Tubby and Vim : Paul Pope’s One Trick Rip-Off

Paul Pope is the kind of writer and artist that seems to be as much a rock star as he is a comic book writer. Not like the cheesy, machismo-type of rock star that wears spandex, primps his hair, and exudes arrogance for miles. More like the kind of rock star that has something to say, and when he says it it’s important. The quiet, brooding type of rock star. In his graphic novel The One Trick Rip-Off he even uses Nick Cave as an inspiration for one of his characters, Jesse James. I think what that says about Paul Pope is that he’s not the typical writer. He’s someone working on the fringe, yet he’s never run from success. He’s just found it on his own terms, man. When you’re trying to be unique in the world of comic book writing and illustrating that’s a dangerous business model. But if you can stick to your guns and continue to push yourself and your art and actually pay the rent, then you’ve achieved something.

One of my closest friends told me when I first started getting into graphic novels that I should check out Paul Pope’s Battling Boy books. Of course I never listened and instead ordered his Paul Pope’s Batman : Year 100 and was completely blown away, by both the story and the artwork. Pope’s got a very unique art style, and I think that might be from his years living in Japan and working for Kodansha, the leading Japanese publishing house and worked on several manga books. He said of that time that he never looked at any American comics, with the exception of a handful of his friends self-published books. And his writing seems to veer towards outcasts and characters on their own. I don’t know the guy, so I don’t know if he himself is or was a bit of an outsider, but by his impressive list of clients I’d say he’s not THAT much of an outsider. If anything, he can relate to them.

The last book of his I picked up was The One Trick Rip-Off. It’s the story of Tubby and Vim, two lovers that want to escape their lives and start over. To do that all they have to do is rip off Tubby’s pals in the One Tricks, one of LAs most dangerous street gangs. Why are they called the One Tricks? Well that one trick is that they can use mind control on people. If Tubby says a snake is choking you, then you think a snake is choking you and you die. Kind of a Jedi mind trick thing, I guess. There’s not much to the story, really. It’s nothing too heavy or anything, but the simplicity is appreciated. Boy and girl love each other and want a new life for themselves. They decide to steal from bad guys and things don’t quite go as planned. There’s double crosses, near misses, and epic fights. Oh, and Thai food laced with morphine. It has a real True Romance/Pulp Fiction vibe. It was written in 1995, right when Quentin Tarantino was blowing up in a big way, so the noir-ish aspect of his films were an influence on Pope’s story. He was also pulling from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which is woven into the backgrounds of illustrated gritty Los Angeles streets penned so wonderfully here by Pope and colored beautifully by Jamie Grant(the original run was in black and white.)

I can see where some might find the story here a bit thin, and I think this was really at the start of Paul Pope’s upward trajectory. His writing only got better from here, but for a book like this I think the story was well suited to be more of an impressionistic journey. The art here is what sells this for me. It’s a brooding story that finds its footing in the two troubled lovers Tubby and Vim, their search for a new beginning, and the drawings of Pope that show us their dirty, messy world.

When I look at this book and Pope’s style here, it reminds me a bit of early Ralph Bakshi films. Stuff like Wizards, American Pop, and Fire and Ice come to mind. I’m sure Paul Pope would despise that comparison. His influences are probably far more intellectual and storied in the comic book world, but there was always something about Bakshi’s work that felt very visceral to me. A rough sketch come to life. Something very organic and sexual in nature. Not perfect, but gorgeous and alluring nonetheless. That’s what I get from Pope’s work. It’s raw.

This is only my 3rd outing with Paul Pope, but one of my favorite books to look at. I read it, of course, but looking at it is amazing. I picked up the special edition The One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC, which like I said earlier colors in the black and white book to stunning effect. There are also several early works of Paul Pope’s included which gives you a glimpse of where Pope started. It’s not essential, but I’m glad I’ve got them to go back to once in a while.

Along with Batman: Year 100 and Escapo, Paul Pope is batting 3-0 with The One Trick Rip-Off. I think I might jump into Battling Boy next. I also want to track down hardcover copies of Heavy Liquid and 100%. All in due time.

All in due time.

