Thursday, July 25, 2013

 Paul Pope
Vertigo, 2002

      From slightly off the beaten path, yet still a conventional action oriented comic, Vertigo brought us Paul Pope's 100%; a book which envisions a gritty, futuristic urban stage for a drama which gives obvious nods to Bladerunner and the 5th Element, trading away some of the violence for romance and emotional expression.
     Most striking is Paul Pope's inking style.  In the liner notes he refers to the inking process as a "pure bliss" he looks forward to, while everything else is tedium.  Proportion is sent through his intuitive, selective fish eye lens.  Every object is reflective of an interpretive whim, mood dictating application and even atmosphere.  The drawback to this approach is of course lost clarity, which is most noticeable in his facial features, conjured up without enough deliberation, tending to resemble the artist in real life.  I feel they are wearing his lips, regardless of gender.  

    However, he is masterful regarding composition, light, and mood.  Often white paint and black ink mingle in expressive, purposeful storms which are quite amazing, especially when depicting motion, wind and rain.  

     100% follows the interweaving plots of several young New York archetypes: lost souls, strippers, struggling artists, and impoverished single mothers, all searching for human connection in a decaying and rambunctious environment.  Particularly disturbing is the idea of a strip club that features dancers who reveal more than what bare skin obscures.

     When he feels it necessary, Paul Pope brings objects forward with a stark tightened integrity, avoiding the kind of childish whimsy that might land him in the realm of experimental comics, or along with the disingenuous thug flailing of David Choe.

     Cyberpunk has become almost a household term, or a dirty word, depending on who you ask.  Characters have interactions with various handheld devices that are too close to home in 2013, despite being curvaceous and bug-like in Paul Pope's signature style.

     The world he imagines is indicative of a true New Yorker, dealing with that often romanticized brand of sleazy impermanence and desperation.  The characters are hardened by their mild dystopia.  100% avoids being outdated by managing to be just off kilter, strange, and humanistic enough to keep it refreshing even in an era where over stimulation, confusion, and identity loss have become banal.

--- A$ 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

 Pantheon, 2011

        Mr. Clowes is famous.  And like any heavyweight, there are hungrier, younger competitors trying to say he's getting soft, like an old man who should bow out of the ring.  "Mister Wonderful," a 76 page short story following suit with the previous year's "Wilson," stars a tired, alienated Charlie Brown / Woody Allen hybrid, complaining about the state of the world and his lackluster sex life.

           The classic yet streamlined style of Clowes straddles antiseptic symbology and childish daydream, a pragmatic articulation that is gently persuasive.   
           Our protagonist unintentionally bungles his way through a blind date with the unbelievable serendipity of Batman solving another disposable case.  He socks a purse snatcher, skirts teeth clenching romantic faux pas at every instant, somehow managing not to offend the blonde, mousey object of his affection who shares a cup of coffee with him, fragile, alluringly damaged-by-modernity.

          Often the steady draftsmanship seems to keep the characters and subject matter intact much like a carton of eggs on a very long highway of hairpin turns.  Just beneath the surface lives the anxiety and vivid dreams that made Dan Clowes such a monolith of the 90's alternative comics scene.

          There is a simplification in his style which appeared in his past few releases, where some may have come to the conclusion that he is running out of steam.  With less detail, less impactful subject matter, and shorter, serialized plots, this may be true.  He has, however, managed to age and exit with tact.  Wilson and Mister Wonderful are solid, well written stories that left me feeling satisfied, wishing he hadn't abandoned his epic follow-up to David Boring a few years ago.

          To his many detractors, calling him bland, irrelevant, preachy, infatuated with baby-boomer schlock, I ask:  What will Johnny Ryan be doing when he turns 52?