By Sean T. Collins
You got mainstream in my indie! You got indie in my mainstream! Renowned writer/artist Paul Pope has been blending popular genres like super heroes and science fiction with his trademark underground art style in books such as Batman Year 100, Heavy Liquid, 100% and Wednesday Comics for years now. The multiple Eisner Award-winner is no stranger to the Marvel Universe itself, having tackled short stories starring Spider-Man, the Human Torch and a Silver Surfer cover in the past. Needless to say, he was the perfect choice to help anchor Marvel's STRANGE TALES series with both the all-star cover and an eight-page story in its first issue. Marvel.com caught up with the creator to find out his roots as a Marvel fan, his dreams for Dr. Doom and why the Marvel U's most underrated character is...Lockjaw?
Marvel.com: What characters are you working on for this project?
Marvel.com: So why'd you pick the Inhumans? Are they favorites of yours?
Paul Pope: Yeah. I love anything [Jack] Kirby did, especially the far out stuff. Their story is pretty amazing. Having said that, my story isn't serious or epic. It's not a parody, though it is a comedy. I think Lockjaw is a really fantastic character who has a lot of potential to be expanded upon, so I wanted to do something about Lockjaw.
Marvel.com: He has a very devoted cult following, that's for sure. You're taking a humorous approach to him?
Paul Pope: Well, it's a story that's never been told: Lockjaw feeding time. My take on Lockjaw is that he isn't a dog, he's just the most inhuman of the Inhumans. He also happens to not have thumbs, so you wonder—how can this guy eat?
Marvel.com: Lately the Inhumans have declared war on the United States, helped blast the Hulk into outer space, found themselves infiltrated by Skrulls and fought a War of Kings, so I guess this is a slightly more light-hearted moment for them.
Paul Pope: Yeah. It's a different way to approach these characters. There's nothing piss-taking about my approach. Humor's a fantastic theme. I think it's something we don't see often enough in super hero comics. Especially after my Batman book, Batman: Year 100, which is pretty grim, serious and ponderous, I want the work I'm doing right now to be more light-hearted.
Marvel.com: Obviously, the prevailing mood for super hero comics is serious as a heart attack.
Paul Pope: I have nothing against it. But you know, as Mark Twain said after going to Rome, he likes Michelangelo, but not for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Marvel: You probably have more Marvel experience and super hero experience in general than anyone else involved in the STRANGE TALES project, so you must have accrued some knowledge of the genre that you're bringing to the table here.
Paul Pope: Oh yeah. Also, it can be a really interesting challenge to do an eight-page story and try and really make it feel full. My Batman and Robin story, "Teenage Sidekick," won an Eisner for Best Short Story in 2006. It's interesting to write short stories, for me. I definitely was excited when [editorial] said, "What would you like to do?" I actually came up with a Dr. Doom story, which actually was a really good story, perfect for Dr. Doom. It's a story we've never seen before. But it's extremely grim, it's extremely downbeat. So I said we can take two directions: We can go with more of this slap-stick, Harpo Marx style, or go more toward this very sinister character study of a tyrant. I told them I laugh when I think about Lockjaw, and they had the same response. So luckily we all agreed on that.
SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME #3 cover by Paul Pope
Marvel.com: Do you think you'll ever get the chance to flesh out that Dr. Doom story too? Would you want to?
Paul Pope: Oh yeah, for sure. In fact, it would be nice to have a little bit more than eight pages to do it. It's a pretty simple idea and I don't want to give anything away with it, but it would work pretty well as a 14 to 24 page story.
Marvel.com: Did you read super hero comics when you were a kid?
Paul Pope: Sure, I read everything, I read as much as I could get my hands on. I read Tintin, Donald Duck, Byrne's X-MEN stuff, MOON KNIGHT, Lone Wolf & Cub, Heavy Metal...I read everything.
Marvel.com: Did you have favorite artists, characters or issues that you recall now?
Paul Pope: Yeah, I liked the venerable late '70s/early '80s artists from Marvel. I loved Sienkiewicz, Byrne, I was into Alan Grant. Steve Rude on Nexus was one of my favorites. Love & Rockets, I was into that kind of stuff. I like Kirby as well, I would say.