Death, You Cantankerous Letch

When you live in times like these it’s hard not to think about ones fate, and ultimately death. Sometimes it barely cracks the surface with me, but there are some days when those thoughts of the morbid and dark are around every corner. Maybe I’ll bite it going to work. Or maybe I’ll choke on some pasta. Maybe on one of my afternoon walks I’ll get hit by some senior citizen with a wandering attention or some 17-year old texting while they’re driving. Or maybe the heat will get to me. Maybe some space debris will make its way into the atmosphere and it’ll hit me as I’m walking out to the car with the week’s groceries.

The possibilities are endless, really.

Okay, I’m not trying to be morbid here. I’m trying to prove a point, and that point is we have no idea what our fate is. Sure, we can do things like exercise, eat right, and stay away from putting carcinogens in our lungs. Those things help, but for the most part it’s a crap shoot. I started thinking about fate and death quite a bit after reading Paul Pope’s excellent book Escapo, the story of an escape artist in the circus.

IMG_1999When I started digging into graphic novels one of my best friends was guiding me to the good stuff. He sent me a list of writer/illustrators that I needed to read. One of those guys was Paul Pope. Pope has a very unique style, both writing and illustrating. He’s from Philly, yet was hired by Japan’s most prestigious Manga publisher, Kodansha, and developed for them the book Supertrouble. He completely immersed himself in the Manga style, but decided to come back to the US and get to work on his own material, publishing his work on his own as well as with DCs Vertigo imprint.

The thing that stands out about Pope is that he comes across like a real renegade. A DIY kind of artist that follows his muse wherever she takes him. In that respect Paul Pope feels more rock and roll than a lot of other comic artists. That’s not to say that guys like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Scott Snyder, Jeph Loeb, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, R. Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson aren’t rock and roll, but Pope looks the part. With his long, scraggly hair he looks like a cross between Thomas Haden Church and Jason Patric from The Lost Boys. His attention to detail is phenomenal. His drawings are crude and sleek, sometimes in the same frame. Bodies seem elastic while facial expressions are intense and pointed. It all comes together beautifully.

ringmasterSo the first book I read by Pope was Batman: Year 100. It’s a work of gritty genius as far as I’m concerned, and it pushed me more into Pope’s direction. So, digging through his books I found Escapo, a story about an escape artist that has a near death experience which changes him. I’ve always liked the idea of escape artists. Putting their lives in danger for the sake of entertainment. I guess boxers, MMA fighters, and footballers do that too, but you don’t have that unique sense of pizzazz; you don’t have that air of show and entertainment in those sometimes brutal displays of force that you do with an escape artist. Chained, bound, and tied, the escape artist must escape the depths of a water tank or the pending death of a dangling car overhead.

Vic is the real name of Escapo, but Vic is merely a beat up, Band Aid-covered ugly mug. Escapo isn’t a man; he’s a legend. Vic is a lonely guy who pines for the lovely and beautiful tightrope girl named Aerobella, who has feelings for The Acrobat King. When Vic is Escapo he looks at Death in the face and laughs. Even losing the girl Escapo seems to keep the crowds entertained and his fellow Circus folks in awe of his talents.

One night Escapo forgets the combination to a lock that he needs to open in order to escape a container from drowning. While in this life or death situation he’s confronted by Death himself. When Escapo is floating in this vault-like container filled with water he sees Death floating towards him. Once he realizes what is coming towards him he exclaims “Oh!“, with Death responding “Why do you look surprised? Your time has come escape artist.” Escapo then begins to barter with Death. “I’ve got things I gotta take care of…Wait, I have a letter…w-written to my sister…It’s in my coat pocket in my trailer! It’s all stamped and ready to go! But-But I didn’t have time to put her name on the envelope! How will they know it’s for her??“, to which Death replies “That is not my concern.” Eventually Escapo dares Death to keep him alive, and if he does Escapo will let Death ride on his shoulders during his next performance. If Escapo dies then Death can steal his breath while it’s still in Escapo’s throat.

