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Paul Pope Overview

born: 1970
born in: Philadelphia, PA
lives in: New York
Paul Pope is an American writer and artist, best known for his work in alternative comics. His work ranges from superheroes to erotica, from manga to rock and roll, from fashion design to science fiction futurism.... [more]

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“Hi! Are you familiar with the work of China Mieville? ”
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Interview with Paul Pope

Paul Pope Interviewed by Ray Mescallado, excerpted from TCJ #s 191 and 192 RAY MESCALLADO: Now you were just talking about how THB has a greater personal investment for you. Is that what sets it apart as far as why you're going to continue to self-publish it instead of farming it out to someone? PAUL POPE:That's less important to me as the practical aspect of having put so much money behind the self-published stuff. At this point I want to be able to control THB, whatever happens in the future, no matter what media it's going to be -- you know, 50 years from now, what you're going to know THB as. Having done this much work in the seminal stages of my career, it just wouldn't make any sense to take it anyplace else. Which is why Kodansha has something which had grown out of THB but isn't THB. MESCALLADO: That's Super Trouble. POPE: Yeah, exactly. MESCALLADO: So can you explain how Super Trouble evolved out of THB? They asked for something like THB but not the same, right? POPE: My attitude towards the big publishers is that they're giant mechanisms, sometimes unwieldy. With the proper approach, and with the proper attitude, and with the proper material, you're able to do amazing things with them, as has been proven time and time again over the decades, in very rare instances. Now I would say in the case of Kodansha being one of the biggest if not the biggest comics publisher in the world, I wanted to look at what was available with their opportunities that was specific to what they were offering, in terms of their audience, what kind of a tradition they had developed in publishing already, things like this. So when they told me they were interested in THB, I wanted to find out exactly what it was about THB they liked and then distill that. Because whatever it is they're responding to is genuinely mine, since it's in my work and it's not something contrived or compromised. And it occurred to me it's the aspect of the teenage girl -- actually what has since evolved into the cutie-pie style, which I'm thinking is actually kind of a genre, maybe, or maybe kind of a style, a style of cartooning that exists in my stuff and that I'm working on over the course of time. So it's not so much the specific characters of THB they're interested in as it is the attitude of THB. MESCALLADO: So how is Super Trouble different, then? What's it about? POPE: Super Trouble on a certain superficial level looks the same, because I've got teenage girls, they're dressed like THB girls. And in fact, not the main character, but one of the two main characters looks like HR. The girls look like HR and Lollie from THB. But they're changing over time, as they really should, since I'm not doing the same things in the story that the THB girls are doing. So Super Trouble is a story about teenage girls who basically just get into a lot of trouble. MESCALLADO: [laughs] So it's The Patty Duke Show, you're telling me? POPE: No, I'm trying to play on... Lemme think about this for a second. MESCALLADO: What would the plot be like? POPE: Well, Super Trouble... It's sexier than THB, as a series. So one aspect I'm putting into it that I don't put in THB, is this overt sexiness. But the plot would be these two girls, they're Catholic school girls, they're trying to be good, they're trying to be upright, they're trying to be correct, but they can't. Because they have urges and they have bodily functions and they have desires and they have foibles. So hopefully it's sort of a theme for... [sighs] I don't know. I don't want to make it that arching, 'cause it's not that serious. Sorry, I'm making a total mess of it, I'm not explaining it very well. MESCALLADO: That's okay. POPE: It's hard to talk about these things in liminal English, because that's why you make comics. You've got this idea, but it's something that requires you to express it in a manner other than words because if I could express it in words I could say, "Oh, here's this idea," and throw it out. I might say, "Isn't it kinda sexy when a girl's skirt gets dirty and she tries to hide it," something like that. I don't know, there's that aspect of it. MESCALLADO: [laughs] So it's dealing basically with teen sexuality in a way that isn't depraved, going back to what we talked about a couple of months ago. POPE: That's good. And that's the essence of cutie pie, too. This stuff is cute, but there's something sexy about it, too. MESCALLADO: Do you think Kodansha thinks it's going to get a strong response? POPE: Oh, I know they think that. We're putting a lot of effort into the fundamentals of making this a successful series. I'm looking at it as -- in the course of my career, however long it's going to be, or whatever echelon