Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Graphic Arts As Literature


Paul Pope’s edgy style reflects
influence of flamboyant ’70s

By Gary C.W. Chun

To find the cutting edge in comic books, look no further than the work of Paul Pope.

While he's done the occasional superhero cover and story, it's his wild-eyed sci-fi/urban youth stories and thickly rendered, flamboyant drawings published in the independent press and books published under the DC/Vertigo imprimatur that distinguished him from others.

His continuing Horse Press title "THB" is a full-on head trip. It's Pope's id translated straight to the page -- freewheeling, dazzling and exhilarating to look at, tough to comprehend, but addicting nevertheless.

Pope said in a DC Comics Web site interview that he grew up in the '70s, with Hendrix and Jagger and Bowie as role models. "I thought (Bowie's creation) Ziggy Stardust really was from Mars -- and that seemed so much cooler to me than the people I knew who were from Earth! Somehow, that all fused with comics, and here we are."

His Vertigo projects have been a little more comprehensible. Last year's "Heavy Liquid" series made the Publisher's Weekly list of the Top 100 Books of 2001 and's list of Top 10 Comics of the same year. The series' issues haven't been conveniently collected into a paperback version, but they're worth a dig through comic store's back-issue boxes.

His latest "graphic movie," called "100%," looks like another winner, reflecting the manga drawing style he picked up in the five years he worked for Japanese manga publisher Kodansha.

His energetic renderings of the gritty, urban dystopian future populated by his restless young protagonists are truly remarkable. "I want my work to seem completely authentic, to hit people as true," he said. "The fact that I live in New York makes it possible for my 'version' of New York ... to come across as accurate.

"I try to capture some of the atmosphere of living here, and if the New York of '100%' seems a little gloomy and paranoid, well, welcome to NYC post 9-11! Of course, New York is also a totally inspiring place to live. Always something to inspire you here, day or night."

IN THE FIRST issue of "100%," we meet three characters who work in the Cat Shack club. Dancers Kim and Strel are frightened by the recent discovery of a girl's body in a nearby alley. Because the girl was a club regular and acquaintance, Kim wants to buy a "Glock" for protection from a shady character named Sheik Ali Flesh (told in a splendid, dialogue-less chapter later in the issue). In the meantime, busboy John wants to get out of his dead-end job and "peel life like fruit, and use it up. I'm gonna light up an' burn. I'll burn and burn until I'm snuffed out. Then I'll just fade away." He may get that opportunity after meeting a new dancer who accidentally leaves her diary in his possession.

Pope said that these, plus another three characters we'll meet later, are at the heart of "100%"'s story. "It's their world. A lot of it is completely based on stuff I've actually lived, even down to the dialogue; some of it is my sister's story, my best friend's. The setting is fantastic, but the event are all based on true experiences."

And Pope is allowed to tell his story without any distracting colors. "I always envisioned it as a black-and-white comic. This story is a romance, and in my mind it feels like a silent film, like Rudolph Valentino in 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' or something. And since '100%' is pretty much pure sci-fi, I wanted to work in a format which seemed a little anachronistic, gives the subject matter -- like seeing some long lost Futurist comic from maybe the 1910s or '20s. (Colorist and separator) Lee Loughridge and I worked up this style I call 'dirty Xerox' -- As if '100%' is actually a bootleg reproduction of a comic from another place and time. If it looks weird, well, it's on purpose ... Totally conceptual."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin