Zona Negativa interviews Paul Pope


The construction of the “comics destroyer”

David Fernández.- In your book Pulphope you include drawings done by you during your childhood. Which is the most vivid memory you have from those years of pure, spontaneous graphic expressions?

Paul Pope.- wow, a good question. Maybe looking at art books from the library with pictures of paintings. Artists like Picasso. I remember seeing and understanding his painting The 3 Musicians at a very young age. Also looking at my uncle’s comic book collection and my dad’s album collection– my uncle had all of the classic Silver Age American comics like Kirby’s Avengers and the Carmine Infantino Batman comics. And mt dad had all the classic, iconic rock and jazz albums of the 1960s. Somehow for me, Kirby and Picasso were related. Looking at the work of those artists, I’d listen to my dad’s albums– The Rolling Stones, great old jazz albums like Miles’ Sketches Of Spain, things like that. I looked at the cover designs of these a lot and really thought about what I was seeing…

Dibujo infantil de Paul Pope, y estudio a partir del mismo

David Fernández.- How did your first approach to the comic book world happened?

Paul Pope.- I began making them for myself as a kid. For my own amusement. I loved comics and wanted to make them from an early age. This was back in a world where there really were no video games and it was difficult to enjoy what we call «home entertainment» unless it was in reading a comic or a book or watching the very limited selection of what was available on televison. Or listening to music on the hi-fi or radio. Or talking to other people. Although I studied the fine arts and Western art history for years, I never lost a desire to make comics.

David Fernández.- You studied Arts at Ohio State University, where you found that comic books were underrated as a medium of artistic expression. Independently of the relative youth of the “ninth art”, why do you think these prejudices appear? Is the concept of “art” being unfairly restricted?

Paul Pope.- «Ninth Art» I guess meaning the medium of comics. I think the prejudice against comics– which may now be changing– lies primarily in two places. One, the threshold guardians of what is considered High Art have a vested interest in maintaining their authority and controlling the debate on their terms. And so there is a sort of economy of what it is they will and will not allow into the debate. I feel this is a prejudice based on bias. I have very little respect for this–or really, any– academic conceit which tries to limit human potential. Comics don’t fit into their «high art» rhetoric, and so it is excluded. To be more generous to them, there is an understandable emphasis in the west toward more traditional forms of visual artistry– let’s exclude music and theater from this– traditionally, in the Western plastic arts we see an attenuation toward drawing, painting, print-making, and sculpture. Comics have largely functioned historically as a variant of commercial art, as a vehicle for making money or promoting something, and so might be distrusted as a subtle tool of crude advertising or propaganda. I guess the cartoonists you see Academia embracing tend to be what I’d call «pure cartoonists»– artists such as Robert Crumb or Moebius or Chris Ware, artists who often do personal work for it’s own sake. Maybe another reason for the bias is that comics have long been seen the realm of juvenalia, and therefore not worth serious literary consideration.

Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and Guido Crépax, homaged by Paul Pope

David Fernández.- Year after year you have managed to synthesize the influences of authors such as Moebius, Hugo Pratt, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, or Frank Miller, who come from different backgrounds, until developing your own personal, highly identifiable style. Has this process been premeditated– study, practice…. – or unconscious?

Paul Pope.- At least initially, unconscious, I would say. I love comics and would consider myself an omnivorous reader. I love well crafted and well done comics, so the artists I tend to love are the ones who are really good at what they do. Rather than having a list of favorites who work primarily in this or that genre, in «funny animals» or the sort of heroic realism we often see in American superhero comics, I tend to go for the artists who write and draw their own stories with personal aims in mind. I love obsessive, dynamic, personal styles. I love Jim Woodring, Gipi, Blutch, Jeff Smith, Herge, Robert Crumb, Chester Brown, and a bunch of manga artists, such as Minetaro Mochizuki and Egawa Tatsuya.

David Fernández.- You tell in different interviews that music is a constant influence in your work. How does this influence translate into the panels? Do you usually listen to music while you work? Which are your predilections?

