Stumptown Comics Fest: Spotlight on Paul Pope

One of the most insightful talks I attended at Stumptown Comics Fest was given by Paul Pope.

Pope looked like a rock guitarist on his day off: shaggy hair, black jacket, faded blue jeans. His demeanor echoed the spirit of Jim Morrison, whom he cited as one of his early influences. Despite the bad boy aura, Pope was prepared with a professional PowerPoint presentation, and proceeded to deconstruct his art with the precision of a surgeon.

Pope claims that his overarching goals are to bring non-comic subjects into his body of work, and to take the tenets of pop art seriously. He was drawn to the medium because he loved the cheap, mass-produced quality of comics, but he also wants to stretch the art form, and talked about "covering" previous artists in the way musicians cover songs.

His original influences came from two men in his life: his father's rock 'n roll record collection, and his uncle's comic collection. From there he began to explore offshoots: Little Nemo, Heavy Metal Magazine, the work of Moebius especially his "Airtight Garage," and other "sinister" European art. He also mentioned the manga artist Tadanori Yokoo. Then to top it off he mentioned the Sunday comics of Milt Caniff and the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven. At one point said he had a desire to cover Omac "in the style of Andrei Rublev." I'm not sure if he meant the painter, or in the style of the film by Andrei Tarkovsky of the painter's life.

With each reference I became more intrigued by this artist, and I was still reeling when he began a dissection of his efforts on Batman Year 100. "Imagine Batman as a corporate brand," he suggested, "how does one face lift...tweak an icon?". Let me tell you, if you're Paul Pope it's a very thoughtful process.

Pope tried to distill the essence of Batman, and in his mind the bat silhouette is the brand. Throughout the world, even if people don't read comics, they recognize the bat shadow and oval for Batman. The other facet of the character is the city, which Pope called The Batman's "signature." As protector of the city, there's no reason for a Batman without the city. He also thought the flapping cape suggested a flying flag.

From that start Pope rambled through a jumble of impressions: German Kaiser era font, the art and design of Gustav Klimt, Batman as a heavy metal rock band. All of these ideas flowed into the Batman Year 100 cover. References to Batman as the mysterious stranger made him think of Max Schreck in Nosferatu, another "bat" influence. Also the strength and protection of the Golem.

Moving past the cover, Pope wanted the first scene in Batman Year 100 to encapsulate the story, just as the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are repeated throughout the music. He lifted the bike scene from George Lucas's THX 1138, because those motorcycles were so ominous and fast. Also he wanted to incorporate the "bat in the man," giving Batman an animal totem beyond the normal Batman in the comics. So, he came up with the custom mouth guard, looking like vampire teeth.

By the end of the presentation Pope had run through a litany of influences that seemed more dreamlike and expressionist than concrete. Although I hadn't paid much attention to Paul Pope, I liked his reinvention of Adam Strange for Wednesday Comics. His presentation at Stumpfest made me want to (re-)read all of his earlier work.

Some other points touched on during the Q&A session:
  • Sam Hiti's "Death Day"
  • act-i-vate comics web site
  • Luis Bunuel's autobiography "My Last Sigh"
  • The death (and dearth) of anthology publications like Heavy Metal, and how web comic sites like act-i-vate might replace them.
  • How pinball tables influenced the symmetrical layout of Adam Strange in Wednesday Comics
  • How his computer workspace is physically lower than his drawing space -- so the computer knows who's in charge.
  • His work with Michael Chabon on the film version of Kavalier & Klay, which is on permanent hiatus

Pope also briefly spoke about his newest work, Battling Boy, the son of a god who comes down from a mountain at his father’s behest to rid a giant city of monsters.  The work is his way to find some wish fulfillment and it looks like it has a lot of extended fight scenes.

You can get more insight into Paul Pope on his blog, or through his flickr stream.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]