Paul Pope is perhaps one of the most exciting talents in comics at the moment. With a background in self-publishing, Pope has gone on to court the likes of DC Comics (producing the excellent Batman: Year 100) and maintains a balance of uncompromised popularism that is barely approached by his contemporaries. That he’s both artist and writer only leads to a greater feeling that his dark, claustrophobic science fiction is an amazing vision of a grim future brought to life.
Heavy Liquid is indicative of this. The lead character, known only by the initial ‘S’, is a skinny but street-toughened wide-boy, with buckets of attitude and confidence. He uses this to wrangle his way into the drug dealing racket but the drug he trades is no ordinary narcotic. Heavy Liquid, as it’s known, may not even be a drug – no-one really knows. But ‘S’ gets high by cooking it up and dropping it into his ear. Others want this liquid metallic substance for other reasons – governments want to do research, rich art collectors want it to create one-of-a-kind masterpieces – all ‘S’ really knows is that it gets you high and it’s probably the most expensive substance on the planet. If you’ve got some, you can make a lot of cash, and ‘S’ intends to use his to make some serious money.
This turns the graphic novel into a sort of caper story, with ‘S’ simultaneously on the run from those trying to get what he’s got, while also trying to shift his goods to the highest bidder. On his journey he finds it necessary to revisit his own past, which is revealed to us bit by bit, as we discover the kind of person ‘S’ is and where his connection to Heavy Liquid comes from.
Pope’s art has been coloured with simple mid-tone pinkish and grey/blue hues, giving a sort of retro four-colour effect but used with amazing skill to flood his pages with light and atmosphere. Though it’s set in the future, there’s a very seventies feel about the whole piece, from the characters’ costumes, through the decaying urban backdrops to the overall psychedelic rhythm of the piece.
This is a genre-defying book, neither straight-forward sci-fi or thriller. Instead it’s something pure Paul Pope and needs to be appreciated on that level. It’s a bit way out, a bit weird, but certainly a wonderfully enjoyable ride, especially if you like your protagonists to be flawed, lanky nutters with a penchant for dripping toxic substances into their ears.
Other titles by Paul Pope:
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