Paul Pope.- Music is an aural medium without a visual component and comics is a visual medium without an aural component. I find that music is wildly inspiring because my mind fills in the gaps, so to speak. My mind creates colors and images in response to the sound. In this sense, it is a different creature from the visual arts. If you look at great album cover artwork, this is the manifestation of marrying visuals with sound. Giving a face to the music. I find that inspiring and intriguing. Also, in terms of ambitions, I relate to a lot of musicians biographies more so than a lot of the cartoonists I have met. Naturally, it should be understood that many of my best friends are cartoonists or graphic artists. James jean, John Cassaday, Frank Miller, Istvan Banyai, Yuko Shimizu. I am not knocking the practitioners so much as pointing out that the reasons for making art vary, and I relate to the sort of motivations I see musicians having for why they write music. I want to express emotions and create beautiful, powerful work.

If I am writing, I listen to ambient or classical music. If I am pencilling, I tend to like to hear more agressive music– rock and roll, like Motorhead or Bauhaus or The Birthday Party. It is also good sometimes to work in silence, I do that a lot now too.

David Fernández.- Alter Gestalt, you chose auto-edition and created Horse Press. Do you think it is possible to re-edit histories like The ballad of Doctor Richardson or Sin Título?

Paul Pope.- Yes, although I am very wary of re-introducing my early work right now. I’m not convinced of it’s merit. Not sure if I want to. I may change my mind though.

Early works: The Ballad of Dr. Richardson, Sin título and Escapo

David Fernández.- Which one do you think were the most valuable lessons for your formation as a narrator, learned during the making of these titles?

Paul Pope.- The early work now seems like successful attempts to grasp lessons in craft and working method. Of the work I did in the first few years, Escapo and Doctor Richardson seem the best, from this perspective. And parts of THB.

David Fernández.- Alter some thoughts from Pablo Picasso, you assume the mantle of “comic destroyer”. How do you approach the “destruction of the emptiness of the page”?

Paul Pope.- I try to imagine what it is I want to draw in as much exciting or powerful detail as I can, and find a way to translate this excitement to the page in a unique way– without worrying too much about how to begin. I try to draw from intuition.

David Fernández.- A lot of writers fear the empty page, do you share that fear?

Paul Pope.- No. I never did. To me, the blank page is an amazing mystery, a bottomless white well. From it, you can bring out so much that is unexpected and new.

David Fernández.- Can you explain to us – in general terms – which materials do you use? Pencils, pens, etc.

Paul Pope.- I try to use only archival materials, HB pencils and natural or synthetic hair brushes. And Sumi (Japanese) ink on acid-free paper. I prefer not to use markers or brush pens for my published works, I use traditional tools. I use the computer if it is absolutely necessary. I prefer traditional methods.

Paul Pope in his New York studio (photo by Doug Jaeger)

THB: Life in Mars

David Fernández.- Probably, the work that took the editorial’s attention was THB. How it was born?

Paul Pope.- I just had the ideas kicking around in my head a long time, they were all unrelated– a teenage girl in a school uniform, a robot butler, desert landscapes at night, a Genie which would pop up from a little pill…things like that… A wild and absurd idea to do a story about a magical robot-genie who was the propery of a teenage girl (the sort of girl I would’ve had a crush on when I was a teenage boy) on the planet Mars in the distant future. I wanted a title which made no sense, and so THB.

Three THB covers, story that takes place in Mars

David Fernández.- The fact that THB lacked a regular schedule doesn’t seem to imply a lack of interest in completing it, in getting each and every issue. In fact, in a near future we will be able to enjoy its conclusion and re-edition by First Second. Which phase is THB in currently?

Paul Pope.- I am finishing the book and the entire story will appear in 4 or 5 volumes from First Second, who are also the publishers for my book Battling Boy. If you were to compare THB to the original 3 Star Wars films (which I often do for the sake of general comparison), what now is finished is the entire Emprie Strikes Back film and about 45 minutes of Return Of The Jedi. I have Star Wars shot and in a rough edition, but not in it’s final state. There are a lot of edits and «effects» to add. the total THB series will also be in full color.

