Monsters & Titans: Battling Boy On Tour
By Paul Pope
Image Comics; $24.99
The first volume of Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, the artist’s long-awaited, long-in-the-works graphic novel series for young readers from publisher First Second, was one of the most anticipated works of 2013. The book itself was just one way for fans of Pope’s to see his new work on the new series, however; original, uncolored pages and various design materials were assembled into art shows that toured the U.S. and Europe.
If you didn’t get to see one of those shows, and/or if you find yourself awaiting the second volume of Battling Boy as much as you did the first, Image Comics has a new art book that should serve as a nice consolation prize and/or stopgap. Monsters & Titans: Battling Boy On Tour is a big 12-by-9-inch book filled with pages from the exhibit.
The book features 63 pages from the comic, photographed from the original drawings, allowing one to see every delicate brush stroke, every heavy black patch of ink, every tiny line, every little splattered dot of ink on the pages. Additionally, there are several super close-ups of many pages, giving readers the sort of view of the work that would be rare to anyone other than the artist, hunched over the page himself.
Of perhaps greater interest to fans of Battling Boy specifically as opposed to fans of Pope’s work in general (a distinction that will likely sound strange to adults, but no so much to younger readers for whom this comic is their only access point to Pope), the book also contains a very short, two-paragraph introduction by Charles Brownstein, and occasional prose insights from the author himself, assembled by Brownstein from a conversation with Pope.
These appear in aesthetically appealing little towers of three paragraphs per page; one in black type in English, one in blue type in French, the third in red type in Italian (which reflects the truly international audience of Pope’s work, earned in part by the fact that Pope is himself influenced by manga and European comics artists as much as American comics; as he says himself at one point, he sees comics “not as a single language, but as international languages”).
The insights offered in these passages from Pope are pretty fascinating, particularly in the way they reveal a great deal of thought that went into the design of characters and the staging of scenes that a reader likely felt without recognizing upon reading the comic.
Brownstein writes of the comic that it was Pope’s attempt to use the adventure strip tradition to “reconcile his personal pantheon of art history with the aspiration to create a fresh, credible, heroic legend for audiences born in the 21st century.”
Pope himself variously states his intentions, stating at one point that he wanted to try and do a Jack Kirby superhero comic had Jack Kirby had access to the tradition and techniques of manga available to Pope (“That was my mission going into it,” Pope says, “I want to do the best Jack Kirby manga”), and to make a comic for kids by making a comic for himself as a kid.
In other words, part of the creative process was an attempt to speak to kids by using himself as he was as a child as a sort of representative of kids, and then for the current Paul Pope to try and speak to that young Paul Pope, but with a skillset and experience of the adult Pope, one earned by years of experience reading and making comics and art.
Was he successful? He seems to think so. Certainly the existence of this book in addition to Battling Boy itself seems like a pretty good indication that he was. Battling Boy, as he reveals here, has a sort of dual purpose, or at least a secondary purpose, beyond being a fun, engaging super-comic for kids of all ages (and traditions of comics).
The story is about a pair of children, the title character, the teenage son of a Kirby-esque super-god sent to Earth as a sort of hero test/rite of passage, and Aurora Haggard, the daughter of her city’s Batman/Doc Savage-style adventurer hero, who has fallen in battle and is trying to take his place.
In other words, it’s about kids joining the world of adults and trying to figure out how they can do it. With Battling Boy, the man who made the comic is addressing those in his audience that want to follow him into his adult arena—not being a superhero or modern mythological figure, but telling their stories. Here’s one way they can do it.