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Paul Pope 2089

by  in Comic News Comment
Paul Pope 2089

From Paul Pope’s DKYN 2089 line

At the end of March, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the DKNY fall clothing line. What makes this special to comics readers? Paul Pope makes it special, as the venerable artist/writer designed a capsule line within the fall collection dubbed DKNY 2089.

Pope is well known to comic readers for his long-running “THB,” and graphic novels “100%” and “Heavy Liquid,” and 2006’s “Batman Year 100.” The 2089 line utilizes not just static imagery from Pope’s comics, but completely new designs from the artist himself. CBR News talked to Pope about the line, last year’s “PULPHOPE” art book, the state of “THB,” and comics as a mainstream art.

The 2089 line began when vice president of design for DKNY men’s licensing Andrew Nipon saw “Batman Year 100.” Nipon invited Pope to their offices, and Pope said he expected a meet and greet. Things turned out quite differently, as Pope told CBR News, “We talked and I met a lot of the top people at DKNY and I walked out with the invitation to launch my own capsule line from DKNY Jeans.”

According to Pope, working on the line was more akin to film because of the size and complexity of the endeavor. Working with DKNY’s Steve Hooper, Pope suggested the line could be from the company’s future — it happens that 2089 will be the 100th anniversary of DKYN. Pope said, “I wanted to do a line based on futuristic Naval gear, so I proposed things like pea coats and wool pants, ski caps which double as masks, shoulder strap belts for iPhones, things like that, but stuff that would be worn by astronauts rather than sailors.” After a further month of design work and a pitch meeting, the concept further refined into “a line inspired by military/hunter camouflage patterns and other repeating patterns, both natural and purely graphic.” A further three months were spent on designing patterns and imagery. In that time, Pope also wrote and drew a short story that he characterizes as “a kind of thematic center for all the images, a narrative linking it all together.”

From Paul Pope’s DKYN 2089 line

The camouflage pattern began when Nipon gave Pope a book on the history of camouflage patters. Nipon then asked the artist to devise a new variation on those traditional patterns. “I got the idea to create a series of patterns based on the delicate filagrees of insect wings, patterns based on moth wings, things like that,” explained Pope. Hooper then took Pope’s work and drafted designs based on his imagery. The two then worked the ideas back and forth for several months.

Pope saw the finished clothes about a month ago. “[It is] pretty incredible to see the stuff for the first time, in the flesh so to speak,” Pope said. When asked which fully realized item was his favorite, Pope confessed, “The camo coat for sure. There are a lot of nice little details on the outwear jackets. They do things with ‘comics imagery’ which we haven’t seen yet– interesting interior prints and multiple fabrics on one piece, laser-etched buttons, cool stuff like that.” Pope also said the laser-etched buttons feature the “PULPHOPE” logo. In fact, every item in the line features that signature.

Currently, Pope is working with the DKNY marketing and promotions team. Said the artist, “We’re all expecting to do future seasons if this first one sells well, and later we can get into some more far-out design ideas.” Pope also said the line is international. “The designs for Europe and Asia are different, since the different cultures have different expectations and tastes. We’re discussing different ideas for special events and clothing variants for the different markets, too.” Pope said the line is made to be relatively affordable, “no more expensive than other things you’d see at a store like Macy’s or Bloomingdales.” The idea is to make the clothes accessible, or as he says, “Graphically distinct, mass-produced, inexpensive– like comics.”

From Paul Pope’s DKYN 2089 line

When asked if this is a significant stride in the mainstream acceptance of comics, Pope said, “I do understand there is a constant, never-ending thirst in our culture for new visual images, new visual concepts. That’s as true for painting and film and comics as it is for fashion design.” He also thinks comics are already mainstream. “I think we need to shrug off this implicit idea that we are culture’s bastard stepchildren. We cartoonists and we people who love comics have nothing to apologize for. It just took everybody else a long time to come around to it.”

Paul Pope found the process of creating comics and clothes to be surprisingly different. “I’ve been in comics for 15 years and I am accustomed to different types of printing, whether on press or by hand, but printing for fabrics is an entirely different beast all together.” He said the entire experience has taught him not to be defined by a self-imposed title. He says, “I hate these sorts of false distinctions, ‘you can’t be this if you’re that already.’ Mental self-segregation. As Kirby would’ve said, “Let me be scott free and be myself.'”

Pope said “a deep and genuine love of comics” brought him back to the medium after trying to set it aside in his younger days. “It seems natural for a teenager to turn his or her back on what they think of as adolescent at some point. I turned toward the so-called high arts, drawing/painting/print-making and art history, got into a good university to study that stuff and took it all seriously. But I never stopped secretly drawing comics during all of it.” The artist said that period was ultimately only two or three years, but “to a seventeen-year-old, two or three years is a millennium and life is a Wagnerian opera.”

Paul Pope’s art book “PULPHOPE” on sale now

Pope thinks comics have a dynamic power which stems from its nature as a handmade craft. He says, “I love the brevity of comics, the haiku of comics. When a simple drawing conveys a lot of meaning, it’s a kind of magic.”

