about your general influences.
JAMES LAWRENCE: My influences range pretty far and wide, to be honest, but there’s definitely an aesthetic focus on kitschy retro elements like pulp fantasy, tokusatsu, Lucha Libre movies and silver age comics. Other stuff comes in there too of course in a less overt manner: heavy metal, punk rock, graffiti and food.
I could name specific artists but to be frank there’s far too many to list! I used to have specific Pillars of Influence, but over time I’ve found I look less at the work of specific artists for inspiration than I do at vague styles and aesthetics.
OMJ: La Mariposa started life as a webcomic. What was the spark of her story and why did you choose that format originally?
JL: The initial spark of La Mariposa came as an intent to do a very simple, silly gag comic so I could produce a minicomic and add another credit to my artist profile besides Dangerine.
However, as the story ballooned into what it would become, I eventually settled on the webcomic format simply because it allowed me to show work regularly as I finished pages, as opposed to disappearing for six months before releasing a finished book.
OMJ: You’ve decided to collect the whole Demon Gauntlet story as a physical book via Kickstarter. What can pledgers expect?
JL: This being my first Kickstarter, I’ve decided to keep the campaign pretty simple and straightforward, with a primary focus on the book. Additional rewards include classic Kickstarter mainstays such as a bookmark, a sheet of stickers and a limited number of custom marker commissions.
Everyone who backs will also get their name printed in the book on the thank you page and will receive a digital PDF copy as well!
OMJ: Perhaps explained by a formative experience with The Crystal Maze and The Legend of Zelda series but I have a huge soft spot for any adventure story with a water temple, a desert arena. These elemental zones only possible on a quest. What drew you to a classical quest storyline?
JL: Frankly it was giving myself fun stuff to draw! I myself am hugely influenced by classic video-games, so my brain automatically tends to think in terms of themed environments. Laying the story out as having these chapters with a unique environment and a themed boss character just came naturally as someone who grew up playing Megaman and Zelda.
OMJ: La Mariposa is a great character. Diligent and optimistic, hopeful and kind while very much following a path to get what she wants. Did you have any idea how important that philosophy would become when you started out?
JL: I truly believe it’s possible to get what you’re after while also supporting your friends and peers towards their own goals. When creating La Mariposa I thought it was super important to bear that in mind, tempering her macho sense of ambition with kindness and a willingness to put others first.
OMJ: For me the most abiding message of the book is not to waste too much time looking for outside validation (in La Mariposa’s case the Lucha hero team The Sons of Justice), and that hard-work and being defined by your actions (in this case a well-honed suplex) will earn you a place in the Hall of Legends. What do you want to leave readers with when they close the book?
JL: Ideally, three things: 1- You don’t need to belong to a special club to be legit, especially one that makes you jump through hoops to join. 2- Sometimes in spite of your best intentions, things will not work out and 3- If you get knocked down, take a bit of time if you need to, but ultimately, you have to get up again.
OMJ: The Legend of La Mariposa has been drawing favourable comparisons to Jeff Smith’s Bone saga and Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports. I think they’re richly deserved. What are your ambitions as a cartoonist?
JL: High praise indeed! Both those guys are personal heroes of mine. Ideally, I want to walk a similar road to them and produce a series of stories that anyone of any age is proud to have on their shelves. I want to establish my own visual vocabulary, and ultimately maybe inspire someone else to take up a pen and make their own stories.
OMJ: What’s the advice you would give to a young cartoonist starting out in the comic industry?
JL: Start small, and build momentum. Keep your eyes on the prize. Turn it into your hobby, because it’s too labour-intensive a discipline to do if you don’t enjoy it enough to sink significant time into it. And learn the basics! No one is saying you have to read every Loomis book cover to cover (although why not if you have the time), but a basic grasp of perspective, anatomy and visual storytelling will save you a LOT of frustration down the line.
OMJ: La Mariposa is Spanish for ‘the butterfly’. If you were tasked with making butter fly, what means of propulsion would you use and why?
JL: I’d rig up a similar apparatus to a flamethrower, load it with clarified butter and roam the streets. No toast would be safe from my ballistic ghee.
OMJ: What’s next for you, and for La Mariposa?
JL: Once this Kickstarter’s done I’m planning on launching another campaign next year to collect the Legend of La Mariposa minicomics into a full-colour volume. Thereafter I’ll begin drawing an all-new La Mariposa adventure called Vulcan’s Challenge.
I’m also planning on firing up the old Patreon and seeing how that works as a platform for sharing in-process work and short strips. Currently I’m working on a six-page short strip that will probably debut on there, so keep an eye out for that announcement!
(Editorial note: While for the moment we are continuing to support creators crowdfunding via Kickstarter Broken Frontier fully supports the Kickstarter United workers and we call on Kickstarter to do the right thing and recognise their right to unionise.)