Paul Pope: MICK JAGGER OF COMICS
In the back of the Paul Pope issue of DC’s Solo series, there is a quote referring to Paul Pope as the Jim Morrison of comics.
This is inaccurate for several reasons. Comparing Pope to Morrison understates his creativity and influence. While the Doors are a ‘legendary’ band, their creativity and impact on music is not as significant as say, The Rolling Stones. Admittedly, equating Pope with the Rolling Stones would be an overstatement, but comparing him to Mick Jagger seems fitting. The evidence for this comparison is subliminal; Paul Pope actually looks more like Mick Jagger than he does Jim Morrison. Jagger was not only the lead singer of a super-influential rock band but he was also known as an individual who was a style icon that created the ‘rock star’ persona. Pope is similarly complex. He makes great, really creative and influential art but he’s also an ‘image’.
The "Pope" of Comics
Through the 'world-lens', Pope is always first, a comic book writer and artist. He's more hip and creative than the typical indie comics creator yet, also more popular and more successful. He's able to pull this off because he stays true to the comics medium; his style remains cartoon-ish while still being 'edgy' and still cannot be criticized for lacking craft or content. The best example of Pope's grasp of the comics realm is Batman: Year 100. It's considered a contemporary classic by most comics-fan standards. Pope takes an iconic superhero and reinvents his look while retaining Batman's mysterious persona and writing an atypical story.
Recently, Pope took another crossover opportunity through designing some clothing for Donna Karan New York.
Ultimately, for the comics-outsider looking in on DKNY, it's a really interesting look: she invites a famous comics artist to do some designs = makes the line look more diverse and fundamentally, Pope is a fitting artist for DKNY. DKNY has always been going for androgynous, urban look and Paul Pope's understanding of female sexuality combined with his appreciation for the 'male rogue' totally fits the bill. But being that I was looking in from the other side of the tunnel, I really wanted it to be a Paul Pope fashion experience. I really pictured it as being a variation on his personal style: maybe awkwardly constructed white tee-shirts and other items that are just as unpredictable and fresh as his art.
But instead, I was totally underwhelmed by an Ed Hardy-esque line of clothing that just placed his art on clothing. I reference Ed Hardy because the brand has a habit of uncreative design placement and one of the biggest problems with the Pope DKNY line is it does nothing new or creative with the integration of the art with the clothing. I'm not sure how much control Pope had over the line despite having his name and art being associated with it thus, the outcome does not affect him but rather, just suggests that he's either a. gettin' that cash or b. toying with the idea and may do something better later.
The "Pope" of Cinema
One of the most striking aspects of Pope's comics work is his ability to be cinematic. He composes frames the way a director would compose shots. For example, in this page from 100% (which he cites as being “a graphic movie” right on the front of the issues), without words, he creates tension and an overall, mood when they are illegally buying a gun.
Without words, the perspective changes on this page really express the apprehensive feeling. The page starts with a long two-shot of the girls and then cuts to a tight shot of the man’s hands on his bag. The “camera” then pulls back and puts the scary-dude with the guns in perspective; he’s gross. Again, the focus is tight on his hands and then cuts to a tight two-shot of the girls on the couch, now leaning forward with interest. Lastly, Pope takes almost half the page up with a huge close-up of his gnarly hands about to open the sack of guns. He uses the action of turning the page to accentuate this feeling as, the guns are shown in a similarly large frame, immediately on the next page.
It’s not that other comics artists don’t utilize comics in the same cinematic way, it’s that it is not often that it is used when discussing the same topics. In this page from 100%, it’s being utilized to express the timid innocence of the characters while doing something illegal, dangerous and out of character.
Pope’s ability to synthesize a cinematic feeling into comics has origins in his combined ability to both create an unfamiliar setting and fill it with well-rounded characters but furthermore, because Pope seems to be an incredibly interesting person, his taste in movies. Upon viewing his myspace, it's apparent that Pope is interested and influenced by a lot of movies, books, and music.
Evolution of Influence
When I say ‘influenced’, I mean he's clearly been affected by art and this in turn, makes his art whole. You can't pick out any one favorite or interest and say, "he's definitely ripping this off" because when a person is truly affected by art, it becomes a somewhat of a circular process. To me, it seems easier to visualize this process than to outright describe it so, I made this incredibly nerdy graph… META-MOMENT:
In order to ultimately increase artistic progression, the circle of internalization has to be completed. Stopping at any point within the circle would result in being at a point lower than the original point of exposure. Once through the internalization circle, all points yield higher artistic progression.
In relation to this graphed theory, if a young comic book artist read and really enjoyed Batman: Year 100 and then, immediately sat down to draw his or her own Batman comic, he or she would likely sit down make something really derivative of Year 100. This same comics artist…let’s just say 10 years later… and many influential comics better, may subconsciously take a small aspect of Year 100 and integrate it into a totally different story.
When I say “subconscious”, I’m really just meaning that the art they are referencing has become so much so a part of their attitude that it can be recontextualized. So, when an artist is drawing something similar to art they have seen before, they are able to separate their reference from its original context and weave it appropriately into their ‘new’ creation. I think this is especially the case with Pope. It seems to me that Pope's influences vary greatly. In any one of the items in his eclectic lists of his favorite/interests, if you are aware of it, you can see how that item is a small part of what he has produced rather than the opposite: reading a comic and being able to pick out the influences.
In his musical interests, he lists Brian Eno and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I think about the two in relation to Pope, I can connect both to parts of his work. I see Yeah Yeah Yeahs as being influential to the tone and style of characters. They are a female-led indie rock band; they are young and fresh. Karen O.’s, the lead singer, style and appearance reminds me of some of Pope’s female characters while, Brian Eno’s music, in my head, could be cinematically playing in the background to any of his comics because Eno makes this electronic music with a notoriously cinematic tone.
Think: "Here Come The Warm Jets" playing over “S’’ using the eponymous substance in the Grand Central Station bathroom in issue one of Heavy Liquid.
The "Pope" of Fine Arts
Despite Paul Pope’s fame, he does not release new material with any predictable frequency. So, when I was researching the new Haunted Tank series, I was surprised to see that Paul Pope was doing the cover for the second issue.
Truthfully, the cover blew me away.
As always, the quality of the work is outstanding but what ‘makes’ the cover is in the details. The tone of the colors makes the picture seem distant and snapshot-like. The genius of the colors, assuming that Pope actually did them, is the subtle gradient from the upper-most sky to the horizon and from the ground to the horizon. The gradient bookends the top and bottom of the cover making the scene within seem panoramic. The horizon with the setting sun followed by light from the tank gun assists the viewer’s eye to scan the page from left to right. Moreover, the contrast of the sharp edges defining the light from the tank gun and the “light splatter” represents the same antagonism of a heavy-weight war machine being led by a ghost riding a ghost horse. It’s these subtle parallels made by Pope, which make his work so significant; there is much more to think about within his art than meets the eye. This is what makes Pope’s art less disposable than most other comic book art.