Artists, critics, and comics aficionados will tell you there's no one quite like Paul Pope working in American comics today. With his hyperkinetic line contrasting with strong lush inkwork his panels alternately brood and slouch or animate themselves on the page, fizzing and hissing with energy. He has produced well received independent and adult comics (see Heavy Liquid, 741.5973 POPE in our catalog) or worked new creative angles on big name projects (the critically acclaimed Batman: Year 100 -- 741.5973 BATMAN among others).
In Battling Boy Pope he gets to play with a lighter touch, creating a coming-of-age heroes tale starring teen gods, action-science soldiers, and a world overrun with huge monsters and nasty boogeymen. He allows himself to play in a realm that harkens back to the pulp science fantasy stories of a more innocent era (Flash Gordon, or works by Jack Kirby) while keeping a contemporary feel.
The City of Arcopolis stretches from sea to sea, within its walls incarnate nightmares like Sadisto and his gang of child-snatching ghouls crawl out from the shadows causing havoc. The monster army is held in check only by the determination and savvy of the City's champion, science warrior Haggard West. Ghouls being masters of ambush however, the hero is led into a boobytrap and blown to smoke by a rooftop zapgun. The City, bereft of its defender, can only mourn and wait in fear.
Two heroes may rise to meet the challenge. Haggard West's daughter Aurora has been trained since birth to assist him , and now without her father has the will and determination to make his killers pay, but lacks the experience, his equipment, training...
Elsewhere, in the "hidden gilded realm' a young god has reached his day of turning at age thirteen, and ready-or-not he is kicked out of this Asgard-like floating kingdom to become a great hero and earn his godhood, or die in the process.
Pope's tween heroes are realistic kids. The eponymous hero is alternately unsure or overconfident, impatient or bold and ultimately somewhat overwhlemed by responsibility. When he gets into trouble (trying to defeat a city-eating batpig beast) he does what all good kids are trained to do, he calls his Dad, a bombastic thunder-god type who already has enough on his plate saving other universes. If the results are anticlimactic here it is still an important lesson learned, to feel like you have earned your stripes sometimes you have to handle things yourself.
In Pope's prior work he is noted for his ability to render the claustrophobic density of New York City (or Gotham, same thing). Soot and shadow, grit and garbage darken the pages. Here he still puts rivets on trestles and dirt in the streets, but his sprawling Arcopolis is a brighter more open landscape and skyline. The architecture and flora suggests the Southwest, perhaps even Mexico-- a cactus garden grows in a courtyard at Aurora's sprawling ranch home, icons of Aztec or Mayan influenced art decorate eaves and murals on the buildings. The color palette is even bright, occasionally too light -- as in an early sequence when the streetlights kick on and ghouls creep out from the shadows, but panels are still rendered in happy pastels.
The story is lighter in tone as well, fresh not jaded. These are kid heroes in a fantastic realm, not grim anti-heroes in a cynical world. Even if he is fighting nightmares face to face, Battling Boy's utter lack of experience prevents him from being crushed under the weight of responsibility.
Backstory suggests this lighter feel was the hope in creating this series, that there would be a market for the same sort of exuberant enjoyment of possibility as there was in the early years of comics, when comics books were intended to be read by kids.
While the technology may have the energy of 1950's whizbang gadgetry, other details reflect the world as we know it. Pope's heroes are always clothed in realistic costumes: his boots have a clunky dirty feel, jeans fray at the hem, teens' sneakers seem oversized as they always do. No seamless spandex, Pope will carefully render corduroy if it makes a character more credible. This is part of the charm of his stories, his characters feel real even when faced with an impossible world. Here he renders the impossible in a lively and plausible way. I'm looking forward to the next book, especially with the serious and determined Aurora West claiming more scenes for herself.
We'll preview Battling Boy in next week's Comics Jam, reading it aloud and projecting it on the Big Screen for all to enjoy the frenetic exuberance. Tuesday October 8, afterschool 4PM in the kids' room.
Then Thursday 10/10 at 7PM we'll be joined by the artist himself to read more, talk about the book and his other works, and hopefully do some live drawing for us. Hope to see you there!
The Library picked up some great new titles at Small Press Expo in Bethesda last month. They are processed and ready to go!
Here are some of the better ones. Click below to view:
Pang the Wandering Shaolin Monk, Vols 1 & 2, by Ben Costa (J YA 741.5973 Costa).
The story of a nomadic monk on a quest to find other members of his order after the Manchurian empire his razed temple to the ground. Martial arts, romance, humor.
The Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell (J Comics 741.5973 Harrell)
England, 1800's, each city of the land has a fierce monster that preys upon it. Turns out that's a good thing, a good monster keeps life interesting and quite possibly keeps bigger badder monsters at bay. The residents of Stoker-on-Avon have to make due with the mopey saurian Rayburn. An expert is dispatched to find out whatever may be the matter with him, can the monster of Stoker-on-Avon regain his pep and furor? Humor, wit, and plucky characters enliven the action.
Guinea P.I., Vols 5 & 6, by Colleen AF Venable (J Comics 741.5973 Venable)
Our younger readers love these gently funny tales of a no-nonsense crime-solving Guinea Pig and his would-be sidekick hamster buddy. Sadly book 6 concludes the series, oh noes!
More titles: Jeffrey Brown's Darth Vader as Daddy series (Darth Vader and SonVader's Little Princess), Christian Slade's wordless dog hero tale Korgi vols 2&3, and Over the wall by Peter Wartman, wherein a girl crosses the wall into a haunted city searching for her lost older brother.
Aya: Love in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet (741.5944 Abouet).
In this conclusion of the Aya saga, story threads of many different characters lives weave a bright tapestry to a warmly satisfying finish. Set in the Ivory Coast in the late 1970's early 1980's, the storylines bubble with humor and complexity, coming across as something between Shakespeare's great comedies of errors and an adult version of Archie Comics with real humor and more mature themes.
SMall Press Expo! This weekend (Saturday and Sunday, 9/14-15) Bethesda.
We are lucky here in the DC metro area in that we play host to the nation's premier annual convention for independent comics and graphic novel producers.
Small Press Expo has been kicking around suburban Maryland in various hotel conference rooms since 1997. It's a great place to meet eager fresh-scrubbed relatively unknown talents who have published their debut or magnum opus and hope to wow the world -- or be read at all.
And this is the real fun of the event. Most comics industry conferences are stocked with jaded semi-famous artists who are churning out work for a large publishing house, and long lines of fans who wait just to get them to sign the cover of a book, often paying for the privilege.
Not so at SPX where the artists are eager to share and talk and sell their book and tell you the backstory or inspiration behind the work. Most have been locked in a room for a few years, hunched over their drawing desks only now finally get a face to face contact with prospective readers.
Quite often the work is brilliant, if commercially questionable. You will read works by artists whose names you will never see again, who gave their all to the work and then have to succumb to real life. Wistful or poignant thought maybe, but the books are full of loopy exuberance and experimentation and energy, it's worth browsing and picking up a copy and every now and then finding a real treasure whose books will soon be found on the shelf of your local library.
Come meet the artists, and stop by panels to hear from artists who have made a name for themselves in independent publishing. Last year we got to meet and talk with The Hernadez Brothers (the Love and Rockets series, including Palomar and Locas 741.5973 in our adult section) and Chris Ware (JImmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth 741.5973 Ware on the adult side; and Building Stories -- R 741.5973 Ware in our office reference since it has so many lose-able pieces).
This years panels include Gene Yang (American Born Chinese YA-J-741.5973 Yang on the young adult comics shelves).