Paul Pope o-o-o-o
Paul Pope isn't my favorite writer, but he may very well be my favorite storyteller in comix. And 100% may just be my favorite of Pope's work to date. As someone who's followed Pope since his indie THB days, I suppose that's saying a lot. 100% strings three stories together into one by way of overlapping characters in a somewhat similar vein as Quentin Tarentino's PULP FICTION, albeit far more linear in its telling. Like Pulp Fiction, one of 100%'s “stories” even centers around a boxer. But more specifically, his relationship with a woman named Strel who manages a strip club but would rather start a coffee roasting company instead. The other story involves Strel's cousin Eloy and her friend Kim who begin to take a liking to one another. Eloy's a conceptual artist who lives in a former bread factory where he's been toiling away on an art installation that involves an array of teapots he's been amassing. Kim, with the help of Strel, buys a gun after a young girl was found murdered near the club. Throughout the story we are made aware of the gun's presence on Kim's person, but—in complete defiance of Chekhov's principle—the gun is never used. In fact, most of 100% would drive Chekhov up the wall, for the majority of plot points are rather pointless. Less so with the third of the book's stories, which revolves around a new dancer at Strel's club and—more importantly—a busboy she gets involved with. I suspect this one to be somewhat autobiographical and possibly for that reason the most genuine of the lot. But if we're going to be honest, plot and story are never the draw for a Paul Pope yarn. It is Pope's expressive lines that draw us in. Presented in glorious black and white, Pope's energetic ink-slinging is on full display in 100%. And it applies not just to people and their faces and body language, it's also true for building, signage, furniture, and flying blob-like police patrol crafts. Oh right, did I mention 100% is science fiction?
Cop crafts hover above the streets of New York, Che Guevara's mug adorns American money, and the strip club offers “Gastro Dances” where the intestines of dancing girls are projected live. The boxing matches are also Gastro-fights, where the insides of fighters are on full display. The visual potential offered by the latter two aren't particularly taken advantage of by Pope, so it seems like a frivolous detail that holds no purpose, be it visual or conceptual.
If it feels like I'm coming down hard on Pope, let me just say I think 100% is excellent comix. But how can that be with such a loosely formulated story? It's because—aside from the deliciously energetic draftsmanship—of all the inward qualities of the storytelling, as opposed to the outward. Because of the way Kim squeezes her scarf when her and Strel talk about the dead girl, the way John hurriedly collects dirty glasses on the job, the look on Eloy's face when steam erupts from his kettles, and the way Strel furiously taps at her handheld in an attempt to avoid a “date” with Haitious the boxer. Pope's ability to evoke emotion is quite simply unmatched. You will feel the agony felt by his characters, their reluctance, their nervousness, their joy, their excitement, and their despair. He may not craft the most meticulously machined stories, but he is able to craft very human ones. And what he does with ink on paper is simply breathtaking. The fact that all his forms come from the very same free flowing brush gives even the ashtrays on a table as much emotion as his figures. As much as his characters are expressive, the environments they inhabit are also fully evoked, from smoky rooms to loud crowded dance clubs to hot steamy showers, it's all feels so... tactile. What is it all in service of? Three love stories, I guess. A new one that works out, another new one that doesn't, and an older one that is reconciled. But actually, it isn't really about those either, it's about the little moments; resisting the urge to read a flame's diary, sake over a sushi dinner, holding a lover's broken hand.
Props must also be given to John Workman whose lettering on 100% falls so in line with the artwork that you could easily mistake it for having come from Pope's hand himself.
The book may not deliver the most groundbreaking story, and the future it portrays may not have any future shock value or any social commentary of note, but it gives you real characters, environments, and a visual narrative that is 100% Paul Pope and only Paul Pope.
And that... is good enough for me.