Jose Villarrubia, comics artist and professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, moderated a conversation with award-winning artists James Jean and Paul Pope on Sunday afternoon at the Baltimore Comic-Con. The three men spent a more than generous two hours talking about their work, with both Jean and Pope presenting slideshows of recent works for the capacity crowd. The majority of the audience appeared to consist of Villarrubia's students from the Maryland Institute, many of whom came armed with their sketchbooks as well as an enthusiasm for the subject matter of comics art that was a joy to see.

The presentation was divided into three sections, the first consisting of Villarrubia interviewing the two artists, the second was an audience Q&A and, following a short break to set up the projector, the panel concluded with Jean and then Pope giving their slideshow presentations while sharing details of their creative processes throughout.

Much as I'm loathe to "bury the lead," there were not one, not two, but three major-league exclusive announcements made during the panel. One pertained to the Watchmen movie, one involved an upcoming Fables project, and the last one ... well no one could've seen that one coming. Click "more" to read those details (and more) from what was an absolutely fascinating couple of hours spent with some of comics' most visionary artists.

Pope told the crowd that he "was feeling burned out after Batman: Year 100 and wanted to do something out of comics" as a change of pace and an opportunity to expose himself to some fresh influences. He began attending design conferences and accepted a job creating production drawings for the movie version of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Pope spent some eight months on that project, which is unfortunately time he now views as essentially lost given that the status of the production currently resides in limbo, and all of his drawings are sitting in a studio warehouse somewhere in Hollywood.

Pope was also instrumental in having Jean brought on board for the Kavalier and Clay job. For the project, Jean produced one large piece, riffing on the classic and oft-used image of a superhero punching out Hitler, and Pope feels certain that Jean's artwork would've been featured prominently had the movie not stalled. On the bright side for Jean, however, he at least still has his original art (Pope only has copies of his), so collectors with deep pockets may wish to bear that in mind.

On a far more positive movie-related note --and one of much more broad interest to comics fans-- however, Jean was recently hired to create a Vargas style "pretty girl" piece of Sally Jupiter in costume as Silk Spectre for the Watchmen movie. Jean concluded his slideshow presentation by showing a slide of the finished piece, and gave the crowd another exclusive in addition to sharing the (gorgeous) painting itself. Jean explained that his original painting is going to be featured prominently in the first scene of the Watchmen movie, hanging "over the mantel in an apartment where someone gets thrown out of a window." So you read it here first, folks, it looks like the opening scenes of the movie version of Watchmen will take place a scene or two earlier than the iconic opening sequence of Moore and Gibbons' comics masterwork.

Jean and Pope both showed the crowd copies of their recently published monographs from AdHouse Books that showcase recent works by the artists, and both of which are simply stunning in design and presentation. The Pope volume is entitled Pulphope: The Art of Paul Pope, and is a gorgeous slab of a book at 224 four-color pages. Pope referred to its very existence as "kind of a response to Jean's first [sketchbook compilation, Process Recess]." Pope fans should consider Pulphope absolutely essential, not only because Pope wrote lengthy original essays to accompany his artwork in the book, but because he estimates that only 30% of the work included has been previously published.

The volume collecting Jean's recent works is entitled Process Recess 2: Portfolio and, as the title implies, is the second in a continuing series from the publisher collecting his recent work. Jean's estimation as to the amount of previously unpublished work included was just 10 to 20%, but most of the rest of it is non-comics commercial work largely consisting of editorial illustrations, so odds are most will not have been seen previously by fans. Needless to say, if you're a Jean fan, it's an essential purchase.

An interesting side note regarding the Process Recess series, and what I'm pretty sure was another exclusive announcement was that Jean had planned for volume 3 to be a collection of his award-winning Fables covers. Work had already begun on the AdHouse book, with Vertigo's blessing, when Jean was recently informed that the editorial winds had shifted and Vertigo had decided to publish their own volume of his collected covers instead (a decision which, under the circumstances, Jean found to be "kind of tacky"). The good news for Fables fans, however, is that the Vertigo edition, Fables: The Covers of James Jean, will feature an introduction by none other than series writer and co-creator, Bill Willingham.

For fans of Jean's interior comics work, be advised that he'll have a "very personal" (and, from the slides of pages he showed, very surrealistic) story in the next volume of Meathaus. NY-based Jean fans will be able to revel in seeing an original work of his displayed as wallpaper (at 16x200 feet in size!) decorating the walls at the Soho location of the Prada store in New York very soon. Additionally, New Yorkers can look forward to a gallery show of Jean's work in 2009.

Paul Pope photographed in Baltimore As for Pope's upcoming non-comics work, hold onto your hats because there was a major (unplanned) exclusive given during the panel. Pope fans in L.A. can look forward to an installation that he's doing for the Diesel store in Hollywood, a "multimedia thing" in their store window which will include several large original silkscreens that Pope is creating for the installation which goes up on October 17. If the Hollywood installation goes as well as is expected, Pope says that there will be another one in New York. Now that's my idea of window shopping.

As for the unplanned announcement, Jose Villarrubia slipped and mentioned t
he name of a (Very Famous) designer for whom –wait for it– Pope has a line of clothes coming out this year! Yes, that's right folks, Paul Pope has added fashion designer to his already impressive resume. I'm not going to name the designer in question out of respect for the fact that the official announcement hasn't yet been made but, trust me, folks, this is "real world" huge ... and it's yet another fine example of how comics, and comics culture, continue to infiltrate the culture at large.

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