In the 21st Century, pop stars are as corporately controlled as they’ve ever been. But the latest Dark Horse creator-owned series looks to show readers that their favorite singing starlets have a much more sinister background than that.
Debuting this summer, “POP” is a new four-issue miniseries from writer Curt Pires (Monkeybrain’s “Theremin”) and artist Jason Copland (“Robocop: Hominem Ex Machina,” “Daredevil”). The book focuses on Elle — a pop singer literally grown in a lab for maximum marketability — and Coop — a record store junkie thrown into Ell’s crazy world. The book is only the latest music-inspired project from Pires, whose self-published “LP” also took a look at the sinister side of musicians.
Speaking first with CBR in advance of the book’s announcement this weekend at Emerald City Comicon, Pires explained that “POP” was less focused on criticism and more on character. The writer discusses his journey from small press to mainstream, the Warhol-meets-sci-fi world of “POP” and the challenges of building your own identity in a manufactured world.
CBR News: Curt, I’m sure there are a number of readers who either know you by now or know of the general path you’ve taken. Self publisher with “LP” to digital comics maker with “Theremin” and now to working on a creator-owned series with one of the big print publishers. Can you tell me a bit about how that road has been? In what way is partnering with Dark Horse for “POP” a fulfillment of the next phase for you, and how does “POP” as a project represent the same?
Curt Pires: The road, for the past while, has been the same as life. And life is alway interesting. There’ve been highs, there’ve been lows, and there’ve been other things too. When I self-published “LP,” I remember having this feeling, after leaving my signing, and hopping on the train with no particular idea where I was headed, that things had changed. Through these actions and choices, I’d changed who I was and where I was going. Writing the answer to this question, announcing the book in Seattle, is another one of those moments for me. I’m finally doing exactly what I want to do, telling the exact stories I want to tell, and with Dark Horse I have a partner who is committed to supporting and helping me spread my vision to as many people as possible. It’s really beautiful.
Both of your previous comics projects have had some connection to music — “LP” in a literally sense and “Theremin” in a more historical (or alternate historical) one. I get the feeling that “POP” is born out of some of the same interests, but what can you tell me about the series on the whole, and how does it deviate from what readers of your previous work might expect?
“POP” is the third and final act in a thematic trilogy I’ve been penning about music. “LP” and “Theremin” being the other two acts. “POP” differs from the other two books in a few major ways.
One: I’m not the person I was when I was writing “LP” or when I started “Theremin.” I feel like every book is an extension of me, and that, by nature, means that “POP” is a different book.
Two: “POP” is ostensibly a book about people. It’s much more human than either of my earlier books. “LP” was a very nihilistic book, “Theremin” was a book about a man in the most nihilistic profession possible struggling to retain a sense of beauty and wonder and self inside of that world, and this is a book about humans. About the beauty of being human. About the damage we cause to ourselves, about the damage others inflict upon us. About pain, joy and everything in between.
Three: “POP” is a comic about America. It’s a comic about the bloated corpse of mass culture, and the men, the women, the animals, who feed slices of it to the masses, who monetize it.
On the story side, this series is taking that idea of a “manufactured pop star” literally. How does a concept like that help push this story out from cultural criticism on its own and into the world of genre entertainment?
Well, I guess to me the worlds of media theory/cultural criticism and entertainment are pretty blurred, so the book sort of mirrors that. To answer the question at hand: it’s the characters. Everything lives and dies on characters. On making the audience care about them. Elle and Coop feel alive to me. I see their damage, and I love them for it. I care for them deeply. That’s how a story comes alive: by making you care.
Elle, the young lady on the run from her creators/record industry overlords, obviously drives everything that happens in his series. What about her personality help give “POP” its identity?
The story is very much driven by Elle’s desire to find herself, to transcend her programming and become whatever she wants to be. In many ways the book is this concept of “transcending programming” applied to a massive violent scale. Everyone is busy telling everyone else what to be, and there’s a very visceral violent struggle involved with overcoming that and discovering what you really are. That is “POP.”
Our lead, Coop, engages that obsessive record collector trope that in some ways is as identifiable as teenie bopper stars now. In what ways do you want to flesh out that archetype to make him a real person with stakes in this story?
He filters his world through a pop culture lens because it helps him deal with his reality. Coop’s addiction to collecting records and “shitty beautiful comic books” sort of mirrors his addiction to, lets just say: other things. He’s one of those people who just struggles with addiction in general. I think it’s something we can all identify with. It humanizes him.
The cover of the book is sharp and, I think, establishes an aesthetic for the series. What is pop to you in general, and how does that idea bleed into the look and feel of “POP”?
I didn’t just want the title of the book to be “POP” and for it to stop there. As much as the book is an condemnation of the mass cultural celebrity machine, I feel like it’s impossible to not see the glitter, the luster of the sort of hypersexualized neon drenched beauty it tries to sell. So I wanted to embrace the cross section of POP and ART. A unification of these concepts. I started thinking about Warhol. The power of the single image to tap into a feeling, a cultural zeitgeist, and decided to go for it. I knew I couldn’t get there on my own, so I phoned a friend.
Enter: Design Superstar Dylan Todd.
Of course, a big part of establishing that feel comes from your collaborators. Here you’ve got Jason Copland who’s been traveling his own path from indie work to more mainstream stuff over the past few years, Pete Toms on colors who’s done work with your other collaborator Dalton Rose and your own letterer from “Theremin” in Ryan Ferrier. What do each of them bring to the table in terms of executing the vision of “POP”?
Aside from having a masterful command over the essentials of sequential art, there’s a fearlessness to Jason’s work that empowers me. When I started writing the book early on, I knew it would start with a sixteen panel grid. And I mean, normally, I like to think about this, because not every artist is comfortable or happy drawing high density grids. But with Jason there was no fear. I could see/feel the echoes of Miller in his line. Zaffino. Sienkiewicz. I knew wherever we were going, he’d get us there. Pete finds the sweet spot between beautiful neon hellscapes that plug into the essence of celebrity culture , and soft sweet warm tones that evoke Richmond Lewis’ beautiful work on “Year One.” It’s stunning. He is also one of the most beautiful star children on the world wide web.
Ryan’s lettered everything in comics I’ve ever done. He never lets me down. He embraces every crazy idea I have about font, balloon, style , etc. He’s one of the best letterers in comics, and one of my best friends. I wouldn’t be where I am, or who I am, without his help. Dylan, is creating design systems that plug into the core of the book, even if it’s unconscious. He’s helping us craft comics that are beautiful from cover to cover, from staple to staple, that I’d be proud to buy with my own four dollars.
Overall, what kind of statement are you hoping to make with your first big “front of Previews” series, and how does doing the book with Dark Horse help make that a reality?
I want to make a comic book that will connect with people. That will cut through all the noise and just mean something to them. Comics, to me, have always been about communication. About breaking down the walls between myself and the world around me, about saying the things that I just can’t find the right words for. Beyond that I want to make a comic that I’d buy with my own money, that I’d get excited about.
Dark Horse is helping make this a reality in many ways. Dave Marshall, the series editor, has been invaluable in helping me find the story, and grow as a writer. Roxy and Aaron, our other editors, are always there for us when we need them. To an effect, doing the book at Dark Horse already grants the book a higher profile than any project I’ve worked on so far, so we’re taking this opportunity and we’re crafting the best comic possible. Something we can be proud of. Something that you can’t forget. Something that you can’t ignore. It’s a statement on what comics can be. It’s a statement on what I want comics to be.
“POP” debuts this summer from Dark Horse.