The cool kids have gone to ground. What we stubbornly still refer to as ‘Popular culture’ is no longer measured in decades, but in less than a few hours on a weekday afternoon, twenty-four if there’s blood. The internet detonated what was ‘pop,’ leveled it and made itself the one true idol. What remains of mass media now roams the Earth like dinosaurs dying from the fallout. Writer Curt Pires and cartoonist Jason Copland don’t care about trends or hashtags or memes … what they want is relevance, the straight uncut stuff, Pop in its purest form. In POP Pires and Copeland craft a philosophy, a mixtape of ideas, influences and straight up skill and that’s what makes them dangerous. POP streets August 27.
Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: Where … did this … this POP, come from?
Curt Pires: The Idea Space.
CB: Seriously Pires, how the hell do you think this shit up?
Pires: Ate some peyote went for a walk, saw the place where men and women become stars, saw the ooze coming out of it. Looked at it. Questioned it. Decided there was a story in all that filth.
CB: Jason, how did you hook up with POP’s writer, Mssr. Pires? Did you lose a bet?
Jason Copland: More like I hit the jackpot! It was a combo of me looking for writers to work with and Curt having something he needed an artist for. Having read his LP one-shot he did with Ramon Villalobos, I knew Curt was someone I really wanted to work with. Luckily, he knew some of my work and dug it, too. We emailed back and forth for a bit as we were both juggling pitches at publishers but then the stars aligned and we started jamming on POP.
CB: What was your reaction when you saw the script?
Copland: I loved it. It had lots of interesting visuals that I knew I wanted to draw. I get to stretch out a little and draw some stuff I haven’t had a chance to draw yet. There is some body horror stuff to draw, which is totally new to me. And we are playing with some interesting panel inserts, which is cool.
CB: So, when the writer says page one starts off with a sixteen panel grid, what’s the cartoonist’s response?
Copland: Well, normally my reaction to seeing a script asking for sixteen panels on page one would be to say a little curse as I rub my temples and look skyward. The thing that saved Curt from my powerful hex is that he asked for the page to be laid out in a 16 panel grid. I LOVE using grids to lay pages out. It eliminates the age old question of how much space I should give each panel. With a grid, that decision is taken care of for me. I can immediately get into the meat of the page, into drawing the content of the panels. You know… the fun stuff.
Mind you, there are pages in POP that ask for eight panels (or more) that aren’t in grid. That’s when I have to put on my thinking cap and figure out which panels need more physical space due to storytelling concerns. Generally speaking, there will be at least one panel on a page you want to give more emphasis to than the other panels, to heighten the drama, maybe. It could be that you need to make that panel bigger just to fit in the dialogue. Since there is a finite amount of space on a page, a number to things need to be considered. It’s a juggling act at times.
CB: Let’s talk about those last four panels. As a cartoonist what’s your reaction when the script calls for a panel to be left blank?
Copland: When Curt and I started talking about working together, we both expressed a desire to make a book that took some chances. It’s not very often that I see a script that calls for blank panels, especially multiple ones. When I read those panel descriptions I was a little surprised, but they made total sense in regards to the narrative style we are trying to create in POP. I will say that they make my job easier, though. Ha-ha! Curt and I are so in love with what Pete brings to the book that there was never a moment where I thought to question the decision of having him doing his thing in those (or any) panels.
CB: The protagonist, Coop, seems … kinda’ familiar. Did you have to interview a lot of record/comic book store guys to get the rhythms and nuances of the character down i.e. did you visit many Supermax prisons?
Pires: I was interested in examining someone who was self-medicating and struggling in a less than conventional way and [Coop] seemed to fit the bill. There were times in my life where I felt a lot of the same ways Coop is feeling at the beginning of the comic and a lot of that comes out in this. While the ‘Comic Store Guy’ trope is common in comics/media, I’m not sure it’s ever really been done in a multi-dimensional way that lets the character live and breathe. So I said why not. Coop’s more of a ’90s Vertigo guy, like myself.
CB: The antagonists in LP and Theremin, were shadowy groups rather than individuals. POP (so far) has only one baddie, Spike. Why did you choose to focus all your evil into this one particular badass?
Pires: There’s definitely more than just one ‘baddie’ in the book. We meet more of them in issue two. The group structure is still present in POP; we’re just viewing a very specific slice of this group, since the machine is too large and expansive to view all at once.
CB: Spike feels like a Claremont-esque ’80s villain, corporate, corrupt, someone with his ‘stockholders best interests’ in mind. What makes a good bad guy?
Pires: What makes any character tick? I suspect deep down, the core of making characters work is a rejection of the good/bad binary this question presents itself with. Characters simply are. Spike is not a villain in his own story, shit, everything he does makes total sense to him. I think the key to writing characters whose goals directly oppose the well-being of your protagonists, is taking the time to let them live and breathe and have their own stories.
CB: Let’s talk about ‘the girl.’ Who is Elle Ray? What song would she be asked to cover for the end credit sequence for the latest movie franchise blockbuster?
Pires: Elle Ray is the latest in a line of genetically engineered super stars made to appeal to the masses in the biggest way possible. She’s a complex and developing character whose being forced to perceive and confront reality for the first time. She’s trying to figure out who she is, where she comes from, if her thoughts are her own, etc. She’s going through a lot of the struggles we all go through in regards to finding ourselves and learning to accept ourselves in a very physical and amplified process. As for the song, Sky Ferreira’s ‘u>I Blame Myself.’
CB: POP cops from a lot of influences. The scenes in the lab look like H.R. Giger and 1980‘s Frank Miller had a baby (in a good way). How did each of you approach this design?
