Pop Life #2, March 1999, Fantagraphics Books
by Ho Che Anderson & Wilfred Santiago
Blogger's note: Entry for Thursday, April 10, 2008.
I picked up a few issues of Pop Life a few months ago at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention, and while I don't regret the decision I wonder if these issues are appropriate for the A Comic A Day challenge. For several personal reasons, I've made a conscious effort to keep the material I review all-ages appropriate, and though He Che Anderson's writing boasts many universal themes, his stories strike me as sexually charged and definitively adult. There's nothing wrong with that. Pop Life is an obvious and tender labor of love, by an adult for fellow adults, but I simply feel compelled to note its uniqueness in the context of the hundreds of comic books I've reviewed over these past few years. Yes, it certainly pops.
And what is it about? Well, I'm having a difficult time with that one, too. Granted, I read issues #2 and #5, which are vastly distinct in both design and content, but both feature an array of uniquely crafted, introspective stories, which either explore the realms of music, sexuality, social inadequacy, or all three. Consider the lead story in issue #2, which features Danny and his band trying to score a suitable practice space. Unfortunately, their respective homes just can't cut it, considering the protests of their significant others. In the meantime, Danny spends the day hooking up with his wife and his mistress, and chatting with his mom. I'd imagine it the real life of a struggling musician -- the one most of us envy. The following tale, "Miles From Home," is the continuing exploration of a young woman's newfound independence, though in this second chapter, Mo is struggling a bit with loneliness and a sense of impending responsibility. It's a slow bit interesting yarn with a particularly sympathetic scene in a coffee shop, in which one of the kindly townsfolk tries to spark up a conversation with Mo. The sequence reveals that, as much as she wants to find a place in the world, she needs times to herself, as well, and the two hopes aren't necessarily getting along. Dichotomy reigns supreme in Pop Life.
From what I can tell of this issue's design and themes, Anderson with artist Santiago sought to established a "mixed tape" feel to this work, as if the various stories each represented a different track on the same homemade album. Their art styles are vastly different but remarkably cohesive in this series -- Santiago has a confident brushstroke, while Anderson incorporates photography and creates a really textured reading experience. I liked the monotone of "Miles From Home," as it turned a relatively down to earth urban allegory into a vibrant pop art experience. Again, the artists' love for the work exudes from the page.
Which makes issue #5 a bittersweet read, as it's unexpectedly their last. Still, Anderson has experienced quite a bit of success since Pop Life, with his biographical King the recipient of rave reviews. Goes to show where having a dream can really get you -- something someone at any age can easily understand.