Paul Pope's Battling Boy was one of the strongest YA comics of 2013; now he's surpassed it with the sequel, The Rise of Aurora West. Paul Pope has graced us with some notes on Aurora West's creation story, along with a long, gripping excerpt, courtesy of publisher Firstsecond.

The next book in the Battling Boy series is out this week, and it is called The Rise of Aurora West. I hope everybody checks it out. It's suitable for young readers and adults alike. My whole mission as a creator now is to make kick-ass "all ages" comics. There aren't enough of those out there, I think. This is my attempt to balance that scale.

Co-written by myself and JT Petty, drawn by rising star David Rubin, this book (the first of two in the series) is based on the larger story bible I wrote for the entire cycle of stories set in this fictional universe. Aurora is a teenage hero in training, her father Haggard West being the sole protector of the mythical city Arcopolis, a sprawling landscape overwhelmed by a plague-like monster infestation. The monsters are the classic grotesqueries we've seen in the darkest of fairy tales, Hieronymus Bosch triptychs, and Picasso paintings. They steal children and destroy things. They eat cars and slimy things. They drink paint thinner and strap chainsaws on their backs. They sometimes kill. Haggard's wife, Aurora's mother, is one of their victims. Aurora is half an orphan, a child soldier, daughter of an embattled, scarred science hero widower. The Aurora series focuses on Aurora's training, and her attempt to uncover the mystery of just who killed her mother…and why. It's a more dense and psychological story than is Battling Boy. Battling Boy–the story I am writing and drawing on my own–relies more on the techniques of manga, where action and big moments are emphasized. Aurora is more of an internal exploration of a young hero in the making. Aurora's story is steeped in classic pulp fiction and detective stories. One is the coming-of-age of a boy hero, the other a girl hero. Together, these books make a larger 4 book cycle.

I must admit I am a bit surprised to find people focusing on Aurora as a "strong female protagonist." I'm definitely cool with it, but her invention was spontaneous. As she developed, she grew into this, almost as if she told me what she needed to be. It is good to see people responding to her in this positive light. Creating this strong female protagonist wasn't a cynical intention, using some story formula cribbed from Robert McKee or David Mamet or something. She sprung from the necessity of the story itself. It was natural to me to develop a character like Aurora, the story told me what was necessary. I grew up in rural Ohio and the women who raised me were smart and they were tough. They were on equal yet different footing to the men. I drew on those visceral memories when thinking up Aurora. She's a special girl finding herself in a dangerous world.

It is amazing to be traveling around to various cities and to be meeting young readers at schools and libraries who have never read a comic book or graphic novel, picking up Battling Boy or The Rise of Aurora West for the first time and really getting it. Some of these kids will go on to read comics for the rest of their lives. A handful of them will go on to be writers and artists themselves.

And so the wheel turns.

Paul Pope