The collections of Pope’s longest running project, “THB,” are slated for a 2009-2010 release from First Second. Intended as a series of four books, Pope says the finished project will be around 1,000 pages in length. “I’ve basically waited until I could do it right and I think we can this time,” Pope said. Despite the last “THB” issue appearing in 2003, he has continued to work on the story, but Pope confessed The pressure of self-publishing made it a struggle to supply the audience with new material. “It’s been difficult to keep publishing ‘THB’ over the years, with all the other pressures and distractions. It’s really expensive living here in New York City and it can be a real challenge for a self-publisher to work under those conditions. It’s almost impossible to manage a cash flow as a publisher on my budgets.”

However, Pope keeps returning to “THB.” “The story of ‘THB’ is one I really want to tell, and really want to tell well,” he said. “If somebody would’ve told me it’d take almost 20 years to finish what I initially thought would be a one-shot comic book, I’d have thought they were crazy! And I’d think I was crazy for wanting to do it.” He also said the original pages from “THB” #1–which he replaced with new material in a reprint of that issue–would appear eventually. He says, “If for nothing else, then for the demonstration, to show how it’s grown and changed.” At present, around 800 pages exist. Work continues on “THB” simultaneously with his current project, “Battling Boy,” also to be released from First Second.

“Batman: Year One Hundred” on sale now

Pope has major reservations about his other older work, like “The Ballad of Doctor Richardson. However, “Escapo,” a 1998 graphic novel about a circus escape artist ,will be available again one day, “hopefully in color this time.” He considered the possibility of reprinting 1994’s “Doctor Richardson,” but, Pope said, “I haven’t looked at the old stuff in a long time but it’s something I’ll need to address at some point.”

All of Pope’s work features science fiction elements or settings. Despite this, he has made reference to a suspicion of technology. He explains his worry is more toward the way the tools are used. “I think there is a huge shift of public consciousness which comes with the implementation of significant new tools. Technology changes people’s perception of time and distance, and it is necessary to be aware of all this, to create and understand new conceptual frameworks in order to understand and navigate the unanticipated social changes which follow.”
Pope also believes a lot of the new technologies have led to a deeper sense of isolation, alienation and impatience. “I worry about the gradual coarsening of society,” he said. However, in his work, science fiction offers Pope a wide canvass for world building. “It’s just exciting to come up with all kinds of ideas for machines and robots and costumes and whatever, architecture or whatever, and then draw them out on a page.”

“Heavy Liquid” hardcover collection on sale in July

Pope’s thoughts on design, Batman, comics, and the process of creation are contained in “PULPHOPE,” his art book published last summer. It began as a series of essays he wrote for himself and what he calls “ramp-up” drawings. Pope explains the process as “getting ready for a day of work, maybe a drawing a day or so, just visual ideas translated to paper.” During work on “Batman Year 100,” he realized he wanted to make his essays available. Also, he wanted to release an art book that would give the reader a better sense of the persona behind the drawings, which he feels is missing from many cartoonist art books. “They often seem to lack a thematic core,” he said, “you couldn’t smell or touch them.”

In 2005, the art book became a serious concern. AdHouse Books founder Chris Pitzer became involved and the two worked on it for the next two years in the rare off-hours Pope had between Batman, DKNY 2089, and his work on the film adaptation of “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” As such, Pope gives a lot of the credit for “PULPHOPE” to Pitzer. “If it wasn’t for his enthusiasm, it would never have happened,” Pope said.

In “PULPHOPE,” Pope refers to the difficulty working with a character such as Batman. “Batman is such a large character, he can overwhelm you,” Pope explained. “The character began to write himself, almost as if he was insisting on what he would do or not do, as if it wasn’t up to me but up to him.” Pope was surprised by the internal conflicts it created and it led to an interesting situation for him. “I eventually began to dream about him. He would appear in my dreams, which is the only time that’s ever happened, dreaming of a fictional character as if he were flesh and bone.”

Batman: Black & White statue designed by Paul Pope

Pope worked for Japanese manga publisher Kodansha for five years starting in 1995. While reflecting on that time in “PULPHOPE,” he refers to the manga reading audience of that country as “maddeningly conservative.” Pope explained the situation is not unlike the general corporate TV audience in the US. “I would guess it stems in general from a combination of editors or producers aiming to satisfy perceived expectations and audiences accepting basically mediocre work, for whatever reason. People are in business to make money so it makes sense that some publishers would tend to want to be more conservative. They’re not the kind who’d be the first to give a recording contract to John Coltrane, you know?”

This tendency is of course not unique to Television or manga, and appears all over the popular arts, although it is not necessarily a bad thing. Said Pope, “I think the best thing is to have a healthy marketplace where we have a maximum of options to choose from, that’s the ideal.”

Despite all the convergences between video games, movies, and his own branching out into other media forms, Paul Pope maintains his preference for comics and is optimistic about its survival. When asked if there is a danger of comics vanishing as a distinct form, he responded, “We’ve weathered some serious storms before, from Fredric Wertham to Hollywood flops to publishers going belly up to market crashes. We’ll still have lots of scavenger birds coming in to steal some of the seeds from our plots but it’s also a very rich soil. As long as we keep planting.”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.
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