Archive Binge: Battlepug
Battlepug is a webcomic that is entirely deserving of the massive praise that it has received from start to finish. Starting as a blatant pastiche of Conan the Barbarian before gradually expanding out into a pastiche of all pulp fantasy and tying together its central plot with the framing device in a neat little bow.
While the art gives the appearance of a slightly more cartoonish version of the 80s pulp fantasy covers that look great when they are airbrushed onto the side of a van, the plot and characters are decidedly modern versions of the old fantasy archetypes, evolving and changing throughout the story.
I would be remiss to talk about Battlepug without first mentioning one of the setting’s most unique and prevalent features, the massive adorable animals that seem to appear every few pages to age war on the heroes and villains in almost equal measure. Central to this is of course the colossal dog of the title, but equally noteworthy are the giant spirit gophers, giant blue whales and the titanic baby seal that takes the opportunity to do some clubbing of its own.
Every character in this comic, from bit players to protagonists, receive either a complex and fully developed back story or possess such an overwhelming personality that you feel as though you know them instantly. The world that they occupy is considerably more obfuscated but that once again fits in with the pulp setting, where there is meant to be a degree of mystery and every new land that they journey to could contain untold wonders or dangers. Battlepug is a love-letter to these old stories.
So much of Robert E Howard’s work, and that of Moorcock, Lieber and their yellow papered kin was rooted in the imperialist pulp of the previous generation, the two-fisted adventures in “the mysterious orient” and “the dark continent.” Racism was far from eradicated within these stories, it was a poison that took root within the fantasy genre and still persists to this day in fact, but even those writers “of their time” recognised that the sense of wonder and possibility was diminished in the post-colonial world. Everywhere that was once marked “here be dragons” upon the map had rapidly been filled with boring geography. The fantasy worlds that they created were new blank slates to explore anew. Battlepug, for all of its 80s action cartoon sensibilities, captures that sense of “Terra Incognita” in a way that very few contemporary fantasy writers achieve with the modern devotion to painstaking world-building.
The action is dynamic, the giant animals are adorable and intimidating in equal measure, there is a tiny witch who won’t stop swearing, a pirate king with a dark secret and a mage hating barbarian who may in fact be a mage. If that isn’t enough to convince you to devote the hour or so that Battlepug demands then the sheer ridiculousness of the arch-villain’s name should be enough to fill your heart with childish glee.
Whether you come for the fantasy and stay for the cuteness or come for the pug and stay for the characters, Battlepug has something for everyone.