Pires: I know just from talking with Jason that Ronin is one of his biggest influences, so yeah Miller. Personally Miller is all over this too. The grids, everything. I don’t think we’re really attempting to hide this influence at all. Cyborg Manifesto [by Donna Haraway] cycles into this. Plus Geoff Darrow’s concept work for the Matrix, breaking down the wall between biology and technology. Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh! Yeah, Cronenberg rears his big beautiful head in issue three as well.
Copland: I am a HUGE fan of Frank Miller’s Ronin, so I will take that observation as a compliment!
The designs for the stuff in the lab are a cross of a few influences, one of which is indeed Ronin. And like Curt said, I was also drawing (pun intended) inspiration from Geoff Darrow’s Matrix work and Katsuhiro Otomo’s work in Akira. I like the visual combination of tons of wires and organic fleshy masses. A lot of the lab stuff is drawn without any actual penciling, I just start drawing with a loose vision of what I hope to achieve. This tends to keep the drawing fresh and fun to draw.
CB: Visual references to the living and the dead run throughout POP. Rather than being winks and nods they‘re integral to the narrative. As a cartoonist, where do you draw the line and say O.K. this is as much Beiber as I’m comfortable drawing?
Copland: I’ll be the first to admit drawing likenesses is not my strongest skill. What I usually do is conduct a Google search and try to get a sense of the person I’m trying to draw, visually. I’ll do a few sketches and then just go for it. I get about as close as I can without resorting to tracing photos of people. That usually means I end up with characters that look marginally like the people I’m trying to draw. Ha-ha-ha!
When I was designing Boyfriend, I knew I wanted a Joey Ramone look for him. But I can honestly say that I only did a few preliminary drawings while looking at photos of him before putting them away and just doing my own version of Joey. I didn’t want to be a slave to any one particular vision for Boyfriend and I just let it happen by drawing without reference.
CB: Are there similarities to how you make a visual reference to a real person and how you have to approach drawing licensed characters like Daredevil or Robocop?
Copland: Drawing established characters is more about getting the body language and costume right than the facial details. Drawing Daredevil was super easy to do, as I’ve been doing drawings of him non-professionally for many years. Sometimes I feel like I could draw DD in my sleep. Drawing Robocop was a little more difficult due to the fact that I was drawing the new version of him. I was working off movie/promo shots supplied by MGM. Drawing the likeness of Joel Kinnaman was really tough for me to do. Again, I know my limitations and drawing likenesses is one of them. Drawing the Robocop suit though was super fun to do and I think I managed to capture it well while still drawing like me.
CB: How have you worked to make POP your own?
Copland: First off, Dark Horse is an amazing place to be creating at and our editors have been amazing. Dave Marshall, Roxy Polk and Aaron Walker have all worked hard at giving us enough space to tell the story we want to tell but still making sure we don’t over indulge and go off the rails.
POP is definitely all our own. Curt has an amazing ability for bringing all these different influences of his together into this one rollercoaster of a story and I honestly think that he is getting to write the story he wants to write. As for me, my fingerprints are all over this book. Working with Curt is amazing. We have a great rapport which let’s me make suggestions about panel layout/story beats/etc. Essentially, I get to draw what I wanted to draw in a style that I want to draw in. Total freedom.
CB: Where does the cartoonist fit in with this latest wave of creator-owned comics?
Copland: I think that, in general, most writers will agree that artists are equally important in making great creator owned comics. Creator owned books don’t usually succeed without a mix of smart writing and interesting looking art. It’s a shame artists don’t seem to get the same amount of ink in press releases and promo articles but I think the tide is slowly changing. The new wave of creator owned books coming from places like Dark Horse and Boom and Image are opening people’s eyes to new artists and art styles. Hopefully the artists will get a little more of the limelight in the coming years.
CB: One of the tenets of sci-fi (especially in the 1970’s with Dick, Delany, Zelazny and Pohl) is to follow an idea to its logical end. Elle is a wholly manufactured pop star. Do you believe pop music has become even more manufactured nowadays? In which case isn’t an ‘Elle’ the next logical step?
Pires: Yeah, Pop music is pretty clearly manufactured these days. Starlets aren’t writing their own shit, it’s being written by coked out mega producers to project and create a certain image, to move certain product. I think POP both carries this idea to its logical conclusion, but I also think the logical conclusion is a nightmare. Flash back to Britney Spears early 2000’s breakdown, [Eugene] Landy’s abuse of a mentally ill Brian Wilson, all this Jimmy Saville shit that is surfacing. POP is a work of fiction that digs up and cuts into the disgusting underbelly of its namesake.
CB: What does the label ‘Pop’ even mean anymore? Has sampling and mixing made pop music more plural, diverse and democratic and at the same time less singular (specific) and more bland? It’s like if you mix all the colors you get … grey. Thoughts?
Pires: I think sampling and the advent of digital technology has made Pop music a little more boring in general. I think there’s something pure about live performance and analog technology that excites me in a way that watching some DJ fooling around with Ableton on a Mac never will. At the same time digital is also expanding our horizons and taking us to new soundscapes. So I think like anything, it can be good or bad depending on who’s using it. My comics definitely embrace the idea of sampling, but I’d never let my ‘sampling’ get in the way of creating art that both means something, and makes you feel something, because at the end of the day that’s all that fucking matters.
CB: Coop and Elle look like they’re in some serious shit. So what happens next or should readers just wait for the trade? Feel free to provide as many spoilers as possible.
Pires: Everything happens next. The DMT trip. The programming. The car chase. The hunt. The escape. Readers can read the story however they want, I see no point in format shaming, that said I’m working with Dylan Todd to create unforgettably immaculately designed print objects that demand re-reading and appreciation on multiple levels.
Copland: Some weed smoking, a 4th dimensional consciousness awakening and something about a silent duck…