Pope introduced THB in 1995, the same year he began work for Kodansha, Japan's best-known manga publisher. Pope eventually developed the manga Supertrouble for Kodansha, which mined the "cutie-pie" girl adventure vein that THB exists in. Pope has self-published some of his work through is own Horse Press, with other work such as One-Trick Ripoff coming from Dark Horse ComicsHeavy Liquid and 100% published under DC Comics' Vertigo and imprint.
Pope's work combines the precision and romance of the European artists he studies with the energy and page design of the manga tradition. His storytelling narratives continue to mature with well-paced, deftly-shaded combinations of science fiction, hardboiled crime stories and the Romeo and Juliet archetype. Pope's two protagonist types are the silent, lanky outsider male of One-Trick Ripoff, Escapo and Heavy Liquid, or the resourceful, aggressive, humorous young teenage girls of THB.
In 2006, Pope received an Eisner Award for Best Short Story for his work, "Teenage Sidekick", published in Solo #3. In 2007, Pope won two additional Eisners, Best Writer/Artist and Best Limited Series, for his Batman mini-series, Batman: Year 100. Discussing the story, which is set in 2039, one hundred years after the first appearance of the caped crusader, Pope said: "I wanted to present a new take on Batman, who is without a doubt a mythic figure in our pop-psyche. My Batman is not only totally science fiction, he's also a very physical superhero: he bleeds, he sweats, he eats. He's someone born into an over-arching police state; someone with the body of David Beckham, the brain of Tesla, and the wealth of Howard Hughes... pretending to be Nosferatu." The story, colored by José Villarrubia, was originally presented in a four-part prestige format in 2006. DC Comics later published a trade paperback collecting Batman: Year 100 in early 2007. The trade also includes Pope's "Berlin Batman" story from The Batman Chronicles No. 11. "Berlin Batman" involves a version of Batman who lives in the German Weimar Republic on the eve of World War II. The Weimar Batman helps keep the papers of Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises from falling into Nazi hands. Both Batman stories in the collection reflect implicit libertarian themes that often appear in Pope's work. He also wrote one of the comics for Toonami's website.
Aside from comics, in the fall of 2006 Pope worked with Italian clothing company Diesel on a big store installation during their fall fashion week campaign, and a screenprint series based on their 'Chelsea Hotel' campaign as a 51st birthday present to Diesel's founder, Renzo Rosso. In the fall of 2008, Pope went a step further by partnering with DKNY to create the DKNY:2089 collection.
Pope's first art book titled Pulphope: The Art of Paul Pope came out in June 2007. A collection of his most representative work, the 224 page hardcover was published by AdHouse Books. Pope has also announced the pending publication of two original graphic novels, Battling Boy from First Second Books, and La Chica Bionica from French publisher Dargaud.
Paul Pope didn't wait for anyone to discover him. The Ohio native kicked his way into comics during the mid-'90s self-publishing boom with work that included "THB" -- his as-yet-unfinished sci-fi adventure about a 13-year-old girl running from robots and bureaucrats on Mars. He's since followed that up with hit books that include "The One-Trick Rip-Off," "Escapo," "Heavy Liquid," "100%," the Adam Strange story in "Wednesday Comics" and most famously "Batman: Year 100."
Pope stood out in the mid-'90s for a number of reasons. He was one of the few Americans at the time to work in-house at Japanese megapublisher Kodansha -- and his crazy-fluid style and mammoth page counts merged European, Japanese and American comics styles in a way that proved prophetic. (I'd argue "Scott Pilgrim" and its ilk owe a lot to Pope's groundwork, consciously or un-.) Pope also had fun playing with personas and the notions of what a comics artist can be: He put cheeky rock-star photos of himself in his comics, gave himself Ziggy Stardust-style names like "Pulphope" and "Comics Destroyer," and took his illustration into the realms of rock and fashion in New York, where he now resides. Pope is currently working on three big projects. For First Second, he's writing and drawing "Battling Boy" -- his young-adult graphic novel about a kid superhero fighting monsters for hundreds of pages -- and "Total THB," a partial redraw of "THB" that will finally conclude that series. He's also working on "Psychenaut," a dream-analysis project for French publisher Dargaud.
