On August 27th, a new comic arrives from Dark Horse, POP, and it is, simply stated, a boundary-pushing book regarding the themes we typically associate with the comics medium, as well as an unusual book in terms of art style. It is a genre-mixer of wide scope, with adventure, spy, science-fiction, B-movie and pulp elements, but it also addresses some of the ideas that affect us so much today: Just where Pop Culture icons come from, really, and to what degree we empower them to represent some of the potentially worst aspects of society at any given time. My first take on this book is that it's coming from far left field toward readers with the velocity fiber-optic cables carry to bring us our Youtube, Twitter, and Celeb gossip fixes to the point of over-saturation.
There's a danger in saying that which might misconstrue the fact that this is a fast-paced, violent, and in the end very interesting book with visuals by Jason Copland and colors by Pete Toms that make you scan for details and consider what echoes you might see from comics past and culture current, but the ideas are there in the comic, and they are big ideas handled irreverently and with some curiosity by writer Curt Pires.
In POP, we follow the strange events surrounding a star-making corporation, an escaped denizen of their monopoly (Elle), and, as a subject for clear identification with comics readers, a cultural consumer with collectibles and longboxes aplenty who's poised on a decision of whether to end his stale-seeming existence (Coop).
Writer Curt Pires humors me here in an interview by fielding some pretty heavy questions, but Pires and Dark Horse have also kindly supplied us with an 8 page preview to give you a feel for just exactly what Pires and I are discussing.
Hannah Means-Shannon: To speak generally, this book seems to be about many aspects of culture that comic readers, and well, anyone with the internet, will recognize. When did it first start to concern you that we, as a culture, are obsessed with consuming ephemeral things, or at least not giving things enough time to consider whether they are ephemeral or not?
Curt Pires: I honestly can't pinpoint a specific date, a specific point in time where it occurred to me that our culture was functioning in this way, but I remember being able to trace this general uneasiness this discomfort with this specific aspect of how our reality operates back quite some time. We're trained and conditioned from youth to consume and consume and consume and not think about the damage we cause via this consumption. We're trained to want fast gas guzzling cars when Tesla motorsports is out there crafting equally efficient alternatives–we're conditioned to crave "Television bodies that we can't keep"–this violent consumerism lies at the heart of the systems that govern the majority of our world, and a few years ago I finally managed to really notice this, and have been removing that conditioning from myself ever since. Making POP is another step in this process.
HMS: There's a fine line between corporate culture controlling our obsessions with PopCulture and being brainwashed to like certain things by the media. To what extent do you think there are real ways that we are engineered by media to be starmakers, or do you think we do it to ourselves?
CP: I think it's a little bit of both to be honest. We certainly are conditioned and manipulated by corporate culture and the media to be attracted to certain ideas, concepts, products, but I believe we also feed into that process. It's a feedback loop, once they notice something cracks through and gets to us, they shove it down our throats until we choke on it.
HMS: Can you tell us a little about your personal conception of the two central characters in the first issue, Coop and Elle? How do you seem them as individuals and what are their biggest strengths and weaknesses?
CP: Coop: He's wounded. He doesn't really believe in himself, but he's strong deep down. We'll discover that through the story. He's lonely and bored and self medicating in a major way, and the events of the book make him pull himself out of that.
Elle: She's fresh, she's raw. She's learning to accept herself, and believe in herself as well. Like Coop, deep down she's really strong, but she doesn't know it yet. She's going to realize it though.
Both the characters really help each other discover themselves.
HMS: The "look" of the book is very realistic in some ways and reminds me of comics from the 60s-90s in horror, romance, and even adventure genres. How did you and Jason Copland decide on the "feel" you were going for in terms of artwork on this story and how do you think the design of characters and settings impacts the reader?
CP: That's all Jason and our colorist Pete Toms. Jason and I did talk, early on, about really cutting loose on the book and pushing things in an experimental direction. We talked about classics like Elektra Assasin, Ash Wood's brilliant work on Automatic Kafka, and Frank Miller's Ronin. I think a big part of the book, about what makes it work, is that it comes from a place of us wanting to push ourselves. That's ingrained into every codon of the books DNA. Nothing should feel safe. Nothing should feel sacred. That's POP to us, and I think readers are picking up on that.
HMS: It seems like Coop is aware of the dangers of consuming culture, and even seems to carry some guilt or some trepidation about hiding behind consumer culture. To what extent is he to blame for this, or has he just lost the inspirational side of the good that some pop culture ideas can do for us and empower us?
CP: I think Coop's "hiding" behind culture is more to do with the fact that he escapes into it, more than anything. He lets imaginary become as real to him as the world around him. When reality is too painful, fiction can be an escape, an S.O.S., a mayday machine of sorts–Coop embraces this idea, but loses himself in it, and eventually it's just as key a portion of his self medicating as his near chronic blazing.
HMS: Can you tease a little about what's coming up in this series that seems to be about control, resistance, and to some extent, saving society from itself?
CP: Someone smokes some DMT. A four dimensional conscious awakens. Alejandro Jodorowsky says hello. Someone tases someone else. Someone else watches a snuff film. There's a car chase. A surveillance grid. The children awaken.
Everything happens. Everything is POP.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter