Following the success of Battling Boy, his recent foray into the world of YA comics storytelling, acclaimed cartoonist Paul Pope is dipping back into his archives to reissue his 1999 work Escapo. The book, which tells the tale of a love-stricken circus escape artist, is equal parts Jack Kirby and Federico Fellini. The reissue gives new readers insight into Pope’s development as an artist and longtime fans another chance to own the perennially out of print work, along with supplementary material like sketches, an alternative ending and insight from the artist himself.
Originally released in black & white, the new Z2 Comics edition also marks the first time the work has appeared in full-color, thanks to the Picasso-inspired palate of colorist Shay Plummer. PW spoke with Pope about the reasons why he’s re-releasing the book and adding color and how Escapo marked a particular moment in his creative development.
PW: What was the motivation behind the reissue? Why now?
Paul Pope: People have been hounding me for years about the fact that until recently a majority of my back catalog has been out of print. I reached a point where I was convinced that, not only did they have value, but there’s enough of a turnover of generations that there are a lot of people who have only heard about Escapo. I also got really sick of going on eBay and seeing gouger prices in the secondary market. Between putting out THB with First Second, The One Trick Rip-Off with Image and Escapo with Z2, I’ve been trying to remedy that.
PW: What drove the decision to color the book?
PP: I think it’s more accessible to a wider audience if the work is in color. There are plenty of people who like black and white for black and white’s sake, and I come from that tradition. But this edition isn’t the end all, be all. So I thought now was the time to do the beautiful packaged, beautifully colored edition. Shay Plummer, the colorist, did a great job with it.
PW: This was a seminal book for you, in terms of your development as an artist and storyteller. What made this book such a pivotal moment?
PP: When we were working on the One Trick Rip-Off retrospective, there were two stories we left off, “Car Crash” and also “Escapo.” “Escapo” is a standalone story. It doesn’t have to be seen in the context of the 90s stories. I knew I wanted to hold it back because it is self-contained and it has an emotional impact that, up to that point, I was unable to achieve. Having come off of years of reading Umberto Eco, Fitzgerald, Hemingway — really sharp, short storytellers — I felt like I finally has a basis for telling a short story elegantly in the comics medium.
By that point, I had been working for a Japanese company for at least a year, and I identified with the escape artist character. There was a rumor about [Jim] Steranko being an escape artist, but there wasn’t really an escape artist character. This was a way to resolve dramatic plot points through dynamic action — through lifting, moving, jumping. And the escape artist thing really touched into Fellini, Bergman, Jodorowsky — all of things from outside of comics.
PW: It’s a way to do a superhero without actually creating a superhero.
PP: Yeah. And I liked it because it’s such an internal character. His battles are with death and unrequited love. Those are super identifiable things, but he wears a mask that looks like a luchador and he wears a cape that looks like Captain Marvel and then there are these big, Kirby-esque traps. There’s enough there that makes it feel like an action comic, but it’s really a romantic comic.
PW: In the appendix to the book, you said you’ve got at least one more Escapo story in you, but you’ve got to be a little closer to death to write it.
PP: I think I’ve thought of a really good third Escapo story. When you’re going from 25 to 28, it sort of feels like a lifetime. A lot happens in those years. [The character] has always been a way to reelect on the notion of mortality, and now that I’m 43, there’s practically a 20 year difference between those stories and now. The story is unfinished. It’s like Dashiell Hammett— these serialized characters. There’s really no end to them. I’m sort of thinking that way with Escapo.
PW: You’ve done several reissues in the past few years. Is it hard to revisit that early work? You were really still finding yourself with this book.
PP: I’ve come to terms with this. I try to be generous with the younger artist I was. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. What I focus on is the stuff that I learned and the benefits gained. I try not to be too critical. I can be a bit of a perfectionist in some areas, but toward that, I try to be a caretaker of that younger artist. And he can now live in a capsule, and I think Escapo now stands on its own. I’m really excited to show it to new readers.