Pope is making a rare guest appearance this weekend at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland, Oregon -- with two-hour signings on Saturday and Sunday, April 24-25. (I'm told he'll be selling his limited-edition vinyl toy, "The Masked Karimbah.") On Sunday, he'll also give a talk with a Q&A. Then, on Sunday night, Pope will DJ and show his experimental sci-fi mashup film "Psychenaut" (a different project than the French comic) on the main floor of the Bossanova Ballroom during the "Stumptown Volunteer Appreciation and After Fest Party." Pope's girlfriend, the New York burlesque and circus performer Harvest Moon, is coming to Portland with him; she's performing at the Bossanova at "The Royal Tease" (April 24) and "Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School" (April 25).
When we spoke last week, Pope had just wrapped a deadline for a French magazine. We talked for an hour-and-a-half while he walked around New York. ("I'm like The Fonz," he joked. "The street's like my office.") Topics of conversation: "Battling Boy," "Psychenaut," burlesque, manga, sex in comics, the ultimate Bat-Cycle, how to draw 70 pages in a month, "THB," Moebius, "Close Encounters," Jeff Smith, what makes a good superhero movie, and how to make toys, camouflage and a rock-star comics persona. An edited transcript follows.
Oh, and we also talked about Pope's surprising connection with AICN's own Mr. Beaks....
-- Mike Russell, www.CulturePulp.com
MIKE RUSSELL: AICN editor Jeremy Smith [a.k.a. "Mr. Beaks"] has surprising connection to you: Your grandfather is a friend and former colleague of Jeremy's father. His dad used to assist your grandfather in surgery.
PAUL POPE: Oh, yeah. I totally remember Jeremy from the old days.
RUSSELL: When I pitched this interview, Beaks wrote back: "I remember seeing a press release Paul wrote and illustrated for his grandfather's sod-laying machine in the early '90s."
POPE: Well, you know, my granddad was an inventor. I think my work ethic comes from him -- and probably an understanding of mechanics.
RUSSELL: I remember when you wrote about checking out some actual flying cars while doing research for a "Fantastic Four" story.
POPE: Oh, yeah. The car I used for that story was designed by Chip Foose, who did all the design work for Pixar for "Cars." Very cool.
RUSSELL: I'm reminded of your "Batman: Year 100" motorcycle. I'm guessing Christopher Nolan reached for that when they were designing the Bat-Pod for "The Dark Knight."
POPE: My cousin Sterling works at Ford -- and at the time I was working on "Batman," he was designing suspension systems. So we sat down together, and I said, "Sterling, imagine I've got a billion dollars. I'm going to hire you to make the most badass bike. Money is not an issue. Just design the ultimate concept bike."
He said, "Well, we're going to start with titanium as the base."
I was like, "Cool."
And so we designed it. He has a credit in the book.
And the coroner in "Batman: Year 100" is based on my granddad. He was a forensic coroner. Kind of a multitasker. It was possible for him to also be an engineer and a farmer at the same time.
RUSSELL: Now, I know Harvest Moon is coming out to Stumptown with you. What has your association with Harvest Moon -- and working with her on stuff like "Shakedown" -- brought to your art? What has New York City brought to your art?
POPE: It's funny, living in New York, because I meet so many students from FIT and all these different art schools. I'm involved in a world of other art-school trained cartoonists. Where I came from was such a different vibe. Growing up in Ohio, I felt like I was pretty much the only guy from my background who was really into comics. It was a little bit isolating, you know?
I always look for artists with one toe in what I call "heroic realism" or figure-based draftsmanship, and I always loved Toulouse-Lautrec. And now that I'm involved not only with a performer, but in a world of performers, I'm able to actually see the kinds of things that Lautrec might have seen. I want to make this contemporary, and I want to add a bit of graphics flair to the live performance, which doesn't really have a document. I mean, people can photograph it, but....
I have friends who are sideshow performers out at Coney Island -- and, you know, they're professional freaks. It's cool. And because I'm not a performer, I always wonder what I can give back to this world that I'm living in. There's a sort of warmth to having an artist there, documenting it -- not just photographing it, but eliciting a feeling of what it's like to be here via pictures.
