'Battling Boy'

Paul Pope is an American artist of alternative comics, best known for his indie series 'THB' (1995-2007). He has worked on more mainstream comics for DC Comics and its Vertigo imprint. Pope is the author of several realistically drawn action-packed comics, which also include elements of science fiction and romance. His comics are generally populated by male outsiders or cheeky and resourceful schoolgirls, and regularly feature libertarian thematics and highly dynamic artwork. Pope is also the first American comics artist to work for a Japanese manga publishing company, Kodansha. He is the founder of his own comics label, Horse Press, where he self-published most of his own graphic novels. Early in his career, he has also worked under the pseudonym Ira Rubin.

THB by Paul Pope
THB #2

Early life and career
Paul Pope was born in 1970 in Philadelphia. He counts artists like Silvio Cadelo, Vittorio Giardino, Hergé, Jack Kirby, Hugo Pratt, Bruno Premiani, Tony Salmons, Daniel Torres and Alex Toth among his main graphic influences, while he also admires classical painters like Jan Van Eyck, Francisco de Zurbarán and Caravaggio. While reading the usual American superhero comics he also got in touch with Japanese manga and European graphic novels through the magazine Heavy Metal (Métal Hurlant). His own work is a combination of all these influences. Pope's earliest work appeared in Jay Smith and Jeff Fearnside's literary magazine Gestalt, of which six issues were published in 1988 and 1989. He subsequently founded his own comics label, Horse Press, while still an art history student. Here he brought out his first graphic novels, 'Sin Titulo' (1993) and 'The Ballad of Doctor Richardson' (1994). These early efforts already showcase some key elements of Pope's graphic novels. The first was a "noir fantasy" about a man who tries to track down a woman in a mysterious underworld. It combined science fiction elements like interdimentional travel and shared cognitive space with the classic detective genre. The second graphic novel is also a mix of strange characters in an underworld setting, although this time presented through a love story. Dr. Richardson is a repressed art history teacher who falls in love with a former student after a chance meeting in the subway. The character was based on one of Pope's own teachers in early Renaissance painting.


'The Ballad of Doctor Richardson'

Work in the 1990s
His surrealistic science fiction series 'THB' has been a favorite of his fans since its debut in 1994, and was nominated for the 1995 Eisner Awards for "Best New Series". It was part of a new wave of self-published black-and-white indie comic books, which also included Jeff Smith's 'Bone', Martin Wagner's 'Hepcats' and James A. Owen's 'Starchild'. Pope's futuristic sci-fi story is set on Mars, and stars the teenage girl HR Watson and her super-powered inflatable rubber bodyguard, THB. Pope continued to publish new releases until 2007, and the series also contains the spin-off about escape artist 'Escapo' (1999), which is set in the same universe.

THB Circus by Paul Pope
'THB Circus' (1998)

Horse Press also released oversized anthology publications such as 'Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine' (1996), 'Giant THB Parade' (1996), 'P City Parade' (1997) and 'THB Circus' (1998), which also feature work by other artists as well as essays and reflections of the author. The books also feature some of Pope's more frivolous stories, such as 'THB vs RHM' (1996), 'Pig Dog Parade' (1996) and 'Happy Birthday' (1998). Pope furthermore contributed to alternative anthologies like 'Negative Burn' (Caliber Press, 1994-1995), 'Dark Horse Presents' (Dark Horse, 1995-1996) and 'Dirty Stories' (Fantagraphics, 1997), and illustrated Alan Wayne Brenner's 'Alphabet Noir' for Cafe Armageddon in 1992. Dark Horse also released Pope's 'The One Trick Rip-off' (1997), about two lovers who try to escape from the mistakes they've made and the lives they've lived. Image Comics re-released the story in color, as well as other previously unpublished Pope material from the 1990s as 'One Trick Rip-off/Deep Cuts' in 2013.


'The One Trick Rip-off'

Living in New York City, Pope is probably the only American cartoonist to be working for a major Japanese manga publisher since he made the "cutie-pie" girl adventure series 'Supertrouble' (1995) for Kodansha. Since 1996, he has also been working for DC Comics, starting with a story contribution to 'The Big Book of Hoaxes' (1996). He made a 'Hellblazer' story with writer Paul Jenkins for the first 'Vertigo: Winter's Edge' anthology in 1998, and did notable work on some Batman-related projects. These are often part of DC's "Elseworlds" line, which consisted of alternate reality stories outside of the regular DC Universe. The first was the 'Berlin Batman' story, which appeared in the eleventh issue of 'The Batman Chronicles' in 199 and portrayed the caped crusader in the German Weimar Republic on the eve of World War II. With writer Greg Rucka, Pope made an issue of 'Batman: Turning Points' (2001), which explores the relationship between Batman and Commissioner James Gordon. Pope then wrote and illustrated the four-issue limited series 'Batman: Year 100' (2006), which is set in the futuristic Gotham City of 2039 (exactly one hundred years after Bob Kane created the character). The coloring was done by José Villarrubia.


