Comicsdestroyer Paul Pope is a true renaissance man, visiting SDCC this year as a DJ instead of just cartooning genius. We talked to him about DJing, music, comics, "pure" fantasy and why kids need new heroes.
If anyone else in comics was doing a DJ set, I'd be much more cynical and think that's just something they're doing to show off. But for you, it makes sense; you've always ignored boundaries and been more of a "communicator" than "comic artist" or "cartoonist" or whatever.
Yeah, especially since falling in with these guys, Eclectic Method. I mean, they're really pro and we're all friends, so there's a chance there to start doing parties, like my friends at Dark Igloo, they're sort of a creative design group... Long story short, over the years I've met a lot of people who do proper event planning, for places like MoMA, you know, big parties for liquor sponsors and film releases and stuff like that, so I've been able to move into that world and do public events with those guys, things for audiences. It seems like a natural fit.
So is this a different way of expression for you? Are you using different muscles, is it less personal expression and more just getting people dancing? Or is this the same thing for you as drawing, writing, creating a comic strip?
For me, it's just sharing music that I'm into, you know? The Eclectic Method guys, they really bring a party - They've done some really big shows. We've done some big ones here in New York, like 250, 500 people. They always say that my sets are like festival set at five in the morning. Someone else described it as like a
shot in the nuts from a lazer beam in the Cantina bar. I like rock, stuff like that.
So what sort of music are people going to hear, when you play?
I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. I've got a few mash-ups I've done. I just play stuff I'm really into... I always like opening a night, because it's early enough, people are just getting to the party...
There's less pressure...
Yeah, it's a chance for people to meet and greet. It's a great thrill to hear music you love, loud. It's a lot of fun.
Yeah, it's great to see people respond to it, especially if they've never heard it before. When you can see them get into it, you see them get it.
Yeah, absolutely. I'm really into, everybody now loves 80s punk bands like the Clash or Joy Division, but I'm into early Nick Cave...
Like The Birthday Party?
Yeah, and there's a lot of splinter groups that came out of the Birthday Party that never quite got bigger. I'm into more obscure things, like '80s Berlin... I play off a laptop because you can store, like, four days worth of music on there. I do want to say that the guys I'm playing with, they do a lot of... It's one of those things that has to be seen to be experienced. They do what they call "video mash-up," everything they do is run through a video mixing board, so they do this crazy, hyper-media-conscious mash-up music, using everything from images from Sesame Street to Jay-Z to The Colbert Report. They do crazy stuff, but they make it work, so people love it. They've done some big things for people like the Bob Marley estate and for Motown, so if there's anybody I could be doing stuff with... I feel really comfortable with these guys. They're British, so they know a lot of the music I'm into, but they turn it into something different. There's a visual tie-in with comics, so it makes sense I'd be involved with something like this.
This thing has gone all over the place. I did this print for Coke Zero, it's going to press in the morning. That's what I'm working on today, we're doing the (color) separations, I'm working with the guys at the press. So primarily, I'm in comics and comic storytelling, but I do like to work in other media.
I think from reading PulpHope, you can see that the language of comics informs your "fine art," for want of a better way of putting it, your screenprints and everything else, but then the processes in doing those feeds back into your comic work. Is it the same for music?
Oh yeah, definitely. I'm a real champion of breaking down this distinction between "high" and "low" (art), that's a conceit that benefits galleries and dealers.
Have you read Bill Drummond? He's a big believer in the idea that "low art" is what people want to see and read and listen to, and so it's more important than "high art"...
It's an interesting thought, that's cool.
Is that kind of thinking what led you to do the clothing last year with DKNY Jeans?
Yeah, I think so. And anytime I get a chance to push the medium in new directions, push the... I don't know, the cause of comics, you could say, then I go for that. I hadn't done something like that before, so I thought it was interesting.
Does it all come back to comics for you? Are things like that experiences that you grab to help make your comics better?
I hope so. When I was growing up, there was such a strong division. There was a choice to be like a mainstream, Jim Lee, John Byrne type cartoonist, or you'd have to be an indie cartoonist...
It's such a weird distinction now, and with things like DC's Wednesday Comics, you're working in the same book as Brian Azzarello, Dave Gibbons... You look at something like that and you just see such a celebration of comics, not just a particular "kind" of comics.
Yeah, that's a thrill. It's a chance to do something that's classically pulp. It's very influenced by something like Flash Gordon or some of the great European comics coming out of the '70s and '80s. I thought this was a chance to take something people kind of think of as a B-list character (Adam Strange, the archeologist-turned-science hero of Pope's Strange Adventures strip), even though he has a lot of potential and a lot of interesting things about him, and try to give him a sandblast, come up with something different.
What's it like working in that format, with the big page to go wild on?
The originals are huge. They take a long time to finish. There's an interesting puzzle putting a page like that together, it takes a little time to consider how to get as much information into one page as possible. I feel like everyone's really doing strong work... I couldn't turn it down, when they offered it. I feel like everyone is stepping out of their (comfort zone), like Ryan Sook is clearly doing a great tribute to Prince Valiant.
Yeah, and in your strip, I see callbacks to European comics. I don't know if it's intentional of not, but I see a lot of Heavy Metal in there.
No, there is, (European creators like Manara and Moebius) have laid the groundwork in the same way that you might say that (Frank) Miller has over here, or Jack Kirby. There's a lot to be learned from spending some time with those guys. So that's a good thing.
So, do you see yourself as part of that continuity?
(Understanding Comics) Scott McCloud thinks I'm an "Internationalist", in terms of where I fit in in the big picture. Coming from McCloud, I think that's a good thing.
