Tuesday, October 16, 2007


By Keith Giles

I honestly can't close the loop on why I love Paul Pope. It's too much to put into words, but let me select a few things that rise to the top.

First, his ink work. It's been said that no one in modern American comics comes as close to combining Japanese manga linework with European style sensibilities as Pope does. The best way to see his work is in black and white. Like the best work by artists Brian Wood and Frank Miller, coloring the art of Paul Pope is rarely an improvement. You could probably add Becky Cloonan to that list. (I just did).

The duo-tone colors of Pope's epic "Heavy Liquid" graphic novel do not detract from his storytelling, and the pages on his "Batman Year 100" are probably the best I've seen in color, but it's the black and white that really allows his art to breathe deep. I can't help but imagine what those "Year 100" pages would look like in their stripped-down glory.

For the best examples of his black and white art I'd direct you to any of his original THB sci-fi series of comics. Those might be hard to find, to say the least, but they're worth seeking out. After that I'd say his recent "100%" graphic novel from Vertigo is worth your purchase. I was lucky enough to have advance pages of the first two issues photocopied and mailed to me by Vertigo for an interview I did with Pople, back when I was still writing for CBR. Those stark, raw pages of "100%" are still preferable to me than the more polished grayscale pages in the final, actual book. If you're still jonesing for more of Pope's black and white work you might possibly look for a copy of his "One-Trick Rip-Off" book from Dark Horse next. The story is loopy and suffers from a "What the hell?" moment of misplaced meta-human ability, but otherwise the art is fantastic and vibrant.

Pope is also one of those rare creators (again like Brian Wood and Frank Miller) who is able to write and illustrate their work with equal flair. Pope's writing excels on his own original sci-fi series, "THB" where the storyline takes a long time to unfold, the characters have room to grow and the world he creates is as much a character as anything else on the page. Pope has called this his "Dune", meaning it's an epic sci-fi story that he intends to work on for the rest of his career. He's in no hurry to slam it out, although his fans are clawing their eyes out for the next issue to emerge.

The way Pope has balanced his original work and his work-for-hire has been to take on a few high-profile books from large publishers like Marvel or DC in order to pay the bills and alternate an original book into the workflow whenever possible. He's also been blessed to have some of those work-for-hire books double as his original work as with "100%" or "Heavy Liquid".

Those two Vertigo mini-series are probably among the very best work Pope has ever done to date, in this writer's opinion. If you could only afford two graphic novels of his work (and at Vertigo's price tag on those, it wouldn't be hard to believe), you're best bet is to pick up "Heavy Liquid" and "100%" to get the full Pope experience.

"Heavy Liquid" was probably my very first taste of Pope's work, and still one of my favorites. I managed to pick up a copy of the graphic novel at half price through a friend who worked at B&N (it was on the half-price sale rack of all things). It was an amazing story of an addict who stumbles upon an unusual liquid metal substance that when heated and poured into the ear canal creates the most amazing high imaginable. The main character is our pathetic, drug-addicted loser who finds himself being chased by a government agent who wants to get his missing substance back. The story reads like the coolest sci-fi film you've never seen, but hope to one day.

"100%" is more of a love story, set in the same universe as "Heavy Liquid" but with different characters living out their mostly normal lives. The fact that they're in the future is incidental, for the most part, although Pope drops in some inspired ideas of what the future of entertainment, communcations and politics might bring us, but the main story here involves six individuals at various stages of in their lives who suddenly find themselves involved in a relationship. Honestly, as much as I love the sci-fi action side of "Heavy Liquid", I think the satisfaction I felt at the end of the "100%" story was on par with reading the last page of a great novel. It felt right. The characters had become real people to me. Their pain and their fear and their wonder had become palpable, and that's rare in any comicbook or graphic novel you might ever come across.

His most current graphic novel, "Batman Year 100" is a look at the caped crusader in the year 2039 where America is a police state and anyone with a secret identity is a threat to National Security. One thing that Pope does in this book, which I love, is that he identifies the future Batman as the same person who appeared in Gotham back in the '40's, and continued to fight crime on into the year 2007. Suddenly the masked vigilante is back, as impossible as that sounds, but Pope offers no explanation whatsoever. He simply acknowledges that this same Bruce Wayne appeared on the scene as Batman during World War II and continues to haunt Gotham to this day.

The unspoken message is that no one reading Batman right now, in the year 2007/2008 has any problem with this fact. We know that Batman's origin places him in a specific time period. We know that by now, if he was a real person, he'd be much too old to continue fighting crime, but if we don't require an answer as to "Why" today, is there really a good reason that we'd need to know the answer forty years from now? I love that Pope doesn't avoid the question, but he also doesn't feel he needs to answer the question either. What matters is that Batman is back.

Pope's Batman is also a return to what I believe should always be inherent in any Batman story; the idea that Batman is meant to be a force of nature. He is meant to scare the living hell out of criminals. This is what the "Batman Begins" film did so well. We see people wetting themselves whenever Batman shows up. He drops out of the ceiling, grabs someone in his cloak and floats back up into the darkness where we hear screams of horror and a limp body drops to the floor unconscious. "Let me outta here!" the rest of them shout.

That's Batman. He is a nightmare. He is a ghost. He is Nosferatu, and Pope understands that.

I was lucky enough, back in the days when I wrote for CBR, to interview Pope over the phone, about three different times. He was always a joy to talk to. He took plenty of time to unpack his characters, his stories, and his love for the medium. I felt like I was talking to a good friend and not a comic book artist. He even took the time to provide feedback for me on my "Hard Video" storyline and he and I went back and forth quite a bit talking about our favorite sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin and Ray Bradbury.

What I love most about Paul Pope, other than his great artistic ability and his maturing ability to write, is the fact that he sincerely loves science fiction. He reads it, he thinks about it, and he loves it.

At the moment, Paul is working on another original graphic novel called "Battling Boy" which will be released as a two-book, 400-page fairy tale revolving around a young hero who faces off against various demons in the city of Monstropolis. Can't wait.

Paul Pope - I love you.

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