Another three covers of this ambitious sciencie-fiction series

David Fernández.- This series has become sort of an experimentation camp for you: formats, styles, graphic and storytelling resources… how has H.R.Watson’s history evolved since its first steps?

Paul Pope.- I have grown to respect her and her world more, to take these seriously and not just do some flashy science fiction comic with sexy teenage girls. But to rather tell a real story about a young girl’s coming-of-age in a dangerous and fantastic future world.

Kodansha: the Manga experience

David Fernández.- In 1995 you turned into one of the few westerners offered to work with Japanese editorial giant Kodansha. How this chance sorted?

Paul Pope.- I met the editors in 1994 at the big San Diego Comics Convention and just started talking to them. We had a good discussion and they asked me to bring my portfolio for them to review. I had a contract within months. When I met them, I had no intention of getting a job– I was just really into Manga.

David Fernández.- In your style, it can be spotted a powerful influence of manga: a sinuous and smooth, yet explosive and highly visceral stroke, expressive and dynamic. How was the assimilation process of those influences?

Paul Pope.- I love manga and in many ways, I consider it superior to Western comics. The really good manga grabs me on an emotional level in a way American comics can’t. You know I love EUROPEAN COMICS, but they have a different feeling as well. To me, nothing is as gripping and exciting as great manga.

Conceptual art for Supetrouble manga

David Fernández.- During your collaboration with Kodansha you worked in projects such as Supertrouble or Smoke Navigator, but a lot of those paged remain unpublished. Is there any chance of having those pages published in a mid-long term?

Paul Pope.- Yes, probably. I think a lot of the stuff would be disappointing to fans though. A lot of it is experiemental «ramp-ups» to other work, or attempts at things which didn’t really work. Of the 250 or so pages, I’d say there is about 50 pages of good stuff– the rest of it is like homework.

David Fernández.- Although your “foreigner” condition, you insisted on adapting to the reality manga-kas live: a very direct contact with the editor, high production rhythm, nearly exclusive dedication – for the editorial’s part – in the esthetic aspect over the story itself, etc. Moreover, the trips to Tokyo, talking to your editors in LA, meetings, translations… The process seems exhausting. Do you think it has been worthy? Are you completely satisfied?

Paul Pope.- I would be more satisfied if I could have really fulfilled the promise of being the first Western artist to really be a huge hit on Japanese soil, working for a proper Japanese publisher and not just appearing there in reprints. Maybe it can still happen– I am still in contact with Kodansha and still have a good relationship with them. They are happy with the relative successes I’ve had outside of Japan and are well aware of the work I’ve done since my Japanese manga career ended.

“Vertiginous” projects

David Fernández.- After The One trick Rip-off, you did two miniseries for Vertigo Comics: 100% and Heavy Liquid. Both histories seem to develop in the same universe, with a lot of common places. Was it a premeditated decision, or was it an organic consequence of the futuristic environment?

Paul Pope.- I had a plan to do a trilogy of near-future science fiction stories, all set in New York. I consider Batman Year 100 to be the third of these stories. Heavy Liquid, 100%, and my Batman book all occupy the same universe, more or less.

David Fernández.- Adopting a science-fiction genre as a mean of talking about modern concerns is a constant in your work. Are you tempted to do a similar job, but in a contemporary atmosphere, or do you prefer to build your histories over the elements science-fiction provides?

Paul Pope.- I tend to get bored by stories which are set in contemporary times– I am much more of a Romantic or an Absurdist. I like things to be crazy. I don’t think comics need to be beholden to reality, I much prefer wild imaginations on a page– like Dr. Seuss or Jack Kirby or Moebius.

The one trick rip off, 100% and Heavy liquid covers

David Fernández.- Do you think that all that technology, present in a lot of your histories, really makes communication easier, or can it become a barrier, opposed to real, physical interaction?

