My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 3. 

One of the real highlights of the whole ACA experience for me was seeing work from Craig and Paul’s upcoming projects. Svetlana had just finished her most recent volume of Night School, so she was just in the beginning stages of her next project (an adaptation of James Patterson’s Witch and Wizard for Yen Press). Craig and Paul, on the other hand, were just at the tail end of their work, so we got to see near complete versions of their current projects.

Craig had the entirety of his next graphic novel, Habibi, in his group’s studio for anyone to flip through and read (he also had a few originals pages and layouts from Habibi and Blankets in the studio). Habibi is complete (minus final revisions) and clocks in at almost 700 pages. Even though it’s done, Craig said it’ll still be about a year before it’s actually published. Craig’s virtuosity is on full display in Habibi — his mastery of every narrative art technique, his lush brush work, his delicate sense of design, not to mention the sheer force of will to complete a project of this nature. Saying it’s an incredibly powerful work of art — and make no mistake, it’s not just a “comic” but a transcendent work of art — doesn’t even begin to do Habibi justice. Having that kind of access to it — I remember spending two or three hours one night just comparing his layouts for one chapter of Habibi to the finished page, which often times were radically different — is really an incredible experience. I feel honored, privileged and eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to read it in that manner.

Paul shared probably 100 pages of one of his current projects with us. I’m gonna stay vague on exactly which project it was, as Paul has a few of them going on at the same time, and some publishers and movie studios aren’t excited about the idea of Paul showing anyone anything from them. So use your imagination as to which amazing project it was. He talked us through 30+ pages of pencils and inks, page by page as he described his thought process and the story/art problems and solutions that arose during the making. It was kinda like the director’s DVD commentary. Except that it was live with the director in the middle of the project instead of at the end. Another once in a lifetime experience.

Now, THB is hands down my favorite work of Paul’s, but I think this new one has a chance of rivaling it. And anyone that doesn’t “get” why Paul is one of the top comic creators in the world will finally catch on. His new book is everything I love about comics — fun, goofy, silly, bombastic, dramatic, daring and simplistically brilliant. A couple pages from it were on display in the ACA gallery, and I’d stop by virtually every day to soak them in (I think the volunteer in the gallery thought I was either retarded or like Thomas Crown and planning some daring heist).

I was so amped up after seeing that first stack of pages from Paul’s new project, that I literally couldn’t sleep that night. Seeing Craig and Paul’s projects was incredible, but it was also kinda torturous. Like seeing and holding all the presents you’re getting for Christmas…. but then being told you have to wait until NEXT Christmas to open them! I know, cry me a river, right?

Paul didn’t come down to ACA with a definitive, set-in-stone plan of what we’d do during our three weeks. He wanted to get feedback from us and see what everyone in the group wanted to get out of their time there. Everyone had a personal project that was in some stage of development, so Paul thought it’d be a good idea to meet with us one-one-one for an hour or two to discuss those projects. Depending on what guests we had around (more on that later), they’d sit in on the sessions as well, offering another unique point of view.

I’ve been working on a creator owned project for quite a while now (I’ll be announcing it shortly) and it was really amazing to be able to talk to Paul about it. He’s such a big influence on my work and certain aspects of this project in particular, that in some ways it was like going to the source of the inspiration and seeing if I was on the right track. I’m a big fan of Paul’s idea of “Design Containers” (see the design briefing images from Escapo below) and that concept is at the core of my project. As we discussed it, I realized the concept of Design Containers had dozens more levels to it than I’d understood. I won’t bore you with trying to fully explain all the details, but it’s hard beat talking conceptual art theories with one of your heroes — especially if you’re a super art-nerd like me.

In our one-on-ones we discussed everything from my character designs, to specific plot points, to page counts, to release schedule. Anything I had a concern about. I even showed him the layouts for the next scene I’m penciling and we went over them page by page, beat by beat. Amazing doesn’t even come close to describing it. (As an aside, I’ve been lucky to have a number of really awesome friends give me feedback on my pages and layouts so far — Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Shane DavisPaul Pope and Ben Dale. That’s some sweet company you’re in Ben!)

One of the first questions people ask me after they find out I spent this time with Paul is, “So what’s Paul Pope really like?” The answer? He’s cool as fuck. I remember early on when some associates in the other groups hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to Paul yet. They were really nervous, not knowing what to expect from “a comic book rock star”. Five seconds into talking to him all their apprehension evaporated and they couldn’t even remember why they were intimidated to begin with. He’s just a totally genuine, down to earth guy. Who just so happens to be extremely intelligent and colossally talented. 

For the first couple of days, I think everyone still thought of him as “THE Paul Pope”. We were just doing our best not to geek out too much (at least in front of him!). But after a while, “THE” Paul Pope became just “Paul”. Another regular dude, just like everyone else down there. A regular dude who’d drop these crazy metaphysical bombs on you. You’d be having a conversation about something, and he’d throw out an idea or a statement, and suddenly your mind was totally absorbed with this idea he’d tossed out and you could barely follow the rest of the conversation. You had to contemplate everything he said for bit before you could really process it and understand all the layers of meaning to it — and there was almost always multiple layers to it. I ate that stuff up.

It was also hilarious to see the other groups interact with Paul in this way. The Pope group was used to (as much as you can be anyway) Paul dropping the knowledge on us in this way. The other groups weren’t totally prepared for it though and the look on their faces as they processed things was priceless. Hours later you’d run into them and they’d still be decrypting what Paul said! (Checkout a panel Pat Grant drew about that below).

Paul also really made it a point to get to know us personally as well as professionally. Through our sessions and one-on-one discussions, Paul definitely became familiar with all our work, our styles and our projects. And that in and of itself is pretty amazing, to have one of your heroes know your work. Even better though is when they take the time to hang out and get to know you as a person. Paul made it a point early on to just hang out with us. We had small parties at his cottage three or four times. There were drinks, comics, original art, music, sketching, Tezuka cartoons and awesome company and conversation. I don’t know about you, but that’s like my perfect recipe for a party. Paul would also come out with us in the evenings to have a drink at one of the local bars, or hangout with the gang at midnight on the moonlit beach. Plus he’s quick to get the karaoke going and isn’t afraid to act the fool to make sure everyone has a good time. It goes without saying that it’s tough to find a better comic artist than Paul, but you’d also be hard pressed to find a better guy to have a drink with and share some great stories. 

Generally, once a week Paul would screen movies for us in the ACA theater. He showed Un Chien Andalou (by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali), The Adventures of Prince Achmed (one of the first full length animated feature films), Danger: DiabolikCorto MalteseKostas Seremetis‘ Trilogy (Kostas was a guest I’ll talk more about next post) and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. While all of them were very interesting, Holy Mountain had the greatest impact on us. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film financed by Alan Klein (Beatles and Stones manager) and John Lennon among others. It tells the story (in a loose narrative) of a group of nine people who seek immortality and enlightenment. Upon initial viewing, I thought it was just an “art” flick — evocative imagery designed to excite, shock or amuse. As we discussed it though, I started to see how it related to our own individual artistic journeys — some of that metaphysical Paul Pope stuff I was talking about before. It became a constant reference point for our work and group conversations. Fellow associate, Matt Taylor, probably summed our groups experience up best with – “Paul screened Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, which defined the spiritual quest his group went on — through ink, brushwork and zen.”

Tomorrow in ACA part 4, the special guests that visited us and the wrap up.


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