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Paul Pope:

Pulp Hope

Paul Pope is doing a European tour, starting last weekend at the 41st Angoulême International Comics Festival and going to Paris and Brussels, but in between coming to the UK. I am thrilled that the award-winning, American-born, truly international cartoonist is making his exclusive London speaking engagement for a Comica Conversation with me at Foyles Bookshop on Tuesday February 4th, doors open 6.15 for 6.30pm start, ends 8.30pm.

Paul will discuss his remarkable career, creative process, global influences and current projects and will be drawing live, answering your questions and signing his books. Pope’s works include his initially self-published series THB and Escapo. He went on to work for DC Comics, winning multiple Eisner Awards for his electrifying, bat-fanged future vision of Batman Year 100, as well as authoring Vertigo mini-series and graphic novels like Heavy Liquid and 100%. His latest release is the hugely acclaimed, all-ages action-thriller Battling Boy from First Second/Macmillan (below), now in development as a feature movie.

Pope has collaborated on his own clothing range with DKNY, designed for Italy’s Diesel and been commissioned by Japanese giant Kodansha. He is currently preparing Psychenaut, a book of visual essays about Jungian dream analysis, for Dargaud Editions in France. To mark Pope’s London visit, I am re-posting my Article below about him - enjoy! And courtesy of Kevin Richter you can listen to our whole conversation here online and see some snapshots from the night, which ended up in the small hours in a karaoke bar with Paul and I joined by Rian Hughes (ta for photo) and Rafael Grampa singing our lungs out! Thanks again Paul for a really amazing evening!

"Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids." That’s certainly true for sassy fourteen-year old schoolgirl H. R. Watson, growing up on a clunky future Mars, where original Olmari colonials, second generation Earth immigrants and Numari bug-men live uneasily side-by-side in sprawling cities. H.R. lives in the manic multi-cultural metropolis of V-City, the daughter of a celebrated Mek-builder, heir to his fortune and a vulnerable pawn in a dangerous game of politics and finance.

Before he leaves on secret business, H.R.‘s father gives her one of his most sophisticated Supermeks, a THB or Tri-Hydro-Bioxygenate, as a protector. Condensed and dormant, THB is no bigger than a marble in your pocket. Dunk him in at least 6 ounces of water, however, and THB erupts into a 10 foot tall, 700 pound powerhouse, like a naked, pointy-headed genie, H.R.‘s every wish his command. The only snag is that most of Mars is sand.

THB #6 a-c

It’s been ten years now since Paul Pope unveiled this ambitious, ongoing sci-fi saga. As Horse Press, Pope has self-published the whole series in chunky black and white comic books, 72 to 96 pages long. I remember buying his opening THB episode complete with Go-Go checks on the cover and being won over on first reading by Pope’s exuberant imagination and fluid, muscular illustration. His sequential art chops were strong and fully formed from the start, healthily influenced by Kirby, Colan and Toth but also by Europeans like Pratt, Moebius and Munoz. These were obvious in his confident debut graphic novels Sin Titulo and The Ballad of Doctor Richardson. Since these he’s only got better.

True, he tends to run late with deadlines. And Pope’s admitted he’s had some trouble in the past coming up with stories with a beginning, middle and end. Over the decade he has promised us THB conclusions and a collected graphic novel, but with no signs yet and most of the early issues and oversized specials are now out of print. Rather than grumble about this or the time he’s taking to complete it, I’ve been relishing every fresh tangent, because on THB his story and storytelling skills keep getting bigger.

For a good jumping on point, try his latest instalment, THB Volume 2 #1, 96 magazine-sized pages, in which Watson Senior wheeler-deals with the Olmari tribes, while H.R. gets into still deeper trouble with robots and bug-men, despite the pyrotechnic efforts of THB and trouble-shooter and bodyguard McHaine. You can feel the sheer fun Pope is having with this.

THB #6 d

For heart-stopping passion and thrills I’d also recommend the first two collected chapters of Pope’s circus fantasy Escapo. Sporting his skintight skull-and-crossbones bodysuit like The Black Terror, escape artist and hopeless romantic Vic literally cheats death, but can he woo the high-flying affections of trapeze performer Aerobella? Like Pope’s luscious brush drawings, the emotions here bleed off the pages.

Pope has also been lucky enough to be paid for what he does best by some of the majors. First for Dark Horse he crafted a hard-boiled, Jim Thompson-style crime caper, The One Trick Rip-Off. Over at Oni Press, he pencilled the steamy love story Car Crash, split across two issues of Oni Double Feature. But it has been at DC Vertigo that Pope has been allowed full rein and two five-issue mini-series, now in graphic novel form.

He brings us back down to Earth for both of these stores, but still in an all-too-possible future (perhaps the same era as THB on Mars?), where today’s excesses just got more extreme. Pope often plants unmistakeable idealisations of himself in his comics, usually as sinewy, brooding heroes. In Heavy Liquid we meet ‘S’, an ex-cop in a snake-skin outfit, trying to extricate himself from drug dealers and terrorists and find his missing former girlfriend. The results show how much Paul Pope absorbed while working for five years for Japanese publishing giant Kodansha. Here he has the pages to apply the real lessons of manga, the decompressed flow and pacing, the feel of reading in ‘real time’, the deeper characterisation, and delivers an enthralling, kinetic ride.

Extract: 100%

Better still is his ‘graphic movie’ 100%. Pope interweaves three different love stories, all revolving around employees at the Catshack nightclub. The tale kicks off like a murder mystery, when a barmaid’s beaten body is found in a nearby alley and panics her colleague Kim into buying an illegal gun. Refreshingly, Pope has the killer quickly found and concentrates instead on his cast’s shifting emotions. Kim opens up when she meets Eloy, an installation artist desperately applying for a grant, while struggling to hold onto his vision of one hundred boiling kettles all tuned to C Major.

Pope’s closest alter ego is probably John, dishwasher and barback, whose existential malaise vanishes when he falls for the illusive Daisy. She’s the club’s new dancer of Gastro, the logical next step in simulated sex, permitting voyeurs to watch performers’ inner workings projected live onto huge overhead screens. But John doesn’t need this technology to look inside her heart, or so he thinks. Meanwhile, it’s been a year to the day since bruised boxer Haitous separated from Strel, dance manager and single Mum. She loathes his fighting but he’s promised that his last bout will change their lives. Pope serves up totally convincing dialogue, internal monologues and big human emotions and proves how love and life can go on, no matter how alienating the future gets.

Not everyone has been convinced by Pope’s output, but after 100% what should be the verdict? Is he just an arthouse pin-up boy, all hype and cool? To answer that bluntly, does Paul Pope shit in the woods? In a word, no. His stated goal was to create "World Comics, 21st century comics, stories in the comic medium that can reach and speak to people everywhere." He is doing just that, 100 per cent.

Extract: Heavy Liquid

Posted: January 29, 2014

The original version of this article appeared in 2004 in the pages of Comics International, the UK’s leading magazine about comics.


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