Paul Pope.- I think it is both. I am pretty pessimistic about the future despite all the advances our machines have allowed us. Human beings are animals who have invented law to prevent murder and theft. It wouldn’t take much for societies to devolve into barbarism. We need to give young people a sense of civics and ethics. And critical thinking, maybe above all else– the tools to think well. We need honest leaders. Without those, we have a sort of modern stone age where people can push a button and see anything on a magic mirror– but people lack a sense of community or a unique identity.

David Fernández.- What is your opinion on the technological advanced in the comic book world? Do you like e-comics, or do you prefer printed versions?

Paul Pope.- I prefer print but I am interested in the future of the comics medium– the digital revolution is real and it is a powerful force, so I wouldn’t want to reject it. I am still young…

Incursions in mainstream comic books: collaborating with DC and Marvel

David Fernández.- For the last years you had the chance of doing histories with such popular characters as the Fantastic Four or Spiderman. How do you face the challenge of giving your own vision to the graphic creations of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby?

Paul Pope.- I try to do justice to the spirit of the characters and do work which would honor Kirby and Ditko and the other greats. It is a great honor to work on these characters and I try to add some of my own personality to them when I do stories for Marvel or DC. I love these characters so it is a blast to work on them.

Jack Kirby’s and Paul Pope’s OMAC
(click on the image for larger size)

David Fernández.- Something similar happens with Batman, how do you work with a character that has become a popular icon, mixing decades of tradition with your own artistic sensibility?

Paul Pope.- It’s difficult, but somehow my style and sensibility work in the Batman universe. I have a morbid and Romantic mind- like Nick Cave maybe, or Fritz Lang– so I can approach the macabre aspects of Batman in a genuine way.

David Fernández.- After getting familiar with the character who represented Broken nose, Teenage sidekick, Berlin Batman, or Turning points you started an ambitious project: Batman Year 100. How this chance came out?

Paul Pope.- My Batman stories were popular and the editors believed I could do a long Batman story. We had been discussing the possibility of me doing a Batman graphic novel for years before it actually happened. We discussed it before I started 100% actually, so I had about 2 years to think up some new ideas for Batman.

Batman: Year 100 cover andBerlin Batman page
(click on the second image for a larger size)

David Fernández.- Bob Kane, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Dennis O’Neil, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison… some of the most respected comic authors have made significant additions to the Batman mythology. Is here any run or author that has influenced you in an special way in the construction of your very own Dark Knight?

Paul Pope.- Of course Frank Miller’s work has remained a big influence– he is a friend and an inspiration. I prefer the early Batman stories by Bob Kane and Dick Sprang and Jerry Robinson. I think the «blueprint» is in the original character, and that’s what I try to honor in my Batman work.

David Fernández.- For this work you counted with the help of Spanish colorist José Villarubia. Before that, you worked in B/W or you did your own coloring (Heavy Liquid). You were used to working on your own, how was the experience of being part of a team? (Drawing other’s scripts or having your drawings colored by other professionals).

Paul Pope.- I like working with a team of creative people and Jose is a fabulous person to work with– he is very creative and intelligent and we have «sympatico», so we can work well together. If I want to have complete control, I want work alone– and some projects are better if there is a team. I try to be smart about the way to make the projects I am about to undertake…sometimes a team is better.

Developing a personal vision of the Dark Knight
(click on the images for a larger size)

David Fernández.- What is your opinion about film adaptations of comic books? There was a rumor back in the day about Tim Burton adapting Escapo. Do you think any of your works will be adapted anytime soon?

Paul Pope.- I have at the moment 5 options out on my projects for feature film adaptation, so I feel reasonably confident about it. I’ve worked in the film industry as well, so it is not a completely alien world. A lot of the films form comics have been bad, I think, but I have low expectations. I prefer the films of Andrei Tartovsky and Fritz Lang and Truffaut, so I am a bit of an esthete about «cinema»…

Multidisciplinar artists and future projects

David Fernández.- With the book Pulphope: The Art of Paul Pope you naked yourself – artistically speaking – offering not only valuable examples of your work, but also your own thoughts and feelings written down. Do you feel a need of writing as you feel a need of drawing? How did you came out with a book of these characteristics, so unique in the comic book world?

