Publisher: Horse Press
By Paul Pope
(*Watching When Harry Met Sally… on TV, crying*) That’s like the most beautiful love story ever. The only thing that comes close is Paul Pope’s Escapo, which I mentioned last week. Escapo is a short graphic novel about the love between a tight-rope walker and an escape artist. Can the two live happily ever after? Or does Death have other plans? Here’s Mikey…
Starting with a strange beginning, illustrating the birth of Escapo in graphic detail–it is, in a sense Escapo’s first “escape” through dangerous circumstances and parallels his leaps and bounds through narrow, water-filled canals as a big-time circus performer (*though not too big-time, an important detail*) many years later—Escapo kicks-off on sensory overload. Dashes of ink, thick and thicker bounce across the pages, sometimes motion lines, sometimes the dialogue of a carnival barker, sometimes drops of sweat dripping from the increasingly-aware-of-his-mortality main character.
Pope, in one of his awesome action sequences–it’s about nineteen pages–presents a stunt by Escapo, moment-to-moment, step-by-step, pausing a little over halfway through when Death shows up in a filling-with-water pipe/tube thing to tell Escapo his time’s come. Escapo being an escape artist and all, bargains with Death (represented as a gangly skeleton) and holds off Death (and death, of course) until his next stunt.
Then Pope’s story takes a fascinating turn, almost entirely inward, as every panel, page, and sequence of Escapo following the introductory stunt is tightly wrapped around Escapo’s insular concerns. Namely, his own mortality and his love for a tight-rope walker. The comic doesn’t become any more wordy or less action-packed, but these two obsessions–love and death–flutter through every subsequent page. The next escape sequence is just as well-wrought, but it’s now dominated by Escapo’s sudden confrontation with death and so, he’s second-guessing every move he makes, and thinking of everything that could/might go wrong. Pope, simply by hinting at the spectre of death and failure, mindfully removes that verve and snap from the action.
At the same time, there’s Escapo’s very old-school quasi-courting of the Tight-Rope Walker. Watching her perform, slackjawed, Escapo says, “She’s the most beautiful girl in the whole world, I declare.” A few scenes later, other circus performers mock Escapo for his heart-on-the-sleeve affection and the otherwise daring character shuffles away in silence.
Me again. Where the comic goes from there, I hesitate to explain in-detail. All I can say is that Escapo is a deeply moving, in-the-gut simple affirmation of life and living. The first run is out-of-print, but they recently did a second printing of the book so pick one up now.