Sunday, June 24, 2007

PULPHOPE: The Art of Paul Pope--A Review

Yesterday, just glancing at the book, I referred to PULPHOPE as an "autobiography in art, except incomplete, and with lots of pretty pictures." That's not a bad starting point when you think about this particular art book. My initial assessment was pretty accurate, it turns out. First of all, this is unlike any other art book I've seen. I own a lot of "sketchbooks" showing the work of various comic book artists--most of which feature a lot of raw pin-ups, some finished pieces, promotional stuff, and occasionally a finished story or something sequential. I also own a lot of fine art books, which usually feature representative images from throughout an artists career with varying amounts of text explanation. PULPHOPE features a little bit of all of that (both as a comic book artist's "sketchbook" and a fine arts overview of his career), but what makes this book so different is the amount of personal detail Pope includes in the text pieces. It's not just a bunch of paragraphs explaining, "oh, I drew this for this company, but it was never published." It's pages upon pages (interspersed with gorgeous art) in which Pope defines his boundaries as an artist. It's part manifesto, part philiosophy of art, part autobiography. Taken as a whole, this book clearly defines what Paul Pope believes, what he does, and who he is.

Although he has a tendency to add extra letters to the names of writers (he spells Hemingway with an extra "m" and James Fenimore Cooper with an extra "n" in the middle), Pope is a good writer. He has things to say, and he has thought deeply about what he believes as an artist, so I was more that happy to read his fascinating text pieces. The book begins with an invocation to past artists and visionaries. Pope says, "These poets and philosophers are the whispering dead I hear, pointing the way to the road which leads out of this inferno. These are the dead on the roof with me, these are my Virgils. They point their parchment fingers toward the arc of the heavens, helping make sense of a meaningless rising moon and a mute and dumb setting sun." To Pope, art makes sense of life, and that's all it has ever tried to do.

Pope provides insight into his methods, but more in terms of a methodology than a "how-to" manual. He says, for example, "I'd pencil, letter, ink, and finish 16 pages at a time, using tape to hold up two rows of eight pages of comics side by side...Working within an assembly line such as this is the most effective method for producing comics I know of, and I credit it with how I could manage to finish seventy or eighty completely print ready pages a month, which was necessary sometime while working for Kodansha [the Manga publisher]." Pope's art seems anything but "assembly line." It reads as vibrant and alive, so his mechanical method of churning out multiple pages at once seems antithetical to the result. But, perhaps that type of speed encourages spontanteity and energy--it certainly appears that way in Pope's case, and Jack Kirby's best work was often produced under the same conditions (although Kirby famously just drew from one panel to the next until everything was completed. I wonder what he would have thought about Pope's 16-pages-at-once approach?)

Pope doesn't speak specifically about the work as much as I would have liked--he's more interested in moments from his life, and bold statements about the nature of art and reality, but what he does say is interesting and engaging. It's unusual (for me at least) to "read" an art book voraciously, in one sitting, but that's what I did with PULPHOPE. Ultimately, this substantial book gave me a greater appreciation for Pope's work (which I held in considerable esteem already), and it inspired me to create art of my own.

I highly recommend this book. You won't be disappointed.

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