Paul Pope.- I see myself as an artist before being a cartoonist and some ideas are suited for comics, some for prose. I write a lot and people don;t see much of that. I wanted to publish some personal material in the form of essays…that’s why I did the book.

Logo de Pulphope (click on the image for acces Pope’s weblog)

David Fernández.- It seems like AdHouse, particularly editor Chris Pitzer, made a strong bet with your book. Are you happy with their implication? Are you planning new editions or continuations of Pulphope?

Paul Pope.- We have a good project in mind for another Pulphope. It’s too soon to say what it’ll be, but I definatly want to do more work like this.

David Fernández.- You have done a lot of work for magazines, fashion firms and film studios. Do you consider yourself a storyteller eager to move into other creative fields, or as an artist who works on comic books as another way of expression?

Paul Pope.- I prefer comics as an art form but I am curious about other media. Also, I am interested in pushing the concept of «cartoonist» into new and larger areas.

GQ magazine illustration, coloured by David Rubín

David Fernández.- Your are currently preparing La Chica Biónica for French editorial Dargaud, and Battling Boy for First Second. What can you tell us about those series? When will they be printed?

Paul Pope.- Both are set to be 2010 books. Both are taking along time to finish!

David Fernández.- You keep a close, permanent contact with fans and colleagues through your blog, your MySpace site and at conventions. How do you value the experiences derived from that contact?

Paul Pope.- I see it as part of the advertising and promotion. Also, there is a sense of community which comes form these things, it can be positive.

Battling boy page detail and conceptual by artist Feroze Alam
for a possible movie adaptation
(click on the images for a larger size)

David Fernández.- Generally, your work receives high praise from both fans and the media, you have been awarded with the most prestigious awards of the industry and, due to your versatility, you often appear in general media. Are you in a privileged position for dignifying comic books as a way of artistic expression?

Paul Pope.- I hope so, but I also work very hard and I live in Manhattan and know many people in creative industries, so I am able to move in circles which give me more access to these opportunities than many others might have. None of it comes easy and you’re only as good as your last project, as they say! I try my best when I work and take pride in a job well done, so that keeps me honest and willing to work harder in the future.

David Fernández.- At this point, we can only thank you for your kindness and patience, and wish you the best of the lucks with present and future projects.

Paul Pope.- thanks!

The Art of… Paul Pope

We’ve also collected a compilation of videos focused on this author, beginning with the interview recorded in Pope’s studio by LVHRD collective, where he explains different details about upcoming projects, such as Battling Boy. He also talks aboutthe creative process behind a cover, and his miniseries 100 %, published by Vertigo imprint.

In the following video, by LVHRD, Mark DeNardo, talks about his fascination about Pope’s work. We can also enjoy fragments from a conference celebrated in Anthology Film Archives (New York), where Pope talks about childhood drawings, and his Batman: Year 100 miniseries. He also pays attention to illustration, erotic art, and his admiration by Jack Kirby.

Simply hypnotic, to hace the chance to see Pope drawing one THB character.

In this video, Curls Studio analize Baltimore Comic-Con 2007. Amongst other themes, they pay attention to Paul Pope y James Jean conference.

  • Finally, LVHRD, integrated in The happy corp, offer an interview where Paul explains different aspectos of his profession, as well as his collaboration with DKNY Jeans.
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    Jason Fischer
    12 junio, 2009 23:40

    Thank you very much for a very intelligent and thoughtful interview; very smart questions for a very important person in comics.

    Maciel Vargas
    Maciel Vargas
    19 agosto, 2009 15:47

    I just have to say, thank you for this incredible interview and for providing us with an insight on who the artist is. Ever since I came across Paul Pope’s work in one of Ashley Wood’s «Swallow» books I’ve been in love with his work.