Always 100%: Celebrating The Work of Paul Pope
Paul Pope, born September 25, 1970, is one of the world’s most exciting cartoonists. With an incredibly distinctive style that is reminiscent both of old Jack Kirby comics and the glam music style of the '70s, Pope tells futuristic stories with characters that rebel against the status quo.
Pope’s comics career began with a stint at Japanese manga publisher Kodansha. In an interview with DC Comics, he described his five years at Kodansha as "the equivalent of a grad school education in 'making comics the manga way'." You can see the manga influence in his work, but also a European sense of style and design.
In 1994 Pope began publishing THB, a comic he’s returned to many times over his career, publishing more stories across the 1990s and 2000s. The series tells the story of a young girl on Mars and her “super-mek” synthetic bodyguard, and has many themes that carry through Pope’s other work: a young protagonist, useless or hostile authority figures, and science that seems almost like magic. THB also demonstrates Pope’s distinctive art style -- thick brushwork brimming with energy, seemingly chaotic yet carefully constructed.
Pope wrote and illustrated more sci fi dystopias in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including Heavy Liquid and 100%, both published by Vertigo. Heavy Liquid, which follows a private detective in New York investigating an explosive liquid that turns into a mind-altering drug. Pope’s expressive lines and colors work perfectly to represent the heightened awareness of characters on Heavy Liquid.
By contrast, 100% is entirely black, white, and grey. It weaves together interconnected stories in a future New York City, following six characters at a futuristic strip club where technology is used to see inside the dancers’ bodies. 100% is more of a character-driven comic; you experience vignettes of their lives rather than following a particular narrative.
Despite his focus on independent and alternative work, Pope is no stranger to the superhero comic. He wrote and illustrated several Batman, stories including “The Berlin Batman,” in which Jewish Baruch Wane sees his parents murdered by anti-semites and grows up to fight injustice and terrorize Nazis, though he's probably best known for another Batman story: Batman: Year 100. It’s Batman in 2039, for which he won two Eisners in 2007 for Best Limited Series and Best Writer/Artist.
In 2013, First Second published Battling Boy, Pope’s first graphic novel in years, set in a world of monsters and demons. It marked Pope's return to young adult work, with more overbearing fathers and problematic governments. Battling Boy won an Eisner in 2014, and Pope continued to tell more stories in that world in The Rise of Aurora West and The Fall of the House of West, both bestsellers. These were illustrated by David Rubin, an unusual collaboration for Pope, who usually both writes and illustrates.
In addition to his extensive comics work, Pope also creates art for fashion labels such as DKNY and Diesel, and companies like LucasArts and Paramount Pictures. Paul Pope's kinetic and fashionable art style works perfectly beyond the world of comics --- but it is within comics, working to both break and perfect the sequential form, that he is at his best.