Paul Pope talks Battling Boy, DJing and the new THB

by  in Comic News Comment
Paul Pope talks <i>Battling Boy</i>, DJing and the new <i>THB</i>

Paul Pope is comics’ closest equivalent to a rock star.

It’s a reputation he’s garnered by both his comics works and his personality — and by the fact he’s an active DJ. He now splits his time between New York City and Europe, the latter of which is the first to see some of his anthology work. Last weekend, Pope and AdHouse Books stealth-released a new issue of his seminal series THB at Baltimore Comic-Con, with extra copies now available on AdHouse’s website. The unique nature of this release was due in no small part to Pope being off the shelves of American comic book stores for years while he completes the graphic novel Battling Boy for First Second.

Just moments after riding back from Baltimore, I spoke with Pope about the new THB, as well as Battling Boy and a creation of his even more rare than the new THB.

Chris Arrant: Let’s start with an easy one, Paul – what’s on the drawing board today?

Paul Pope: Battling Boy. Right now it’s a lot of inking. We’re at the point where First Second is preparing their 2011 marketing and Battling Boy (or “BB” as we call him internally) is a big part of that. So my editor Mark Siegel and I are getting a lot of pressure from higher-up to get this thing done ASAP. Without compromising quality, you know. I tend to pencil about 24 pages and ink those while penciling the next big batch, overlapping like that. I’m treating the various scenes as “issues” or “chapters” within the book. Hilary Sycamore’s studio is coloring with my art direction, and the coloring is looking really great– much brighter and flatter than Batman: Year 100, which required a gritty, urban, slightly toxic tone. Battling Boy‘s coloring is more like Hayao Miyazaki’s films Totoro and Porco Rosso.

Arrant: Last week, you let loose with a new THB – the second in a new volume. Why’d you choose to have this be a Baltimore exclusive?

Pope: It’s been really hard to go from years of periodical publishing — where you have an ongoing dialogue with readers regarding the work in progress — to suddenly working on a massive graphic novel like Battling Boy, where you do pages you want to share but nobody can see the work for literally years. I’ve missed publishing comics. So I wanted to get a one-shot out, drop it like a stealth single. [AdHouse Publisher] Chris Pitzer and I cooked up the idea and decided to keep it a secret, just launch it without any word. It was his idea to make a companion to the last Comics From Mars — so this is a second one-shot containing THB Universe comics set on Mars. It turned out nicely, I think. Chris’s cover design idea is really visually striking.

Panel excerpt from the story 'Action' from 'THB: Comics From Mars #2' (AdHouse)

Arrant: Is this con close to your heart?

Pope: I love the Baltimore con. Mark Nathan, Brad Tree and the others gear this show more toward the creators and the fans, so there’s a refreshing lack of big-media booth culture with all the movie stars and disgraced ex-governors and all these other media people and things who have sweet F.A. to do with comics. A lot of my friends in the business make it to this show, and it’s small enough you actually get some quality time with people you don’t get to see often enough. Also, it’s close to AdHouse’s HQ and in a sense is a home-team game for Chris Pitzer and AdHouse.

Arrant: This one reads to me as very fluid, with you working pretty fast – not rushing – but not letting ideas sit for too long in your head. I see a lot of ephemera like David Bowie, Tom & Jerry, and Kirby comics seeping in here … so can you tell us about putting this together?

Pope: I haven’t had the time to work on too much besides Battling Boy for some time now. The last nine or 10 months — since wrapping “Strange Adventures” for DC’s Wednesday Comics anthology — have just been a whirlwind. But I have managed to complete a short stack of THB-related short stories, a few of which were done for my French publisher, Dargaud, for their newsstand magazine Pilote. Chris and I looked at what we had already completed, and of the 50 or so “available” THB Universe pages, we edited the contents down to a solid 24 pages– it’s a single, stand-alone comic. This one has leans toward humor — my sort of absurdist humor — and action.

Panel excerpt from the story '1977' in 'THB: Comics from Mars #2' (AdHouse Books)

Arrant: While longtime comics fans like you and I have been reading for years, there are a lot of people just coming into it – or just coming back.

Pope: I’m starting to notice a considerably younger reader now, people in their teens and early college-age. For a longtime, the audience seemed to be my own age group and older Silver Age readers who are into black-and-white comics. Now it seems to be widening.

Arrant: How would you describe THB for someone who’s fresh into comics?

Pope: It’s a science fiction action-adventure story. THB is a loose handful of separate science fiction stories, all interweaving, all set in the same cities and deserts on a colonized Mars in the future. At the heart of it, it’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl whose father builds incredible robots. The absent father is in trouble with the law and the daughter has to figure out what that’s all about. It has elements of the science fiction I grew up loving — Frank Herbert’s Dune, Star Wars, John Carter of Mars, things like that.

Arrant: Jeff Newelt mentioned you were doing more rock ‘n’ roll art; I loved those gig posters you did a while back. Is this kind of work what he’s referring to?

Pope: I’ve done a few tour posters and magazine illos for the likes of Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, JSBX, Heavy Trash, White Stripes … I have been involved in the upcoming documentary about Thee Hypnotics, one of my all-time-favorite bands, I did some art for that. I’m really into jazz lately, though — abstract music.

Arrant: I can’t hold back any more – I need to know more about Battling Boy. How’s that project coming for you? It seems like it’s gestated for a while, and with all the movie interest and a big publisher already signed on, has that helped or hindered things?

Pope: It’s been inscruitable, really. Not sure what to compare it to. The film and the book are both on separate tracks and both need to hit within the same timeframe, the book first then the film. I’ve been involved with both, which has slowed things down on the book but also benefitted the story structure for the book, since I’ve been involved pretty intimately on the film script and concept art for the film. We aren’t at greenlight yet and can’t say much about it now, but getting there, we have a lot of support from the studio and the producers and there is work going on toward a feature film.

Arrant: A friend told me they saw you DJ a party and you had a video you put together for it. Where can a guy out in the middle of nowhere like me see that video edit you put together?

Pope: Gotta make it to one of my DJ sets! It plays as a “lightshow” or a “showreel” during the live set and doesn’t live online anyplace. I like the idea of creating something that isn’t available to torrent or download or anything, it’s strictly a component of a live event. Too often now, people can get anything online and they miss out on the sense of wondering about something without really knowing what it is. I miss that and wanted in my own little way to bring that back.

For more on Paul Pope, visit his website, blog and Twitter feed.