IMG_2002 (1)So does Death take up Escapo’s offer, or does he take Escapo right then and there? Well you’re going to have to read Escapo to find out. Believe me, it’s well worth diving into this beautifully drawn and written story. The pages are sharply drawn, and the colors are rich and full. Pope’s prose flows effortlessly. You hear conversations between the acts, but the true draw here is the heart-broken and lonely Vic. He may have respect among his peers when he’s performing, but afterwards he’s just a “pug-ugly luckless jack”.

Now I’m sure you could find this somewhere online and you could read it and be done. But I say find this wonderfully put-together book. It’s a hardbound book with this amazing cover art that looks like a homemade, cut and paste art. It’s hard to describe, really. But it’s absolutely stunning. You hold the book in your hand and you can feel Pope’s intentions and aspirations. I guess I’m just a tactile kind of guy. I like the feeling of the hardcover and pages between my fingers. The heaviness in my hands.

You just don’t get that flipping digital pages with a mouse, folks.

escapoSo Paul Pope, he’s pretty great. Maybe Paul used to think a lot about death, like I do sometimes. Writing about an escape artist is a pretty unique way to work out some of those existential kinks, don’t you think? Escapo is avoiding death at every corner, and we’re all the better for it…but at some point, we all falter. Even Escapo. Just one misstep; just one second of hesitation and we’re floating face down in a tank of water as onlookers gasp in horror. Or we’re crushed under the weight of a ’52 Buick just seconds after it drops from it’s dangling perch in the air above. You just never know. You can never be certain when your time is coming.

Death’s got a schedule, man. He’s got places to go and people to see.

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Batman Year 100 : A Dystopian Masterpiece

I’d like to blame my son for my recent obsession regarding Batman graphic novels, but that would just not be right. Sure, his love of comics made me think twice about the world of comic books. If I could find something to get into then Owen and I would have something we could share. Something we’d have that was just ours. When I was a kid I didn’t really have that shared sort of hobby with my dad. I was close with him for sure, but I wasn’t into cars or football like he was. I wasn’t even into models like he was. He had a couple really cool model cars he’d made when I was young. He even had gotten a model of an engine that when he was done with it it would actually run.

Anyways, I wasn’t all that mechanically or athletically inclined, so dad and I bonded over The Far Side comics and Mad Magazine. He was athletic and was a gear head, but he was also a really great artist. Despite having those Gary Larson and Don Martin comics to laugh at together, I wanted something more for my son and I to bond over. So while he looked for Deadpool and Spiderman comics to get, I began looking for comics I could collect. One of my best friends had told me about Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga series. I picked up the Saga Deluxe Edition Volume One and loved it. It’s like Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars with lots of family dysfunction. Beautifully drawn by Fiona Staples, it’s the story of two warring worlds and two of their inhabitants that fall in love in the face of war, violence, and going against their own kind. They end up having a baby and are on the run from bounty hunters, government officials, and their own families. It’s got everything you want in a great action/adventure love story. This was the jumping off point I needed in order to immerse myself in comics.

From there I started following Robert Kirkman’s Outcast, the story of a man with the power to save people from demonic possession. And in the small town he’s found himself in there’s plenty of it going around. I like the fact that religion itself isn’t really brought in. It’s there, but in the periphery. The guy isn’t religious, he just happens to be able to pull demons out of people. It’s been a slow build, but at issue 17 things are starting get going nicely. Great character development and backstory, along with a good build to what our protagonist exorcist has in store for him.

FullSizeRender (72)So that brings me to Batman. The Dark Knight. The caped crusader. I’ve been wanting to get into some of the famous Batman stories for some time. Over Christmas I picked up a couple of Frank Miller’s stories, Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. While I loved Year One, I was a little underwhelmed by The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. I need to revisit them both, but I felt they didn’t live up to the hype surrounding them all these years. Then a few weeks ago I picked up a couple books by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. These two, in my opinion, are absolute must reads for anyone a fan of Batman. Exceptional writing and Tim Sale’s illustrations are dark and beautiful. Story-wise they are one continuous story that work so well together. Both are mysteries that were extremely influential on Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, but unfortunately Christopher Nolan didn’t stay true to the stories. His films were a mish mash of Year One and The Long Halloween. I won’t go into great detail of the stories, other than The Long Halloween is the story of a serial killer killing on holidays, starting on Halloween. The Dark Knight, working closely with district attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant Jim Gordon, races against the clock to figure out who’s doing the killing. There’s a who’s who of Batman villains in this book, too. Dark Victory sees the continuation of The Long Halloween’s story with new twists, new villains, and new mysteries. Both are a wonderful read from start to finish.