Marvel.com: Did you have a lot of access to Kirby stuff back then?
Paul Pope: I grew up in Ohio, and back in the '70s and '80s there would always be flea markets at shopping malls or something. And there'd always invariably be some guy with boxes and boxes of comic books. So I was able to get pretty complete runs on the Bruno Premiani Doom Patrol, or Kirby's New Gods, or Kamandi, or his stuff with MARVEL SHOWCASE or things like that. I did pretty well with that. I would just go for the beat-up, 25-cent copy. I didn't need a pristine copy of anything. I remember going to yard sales as a kid and getting a pretty complete run of the Byrne X-MEN stuff. And few of them I remember paying some money for. It's all relative, you know, $15—but at the time that seemed like a sh-tload of money when you were 14 years old! My parents were tolerant of my interest in comics, probably because it was keeping me out of trouble. Every once in a while, when we'd go to Toledo, which was the nearest city, there were a couple comic shops, direct market comic book shops, and you could go there and get some comics. But before that, when I was a little kid, it was impossible to get comics. But my uncle had a big collection I inherited from him. So I had a stack of Steranko's CAPTAIN AMERICA, Infantino's Batman, Turok: Son of Stone, I had Marvels like CONAN and THE AVENGERS. I was really lucky to have them. It was only like 50-60 comics, but it was like, if you were just to select comics from the '60s, it was a great collection of Silver Age stuff. That's what I read when I was a kid.
Marvel.com: It sounds like it was strong material.
Paul Pope: Now, looking back on it, it's pretty amazing to have seen some of that stuff. It really is seminal work that over time has been recognized as really important for American comics in the '60s.
Marvel.com: Are there any recent Marvel comics you've enjoyed?
Paul Pope: Actually, I like a lot of the comics Marvel publishes, and I love the nice collections of classic Marvel comics by guys like Kirby and Ditko. Looking forward to what Marvel does with Marvelman. That Joe Q. teaser image is proof that he is a real heavyweight artist—I wish he had more time to do more work like this. I don't have to care too much about the writing in a comic—for me it's primarily about the artwork—but when you get both together, such as Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's run on NEW X-MEN, you've got gold. I'm also a fan of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run on ASTONISHING X-MEN I loved the recent SHE-HULK comic. I really like a lot of Warren Ellis's stories. Since I am doing covers on the upcoming Marvel book ELECTRIC ANT, I've read David Mack's script and seen a bunch of Pasqual Alixe's artwork on the series, and it is really amazing stuff.
Marvel.com: Say someone comes to STRANGE TALES and sees your story and likes it. What do you recommend that they pick up next if they're looking for more of your work?
Paul Pope: I've done a few stories for Marvel, which have always been fun and cool projects. Since I am a huge Kirby fan, I always try to gravitate to Kirby characters, as here with Inhumans... I'm a big fan of classic Fantastic Four. Most recently, I had a Spidey vs. Human Torch strip in the CIVIL WAR run of FF. For fans of my stuff who want to see something more out of the box, I'd recommend my coffee table art book, PULPHOPE: The Art of Paul Pope from AdHouse Books. I also did an issue of Solo for DC Comics which I think holds up. And there is also the (multiple Eisner-winning) Batman: Year 100, which might appeal more to fans of super hero stories.
FF/Spidey art by Paul Pope from FANTASTIC FOUR #543
Marvel.com: What else are you working on right now, and what do you have coming up?
Paul Pope: My longer projects for First Second—Battling Boy and after that the sci-fi story THB—are still in the works, and both have long gestations since both are book-length projects. But right now, my pulp/retro-sci-fi strip Strange Adventures with Adam Strange is appearing weekly in Wednesday Comics. Strange Adventures functions as a "bridge" between my more conventional super hero work (such as Spidey or FF for Marvel and Batman for DC) and my more fantasy-oriented, classic myth-meets-super hero work of Battling Boy. In my current comics work, I am trying to recapture the pure science fantasy, highly imaginative comics I read as a kid in Heavy Metal magazine, fusing it with a sense of classic high heroic adventure from old comics, such as Captain Easy or Terry & the Pirates.
Check out Paul Pope's Inhumans story in STRANGE TALES #1, on sale September 2!
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