Half Empty, Since 1998

“My entry point into the design world," says Pope, "is a conscious design approach within the comics medium.”

Semi-Permanent 05 NYC, Featuring Comic Book Hero Paul Pope

Marty Spellerberg, Paul Pope. September 5th, 2005

The Semi-Permanent Design Conference is co-hosted by New York creative collective thehappycorp global and Australian design group Design is Kinky. Organized with presenting sponsor Diesel, Semi-Permanent examines the current design climate.

In addition to a full weekend of speaker presentations and an atrium of displays, Semi-Permanent has created a 240-page, limited edition museum-quality book filled with work from speakers, contest winners and sponsors.

“We started this design community on-line on the other side of the world,” says Design is Kinky founder Andrew Johnstone, “Taking Semi-Permanent beyond those borders has always been the dream.”

Doug Jaeger, founder of thehappycorp global and creative director of the conference, thinks in terms of the survival of the fittest. Like a pulp writer, he describes a “super-species” of designers who have come together to, “teach the rest of us how survive.”

At the forefront is comic artist Paul Pope, whose classics includes the black and white punk THB and cyberpunk revival Heavy Liquid. His next big project is called Batman Year 100. Pope will speak on his work, ideas and experiences as part of Semi-Permanent.

Marty Spellerberg: There is clearly a lot of Japanese in your work.

Paul Pope: My initial introduction to Japanese art was in studying the 19th century European painters/printmakers Degas, Manet, Whistler and Cassatt, who were captivated by the pictorial inventions of artists like Hiroshige and Hokusai. My approach to manga was after a formal study of the techniques and theories and conventions of the ukyio-e printmakers. What we call “manga” was invented by Hokusai over 300 years ago!

MS: Considering that America is now in the Middle East, is Islamic art soon to become influential to our mainstream aesthetic?

PP: I love Islamic art and have long studied it. The architecture of southern Spain, the tile designs, the hand-illuminated scripts of old Korans; there is an art and a science as well as a theology at work there, for sure.

But I think our period of serious understanding and application of Islamic art is yet to come. Right now we’re in what I’d call the “exoticist” stage of absorbing Islamic pictorial and graphic design conventions, in the way India and Pakistan provided creative ornaments for the generation of artists of the ’60s. We have modern-day equivalents of the Nehru jacket, the sitar being used by Brian Jones, Islamic religious calligraphy being re-appropriated by graffiti artists and typographers, and so on.

This is nothing new, though. Painters like Delacroix and Jerome used eastern imagery and contexts to give across a sense of the exotic to their audiences. Later, book illustrators like Edmund Dulac and Beardsley, whose inroads were largely Turkish/Persian genre-type material dubbed “Orientalism,” the Sultan’s harems, the curving scimitar and burning cities under attack from invaders. Graphically speaking, Islam is something between signifying “the foreign” and “the threatening” for American/western audiences.

MS: Given modern technology, should designers still take life drawing and keep a sketchbook?

PP: Drawing is seeing. I am completely in favor of a classical arts education for everyone working in the plastic arts. I studied life drawing and anatomy for literally years and years, learning how to capture the gesture of the human form. I still draw from life all the time, filling maybe 2 sketchbooks a year.

New tools widen our possibilities, they don’t eliminate older ones. Drawing is as old as our cultural record, going all the way back to the caves of Lasceaux.

It might become rare to find excellent practitioners of brush-drawing in the future, but that is only because it is hard as hell to learn to use the sensitive tool.

The area of primary graphic work I do, comics, is the modern home for the brush, and that isn’t changing as long as I’m around!

MS: Do you do all your own design?

PP: I letter most of my own work and have done a lot of logo faces for book covers and posters. I refer mainly to intuitive, hand-drawn typeface styles, like those of the Austrian/Viennese Sessionist movement, Klimt et al. Also the look and feel of the French Fin-de-Siecle designers. I prefer a typeface called “Cutout” designed by Designershock. I’ve used it a lot, it’s easy to reproduce by hand.

Rinzen are doing the publication design/logos for my Batman book. They’re a vibrant, mysterious six-person team of visual thinkers based in Australia I met through the miracle of the Internet. I first learned of them through designershock.com.

MS: What do you think about the blockbuster adaptations of comics into film?

PP: Comics and cinema are linked on a deep, genetic level. Today a lot of people, both inside and outside the medium, treat comics as a strip-mining hole for Hollywood. But if you look back to early comics – not the first, mind you, but the golden age of newspaper strips (I’m thinking Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates) there was always a strong sense of visually borrowing ideas from film.

And keep in mind, Windsor MacCay of Little Nemo fame literally hand-drew the first animated film back before WWI!

MS: What can we expect at Semi-Permanent?

PP: At Semi-Permanet I’m going to make the medium of comics fit within a framework that is interesting and exciting for a design audience. I’ll celebrate the medium and shed some light on its secrets as best I can. I am totally flattered to be invited to an event like this and am looking forward to learning a lot from what I consider to be some of the best and most talented designers working today.

I respect everyone on the roster and it’ll be a blast to meet everybody. That’ll be cool.

MS: Thanks to Ben Nabors at thehappycorp global.

(Included in Half Empty #3.)