RUSSELL: I was covering a community-theater production for a small newspaper I used to work for, and I found out Val Mayerik was in the cast -- the cartoonist who first drew Howard the Duck. He was a supporting player in what I recall was this little chamber murder mystery. I asked him why he was doing it, and he said, "Drawing gets really lonely. This is a nice release."
POPE: Yeah. I can see that.
RUSSELL: I'm reminded of an interview you gave where you talked about how Harvest Moon gets applause for her burlesque work as she does it, but you have to sort of carry the applause around in your head.
POPE: Yeah. And I haven't fully assimilated the digital-immersion factor, either. You have to fight more to have peace of mind than you used to. I'm not totally comfortable with that, but it's necessary. That's the next decade's worth of trouble -- cracking that code.
RUSSELL: You were an early evangelist in the '90s for bringing European and Japanese influences into American comics-making. In the post-Internet era, this cross-pollination is widespread. You personally had to travel to find that stuff -- and now someone can look up Hugo Pratt, Guido Crepax and "Rocco Vargas" [all influences on Pope's work] from anywhere in the world. You've written about wanting a "world comic" drawing in every global influence. Has that dream come to fruition?
POPE: I'd say no. To me, the concept of a "world comic" is there to be a starting point, not an endpoint. The best thing comics can be is a launching point -- it's the point where we let the arrow from the bow, but it can never be the bull's eye. Art is not nihilistic -- we're never going to see the end of it.
I reject this stupid postmodern notion that art is dead and all we can do is recombine things. I hate that because it shows a lack of creativity on the part of the people saying it. Gosh -- I feel very benevolent and gregarious toward the big question-mark of the future when it comes to art.
I tend to think I'm fairly modern in the capital-M sense. A lot of my concerns are fairly critical of technology and the changes that it's bringing without giving society time to process what those changes mean. So I do feel a sort of black bird of warning on my shoulder all the time. But at the same time, I have to feel generous toward the future. I haven't figured out the game yet, but a lot of good, smart people are getting into it.
RUSSELL: I want to talk about your work process. What's your record for monthly page output? Because you've said it was 70 pages.
POPE: [laughs] Something like that.
RUSSELL: Seventy pages in one month. How the fuck did you do that?
POPE: You pretty much just put the seat-belt on. It's like having a one-month plane-ride. But that was what was needed -- it was a serious testing ground. This was in 1999, 2000.
RUSSELL: This happened during your years working with Kodansha?
POPE: Yeah, toward the end of it. A lot of those guys [working for Kodansha] approached making manga more like a TV studio -- where you had maybe 15 employees. But in the case of myself and Masashi Tanaka. the guy who did the book "Gon" -- remember that? With the dinosaur? --
RUSSELL: Yeah, yeah.
POPE: -- We were the only guys working for Kodansha who were working solo at the time. So Tanaka was pretty much my only role model. Him and Jack Kirby. I thought, "Jack Kirby did it while raising four kids; it shouldn't be that tough for me" -- I was only 28 or 29 -- "I can do this."
I mean, it didn't look very good -- it wasn't pristine. It wasn't Barry Windsor-Smith having six months to do a page. But that's not what's necessary in manga. Culturally, it's totally different, the way they perceive comics. To me, manga's a different thing, totally -- it's a cousin of comics.
RUSSELL: You've written quite a bit about your years on contract with Kodansha, starting in 1995. You created hundreds of pages of work for them over a period of years and only saw -- what? 14 pages of "Supertrouble" published? [NOTE: "Supertrouble" was a sort of alternate-universe, sillier version of "THB" that Pope wrote and drew for Kodansha. -- Ed.] I can imagine that was incredibly frustrating, but you still speak of it as a major formative period for your work.
POPE: Oh, yeah. I mean, it can't be bad -- I came back, and I'd learned a bunch of stuff that no one else knew. Seriously. I mean, not many guys in the West can say they spent time over there and worked inside the mainstream Japanese publishing system for manga, and had a table, translators and editors. You've got to make something of that.
RUSSELL: And you see the change immediately in your work -- watching the way "THB" changes in the way it looks and reads. I know for me, it was looking at "The One Trick Rip-Off" and saying, "Oh -- something different is happening here."
POPE: Yeah. Something clicked there. It's true.
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