I may or may not reach -- this is going to be one of the big, well-known things. MESCALLADO: Oh. And how about THB itself? POPE: THB is probably going to evolve into something more personal. I'm thinking of it more like the world that Dali creates in his paintings. THB is evolving more into a personal -- I don't know... maybe... MESCALLADO: Idiom? POPE: Yeah. You're definitely going to get a personal idiom and it's a vehicle for expressing a certain type of idea. MESCALLADO: Now people usually think that kind of thing would be invested in autobiographical comics instead. POPE: Well, there's room for that. I like to do autobiographical stuff, I'm going to keep doing it in the future. But I think again this Oscar Wilde quotation is wonderful, this notion that you give a man a mask and he tells you the truth. I like the artifice of narrative, I like the artifice of comics storytelling and the theater of it. Where you've got an expression of ideas, and I definitely think of this stuff as very intellectual, in terms of expressing ideas, expressing concepts. MESCALLADO: So it's your own theater of the absurd, in some way? POPE: Well not necessarily absurdism, but there's this notion of theater in the sense of narrative, dramatization of ideas. Then of course, individual style, which is coming across, too, which is another really captivating thing about comics, the graphic element. MESCALLADO: You said before that the work you're proudest of at this point -- well, last we talked -- is "Escapo," which will be appearing in Giant THB. Now first off, what's Giant THB? POPE:Giant THB is the second giant comic that I've done. MESCALLADO: After P City Parade? POPE: No, that's going to be the third. After Buzz Buzz. And it's just a collection of three stories, "Escapo," "THB Versus RHM," which is a cutie-pie style story, and a thing that Jay Stephens has done for me called "Canyon Kids." And it's just my best attempt at a great comic book, in the sense that a band might put out a great album. It's a great collection of graphic stuff. So I'm not thinking of it as a periodical, I'm not thinking of it as a definitive work, I'm just thinking of it as the best comic I can produce in one volume. MESCALLADO: What appeals to you about this size and this format that you used for Buzz Buzz and that you're planning for these other projects? POPE: I published a manifesto, more or less, in Giant, and I basically believe that the format of comics needs to be changed in order for the market to expand, for new readers to be interested in comics. I think there're too many associations with the pamphlet-sized format of comics to really bring in people who would love comics if they only knew about them. So that's one element; that's sort of the economic visionary argument. On another level, because comics are graphic, I want to celebrate the drawing by giving it a larger platform literally. And in my case, since my comics pages, the originals, are literally twice as large as most comic book guys' size pages, I wanted to produce them in a larger format. MESCALLADO: What do you think is essential, then, to appealing to a wider audience? Obviously not color, as far as your work is concerned. POPE: No, I've been thinking about this and I think I have the answer. Not the only answer, but I have -- MESCALLADO: An answer. And your answer is... lots of pages for less? POPE: No, no, definitely not that. This is my answer, and this is what probably the next five to 10 years' worth of work for me is going to be. And that is, individual expression. So that what you're getting in my comics or the comics of any other artist in the medium is a form of expression and a style of expression and a means of expression that you won't find anyplace else in the world. Which I think is essential for any great art, the idea that the artist has ego and the artist has a type of expression that is individual. And, of course, a sense of some importance, some message to convey. Not like a down-from-the-mountain message. The message can be as simple as the style itself. But that's why the Rip Off is a story I put in a certain category. It's building on Chandler's traditions, the whole Black Mask era. Whereas in a wider sense, with the comics that I'm doing, I'm hoping to carve out a body of work that has as much validity and importance as a -- I don't know, like a Japanese print artist or a painter or a sculptor or a musician. There's an expression of the artist, larger than the medium itself, coming through the work. MESCALLADO: Okay, but how about the actual format? What format do you think would be best for an audience right now? POPE: Right now? I think it depends on a lot of factors, but the format is always going to be liquid because what's going to be necessary for comics five years down the road is going to be different. Hopefully, it's going to be influenced by what I'm doing now, but at this time I think for the new readers it's important to attract attention to the medium. And I think that needs to be done with sophistication, style, elegance, and bombast all at once. And I think at this time making giant, provocative, exuberant comics is the best way to do it.


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