That makes sense, you have a very individual sensibility, but it's one that's informed by so many different cultural influences.
Yeah, and it's a sincere (influence). I really do love all the different traditions of comics. I have my tastes, there are a lot of things I don't like, but... When I approach a page, it usually takes a lot longer than I expect, which I know irritates the hell out of my editors, but I'm really competitive with myself, I try to do the best I can so that when I finish a page, it stays finished, you know (Laughs)?
You asked earlier where I see myself... After finishing Batman (Year 100), I've really come to embrace fantasy and escapism and its value. I really feel like, in a large sense, the work I'm doing now is a big project that I've committed to, and Adam Strange is one of the first manifestations. It's a real embrace of classic pulp, sincere, no tongue in cheek: Adam Strange is the hero and the bad guys are bad, and I'm just trying to put as much imagination on the page as I can. And that's how I approached the early days of THB, my imagination was unbridled, I didn't have a lot of responsibilities in life, I didn't have a lot of contacts in the industry, I didn't have a lot of perspective of what other people think of my work. I just did work to please myself. It didn't cost a lot to live in Columbus, Ohio, at the time.
Do you think you became too aware of your audience at some point?
No, I think it's more that you want to try things because you think that they'll work. I think everybody in the freelance and creative world is concerned about what people think because you want to make the next paycheck, so you try to be strategic about the balance between personal and professional. Sometimes, getting involved in projects, like, for example, working in Japan was a wonderful experience. Not a lot of the work got published, but I walked away from it with a very interesting skill set, despite the fact that, after five years, very little of it saw print. So, it's a strange thing when you look back on it.
It's strange because, something like 100%, I think is one of the best, most interesting science fiction stories I'd read in years...
...So it's interesting to hear you say that Adam Strange is a return to a purer science fiction.
When I did that book, I was between 30 and 33, and I felt like I really wanted to tell an honest story, and I thought, what do I know about in life, what can I say that's true? At the time, I couldn't approach genre with confidence, I wanted to express something and do it through genre.
Also, at the time I had just read Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick, which is one of my favorite science fiction books, and it's such a subtle book. It was a really eye-opening read. It's not like later Dick, it's not like Valis, before he's working from a strictly-paranoid perspective.
I think early Dick works in the same way as 100%, in that it can work even if you don't like science fiction, because you can still empathize with the characters.
I really believe that, in a kind of philosophical sense. As long as we have five, maybe six, senses, as long as we live to be 80, maybe 100 years old, we can't pass on wisdom generation to generation. Everything has to be learned. That's why we keep having wars, that's why all the good, all the bad repeats. As much as we can share tradition, as much as we have the Magna Carta, exploration, conquests... These are things that we share as a culture. But on a deeper level, until people can transcend where memory is longer, or longevity is somehow expanded, we don't have the experience that a 200 year old man would have. But in 200 years, I have a pretty good feeling that there's still going to be boy meets girl, boy loses girl, there's still going to be sex, there's still going to be love.
Those are eternal experiences. There's always going to be someone who's 30, 33, 35, and going through the same things that you were at that time.
Yeah, I think about that a lot, because I'm sort of perplexed at how childhood seems so fresh and so new. It's easier to remember a vivid detail from something that happened when you were eight or nine years old rather than something that happened eight or nine weeks ago, you know? I think that, as you get older, you start to anticipate responses from experience, and I think when you're a kid, you don't have that. You've not even done anything. So everything's dreamlike, it's new. I think artists are able to hold onto that. For me, it's become a way to function in life, to not become overwhelmed by experience that will bring it down.
Is that one of the reasons you're doing your young adult book Battling Boy?
Yeah, I wanted to create a new superhero. I sort of thought, after working on Kavalier & Clay and spending so much time with Michael Chabon, really delving into the classics, the history of Superman and Batman, that superheroes really represent wish fulfillment in society, and (wondered) what superhero doesn't exist now, that people want. And I thought, a child protector.
I think children know that they're not safe in the world. They know there's abductions, they know there's war. There's this vague sense of things called bills, or taxes. There's a sense of things to figure out, so I wanted to come up with a kid who was a child defender.
It's really great to be in this position, working on this project with First Second. There's a lot of work to do, in the near future to finish the project and really get it going. And now there's a film in development, and that's another layer. It's been pretty amazing, it's really grown and developed. I can't wait to get it out there. There's a lot of cool characters in the book, good guys and bad guys. It has elements of superheroes, elements of horror, it's definitely got humor in it.
Are you working on the movie as well?
I'm working on the film as well. The writer who's currently working on the film is Alex Tse, who wrote Watchmen, we were up working til 1am on the script. I'm kind of a consultant.
Is there a date set?
No, there's a lot of stuff to do. It's not in development hell, we're moving along, but one thing I'm learning about this film stuff is that there's so many things that can happen, positively and negatively, outside your control. You could hand in a perfect script, and then the economy tanks, or the studio comes in and doesn't like what you're doing...
Does that make you appreciate the freedom in comics more?
Yeah, it definitely does, but I wouldn't want to choose one or the other. It does make me love comics, because you can have a really cool idea and just do it, you don't have to spend a lot of money to do it.
Paul will be DJing at the PopCult party at Onyx/Thin (852 5th Avenue) in San Diego on Saturday night, beginning at 9pm. Other performances include Eclectic Method, DJ Intel, Murs, Hollywood Holt and Rob Roy, with a live art performance throughout by Jim Mahfood, Dumperfoo, Mike Huddleston and Scott Morse. Entrance is a $5 donation to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and if you need more reason to attend, the limited edition Coke Zero print Paul talked about above is being given free to the first 300 people there.
Thanks to Jeff Newelt for setting this up.