'Batman: Year 100'

Work in the 2000s / 'Heavy Liquid'
Between 1999 and 2000 he made the cyberpunk five-issue limited series 'Heavy Liquid', about a private investigator in New York City who steals a large quantity of a drugs-like substance called Heavy Liquid. The series was published under DC's more adult-oriented Vertigo imprint. Vertigo also released Pope's black-and-white five-issue comic book '100%' (2002-2003), which presented a series of romantic stories set in a futuristic cyberpunk Manhattan.This latter series was heavily influenced by Pope's experiences with manga publisher Kodansha, and was presented as an "American Manga". Following the first two installments by Tim Sale and Richard Corben, Paul Pope filled the third issue of DC's 'Solo' comic book in April 2005. One of its short stories, 'Teenage Sidekick' won him his first Eisner Award for "Best Short Story". He received two additional Eisners for 'Batman: Year 100' two years later. Pope also contributed stories to 'Weird War Tales' (2000), 'The Dreaming' (2000), 'Bizarro Comics' (2001), '100 Bullets' (2001-2002), 'Transmetropolitan - Tales of Human Waste' (2004) and 'Strange Sports Stories' (2015) and he made the 'Adam Strange - Strange Adventures' feature for DC's weekly newspaper-style collection 'Wednesday Comics' (2009). 'Strange Adventures' was an homage to Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' serials of the 1930s and won the coveted National Cartoonist Society's Reuben Award for Best Comic Book of the year. 

Heavy Liquid, by Paul Pope
'Heavy Liquid' #2 (1999)

He furthermore did cover artwork for such DC titles as 'Catwoman' and 'Dark Knight III: The Master Race'. Since 2001 Paul Pope has also done artwork for Marvel Comics, including stories for 'Spider-Man's Tangled Web' (2002), 'Captain America: Red, White & Blue' (2002), 'X-Statix' (2003), 'Civil War: Fantastic Four' (2007), and 'Strange Tales' (2010), as well as several cover illustrations. He has additionally done cover artwork for Image Comics, Boom! Studios, Dynamite Entertainment and IDW.


'Battling Boy'

Work in the 2010s / 'The Death of Haggard West'
In 2013 Pope wrote and drew 'The Death of Haggard West', the so-called final installment of a non-existent superhero comic book series called 'The Invincible Haggard West', for First Second. It was a prelude to Pope's graphic novel series 'Battling Boy', which started at First Second in that same year. 'Battling Boy' centers around a twelve year old child superhero who defends children from bad adults. Pope drew inspiration from the oldest heroic stories of mankind, such as 'Gilgamesh', 'Beowulf', 'Indra', 'Troy/Odyssey' and Norse and Native American mythology. At the same time he used the character of Haggard West as an archetypical scientist-adventurer in the tradition of American characters like Flash Gordon, Iron Man and Indiana Jones. The pacing of his story was inspired by manga. Sadisto and his extraterrestrial villains were based on imagery from Pablo Picasso's 'Guernica', Hieronymus Bosch's 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' and Asian monsters in traditional culture. He drew on many more familiar iconography and narrative elements both from mythology and popular culture to tell this story. According to Pope he showed his artwork to two European comics artists he admired, namely Moebius and Jean-Claude Mézières, who both approved it. The graphic novel also knows the prequels 'The Rise of Aurora West' (2014) and 'The Fall of the House of West' (2015), which were written by Pope and J.T. Petty and drawn by David Rubin.

Other activities
Paul Pope is furthermore active as a concept designer, illustrator and printmaker. He has done designs for such clients as the Italian fashion label Diesel Industries and the US clothing line DKNY. He is a speaker at schools, museums and design conferences.

Books about Paul Pope
An art book titled 'Pulphope: The Art of Paul Pope' collected some of his most representative work, and was published by AdHouse Books in 2007.


Paul Pope in the 1990s (from the inner sleeve of 'P City Parade')

paulpope.com

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