My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 2. 

The plan for Svetlana’s group was to conceive and execute a short story that would be collected into a group anthology while at the residency. So her group wrote, penciled, inked, toned and lettered 10-15 page short stories. Svet’s group was usually working into the wee hours of the night to make their deadline and their studio became the late night hangout of choice for some of us night owls. I’d hang out with Lilly MooreMojgon VatanchiAngi Mauri andSalina Trevino — who were affectionately dubbed “the manga girls” — and got a pretty awesome education in manga and anime. Not that I was totally ignorant, but these girls had like Manga Ph.D.s! They knew everything — proper pronunciation for every creator, character and phrase, the minute differences between each specific genre and sub-genre’s, the best places to read, buy or watch anything. I was exposed to all kinds of new stuff — for better or worse! Soul Eater, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, Princess Tutu, weird videos of flying panties, Shojo sparkles and an explanation as to what the attraction to Yaoi is for some people (though I still don’t really get it).

Svet’s group finished their pages on a Monday morning (the manga girls just got their pages in under the wire, while the “grown ups” — Leslie Harris, Alka JoshiDebbie Jenkinson and Matt Taylor — finished with time to spare) and had their printed anthology, Riding with Strangers, in hand on the final Thursday of our residency! Her group worked really hard and it was great to see how proud they were of the finished book.

For our group, Paul described us as more of a symposium on comics. Discussion of ideas, theories, and techniques. Then exercises designed to explore the topics we’d discussed. A lot of the subjects Paul wanted to talk about were in some fundamental way, extensions of his work and style. I think you when you really take a close look at Paul’s style, the origin’s to his approach are fairly obvious. He takes his favorite elements from European, Manga and American comics (throw in some pop art as well) and combines them into his own unique style. Equal parts Moebius, Crepax, Kirby, Caniff, Toth, Egawa Tatsuya and Tadanori Yokoo. It’s true “world comics”. I don’t think it’s any surprise then that his work has such strong worldwide appeal.

So on a daily basis we talked about various European, Manga and classic American comics and their creators. Some people might not immediately associate Paul with manga, but they probably aren’t aware of him working five years for Japanese publisher Kodansha. As a way of introducing how manga differed from American comics (hint: it has nothing to do with drawing style or big eyes and everything to do with pacing and point of view) Paul had us read and compare the origins of the Spider-man villain Mysterio in the Lee/Ditko comic (ASM #13) and then in Ryoichi Ikegami’s (Crying Freeman) manga version of the same story.

We asked Paul quite a bit about his days working for Kodansha and learned all kinds of cool stuff. Like how 100% (they wanted something with a young male), Heavy Liquid (they wanted an urban crime/sex story) and Smoke Navigators (which later appeared in Escapo) were all originally begun or developed for release in Japan. That Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue was part of the same new publishing initiative as Paul’s Super Trouble. It’s the only project started during that initiative that’s still going. We also saw the manga, Kilico, that eventually ended up taking Paul’s spot (the artist actually aped Paul’s style in a weird way at the suggestion of his editor). One of my favorite quotes from Paul during these discussions was, “If I had a magic genie coming out of a lamp right now, I’d ask for Jack Kirby to draw manga.”

Paul would generally have daily handouts for us that we’d discuss the following day. Excerpts from chapters in: The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand (narrative vs. dramatization, exposition), The Complete Book of Cartooning by John Adkins Richardson (4 color print process, color separations), Disney’s Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas (introducing characters as fast and powerful as possible) and Graphis #159 (all kinds of stuff from here). So there was a lot of different types of ideas and process stuff being discussed. (On a side note about process, Paul actually took a job at a local printer when working on early THB issues and living in Columbus, Ohio so that he could learn more about the printing process and oversee the THB proofs).

Another of the major focuses or our group was inking with the brush. When Paul was a young cartoonist, he corresponded through letters with Alex Toth. Toth expressed his regret that by inking with makers in some of his later work, he had “inspired” the younger generation to think it was okay to use them for professional work. Paul believes he’s carrying on the Caniff, Giraud style — expressing himself through the brush — and that passing on this tradition will be one of his gifts to the next generation of cartoonists. This is a idea he’s very passionate about. Personally, I’ve never been much of a “brush guy”. As a young cartoonist, I could never get the results I was looking for with it (didn’t have the facility with it) and gave up early on. Paul didn’t force us to use the brush, but I figured “what the hell” and decided to throw myself into the deep end and use it for my time at ACA.
Most comic artists draw on 11″x17″ bristol board with roughly a 10″x15″ live area. Paul goes much larger than that. He works on 19″x24″ sheets of bristol (buys the standard Strathmore 300 series bristol pads you can find at your local art store). Motion and energy are a big part of Paul’s style. He works that large so he can get really bold arm movements into his brush strokes. Part of that energy also comes from the fact that Paul stands and moves while drawing. He’s constantly in an action pose while he works — stepping back from the table, assessing the image, then lunging back to attack again. 

For those wondering about Paul’s tools of the trade, he uses Sumi Ink (dries slower than india ink) and a Windsor Newton Series 7 #000 brush. The #000 is a super small brush, especially for a page that huge. You’d be surprised though, just how thick a line you can get with it and Paul uses that for eighty percent of his work (also uses a #6 brush, sponges etc. for different textures/effects).

I learned that when inking in a style like Paul’s, it’s not about beautiful, clean, perfect lines. It’s about movement, spontaneity, energy and pure mark making. As Paul said, “You see timid work when the medium is forgiving. Bold marks when it’s unforgiving.”

The exercises we did for Paul were generally about exploring the brush and the topics we’d discussed as a group. Years ago, Steve Rude suggested to Paul that he spend time copying master artist’s work to gain a better understanding of their thought process and approach. So for our first exercise, Paul had us choose either a Micheluzzi or Moebius page and try and copy exactly line for line in ink. After we’d completed that, we did a second pass, this time drawing the image in our own style. I went with the Micheluzzi piece, primarily because it’s so far at the opposite end of the spectrum of what I do — tons of spotted blacks where my work has none and is all open for color — and learned a ton in the process — staging, planes of depth, lost and found edges etc. 

Toth once commented in his correspondence with Paul that he didn’t think widescreen panels worked in comics and referred to Moebius as “Space Ace” (which cracks me up and seems so fitting in terms of Moebius’ designs and use of negative space). So, another of our exercises had to do with exploring depth and negative space in widescreen panels.

Tomorrow in ACA part 3, Seeing Craig and Paul’s current projects and what Paul Pope is really like.


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