FullSizeRender (71)So with my surgery looming near a couple weeks ago I wanted to find something new to read during that initial week home afterwards. Once again, leave it to one of my oldest’s friends to send me in the right direction. My good pal Jason that sent me in Brian K. Vaughan’s direction told me about Paul Pope and his Battling Boy series. Well, while perusing his books I came across one he wrote called Batman Year 100. Seems it was a Batman story that took place in 2039, 1oo years after the birth of the Batman. This seemed too cool not to read, so I had my guy over at Chimp’s Comix see if he could get it in. He did, and I picked it up the day before my surgery. After a few hazy days of pain and a steady dose of pain pills and muscle relaxers I cracked that book open. I can say that this book is probably one of the best Batman books I have read. Sure, I haven’t read a whole lot, but out of the ones I’ve read this is top notch. Pope creates this dystopian future where the Batman is just an urban legend among criminals and crooked cops alike. But Batman is very real. As I said, this story takes place in a dystopian future. Gotham looks more like Los Angeles in Blade Runner than the noir-ish streets created by Miller and Loeb. Officer Jim Gordon(the grandson of the Jim Gordon we knew before) has crossed paths with the Dark Knight himself and is horrified at the thought. How could the Batman be alive still? He’d have to be over 100 years old? Gordon of the future works in yet another corrupt GCPD, which is run by grimy crooked cops and officials and their brand of law is enforced by the Wolves, a group of officers dressed like hockey players and have similar dispositions to them as well. Batman, as well as Robin and a female doctor and her daughter are the tight knit group that fight crime under the cover of darkness. Unlike the Batman’s we’ve seen on screen and page, this Batman is more investigator that knows how to hurt people with his fists than cool gadgets and bulletproof suits. This Batman bleeds(and a lot), but can put fear in the toughest of lugs.

FullSizeRender (73)In my eyes, Paul Pope gave new life to Batman. This book was gritty, dark, and drawn in a swiftly sloppy way. The jagged lines and crushed faces seem to carry the story along. It adds an element of danger to the story. I was sad to see the story end, and even more sad that Pope never followed up this story with more Batman Year 100 stories. There were a few one-off stories that were included with some quarterly issues that were included with the Batman Year 100 deluxe edition, but no more graphic novels.

I guess I’ll just have to read it again.

So I guess I have found something my son and I can bond over. It’s great having those weekly trips to the Chimp’s Comix so he can pick up the next book in “The New 52” series of Batman. And if there’s a new issue of Outcast waiting for me, great. Or if something I ordered is in, even better. It’s just a good feeling having those moments with my son. Moments I’ll hold onto forever, and hopefully he will, too. I have to say, the graphic novels have been a wonderful distraction for me leading up to and that first week after the back surgery. It was nice being able to get lost in words and colors for a bit and not have to think about the pending surgery, even if for just a few moments. It also helped that that first week after surgery my kids were on spring break. I can’t tell you how great it was having them home, hanging out with their old man. My wife took care of me wonderfully, changing my bandages, getting up in the middle of the night to make sure I got my pain meds and antibiotics, getting me on the ice pack when I needed to be on it, and just making sure I was okay. She made sure I was going to heal right, and my kids kept my mind from thinking about pain and the huge incision in my back. My son and I watched plenty of old horror movies, listened to records, and played some old school video games as well. And of course, the wife took us in to pick up some comics.

I’m on the road to recovery, thanks to a family I could never do without, in sickness, health, or otherwise. And thanks to some incredible writers and artists that gave old heroes some new tricks. What’s next? Keep healing, some physical therapy, then eventually back to the gym to get back to my Atlas-like shape I was in prior to all of this. And I think I’ll start digging into Paul Pope’s bibliography.

Cause, why not?

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