The mention of the name Paul Pope usually brings with it a mix of images or recollections to most comic book readers. With an artistic style sometimes described as "alternative" or a mix of "pulp, manga, and European influences", it is a unique form of art all his own which quickly gained attention in his first major work, "THB", in 1995. Since then he's published his own independently created work as well as created comics for major publishers such as "DC Comics" in America and "Kodansha" in Japan. He's earned three Eisner awards (2006-2007) for his work on "Teenage Sidekick" (from "Solo #3") and "Batman: Year 100", and has even worked with "Diesel" and "DKNY" in the realm of fashion. At least year's New York Comic Con, he debuted his latest creation alongside "First Second" comics, the incredibly fun and imaginative "Battling Boy". Yet sandwiched between his ground breaking black and white work of the early 90's and his Eisner accolades of the new century is "ESCAPO", which has finally been reprinted by the New York based "Z2 Comics" for the first time in fifteen years in a first class hardcover edition packed with extras. Among them being an excellent color edition by colorist Shay Plummer.
Created from 1996-1998 and initially published in 1999, "ESCAPO" follows the exploits of the seemingly unassuming Vic, who is one of the many attractions of a circus as the masked escape artist, "Escapo". A combination of a luchadore wrestler and Harry Houdini, "Escapo" may be the greatest escape artist who has ever lived, surviving an endless array of impossible death traps usually saved for the realms of fantasy. However, much like anyone else, Vic struggles to gain acceptance from a woman he fancies, his co-workers in the circus, and above all, the struggle of life and death itself. This struggle becomes all too real as Death himself appears to claim him after far too many close calls and second chances, leaving Vic to either live in fear or carry on.
At its' heart, "ESCAPO" is a simple tale about the struggle to define oneself against the fear of death, or the unknown. As the prelude seems to illustrate, life itself seems to be a series of escapes from challenges in one's path. Vic himself is a simple character, and his supporting cast is mostly limited to the ringmaster and Aerobella, the "queen of the hire wire" who has stolen his heart. The charm of the story is in its' execution, via the incredible pen strokes of Pope himself and the colors by Shay Plummer, which bring his inks to life. "ESCAPO" isn't a story which works because of a complicated plot, but through the excellent execution of the dynamic struggle of life, and to not be defined by the desire of other people or even by mortality itself. Classic anxieties over love or the future are explored metaphorically through one impossible escape after the next, and the desire to push on each time.
The hardcover as released by Z2 Comics at the start of this month is a masterwork worthy of the comic within. From the eye popping hardcover itself to the dozens of pages of bonus materials, it truly is the ultimate "ESCAPO" collection which will look handsome on any fan's book shelf. The larger format allows the art to breathe in more ways than standard comic sizes will allow, and is practically a steal at under twenty five dollars; both Amazon and Barnes & Nobles are selling it for even less than that. Fans of Paul Pope's work, as well as terrific graphic novels in general, have a lot to enjoy about this simple yet vibrantly told tale of the greatest escape artist on earth.