Residency brings comics artist to Columbus, starting with CXC talk

As the Columbus Museum of Art and CCAD Columbus Comics Residency recipient for 2018, Richie Pope will be busy over the next several weeks, beginning with an appearance at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus and continuing with programming at both the museum and CCAD.

He also will be afforded the opportunity to develop new or in-progress work, all while staying at the visiting artist residence at CCAD. Hopefully, Pope will have some time to scout the neighborhood for a giant metal box.

Pope's newest work, “That Box We Sit On,” depicts a couple of black kids hanging out, waxing contemplative about the issues of their day, not the least of which is the nature of the metal box on which they sit to hold their conversations.

“Oh yeah, I was on that box every day, me and my friend in high school,” Pope said in a recent phone interview, explaining the real-life inspiration for the not-intended-as-autobiographical comic. “Pretty much every place I've lived was an apartment complex, or a one-story-house-type neighborhood, and those [metal boxes] were there, and we'd just sit on 'em and hang out.”

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Pope may or may not need a partner should he find a suitable metal box in Columbus. He admitted that the comic's two characters, one deep and a little weird, the other pragmatic and chill, might represent two sides of one mind.

“In a way, it's kind of one character and you can interpret it as a brain talking to itself,” he said.

“That Box” is a testament to youthful imagination, perfectly captured by the comic artist/illustrator in the environment that fostered him and most likely continues to foster young black kids.

“We didn't have a whole lot of money, but my mom was really cool in letting us not feel like we couldn't be happy,” said Pope, who grew up in Hampton, Virginia, and now resides in Dallas. “We lived in a lot of different places, but always went to the same school. We lived near the beach and mom would drive us out there. I know now it was to help her clear her head, but she was also letting us know that this isn't all there is. I always had this wistful feeling of, ‘What's out there?'”

Now having a bit of a sense of just what is out there, Pope recognizes he bears some responsibility for other kids who hang out on the metal box. In a recent tweet, Pope related an encounter with black art students at his alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University.

“At first, I was a little afraid of the responsibility, because I didn't want to be seen as ambassador and try to be everything to everybody,” Pope said. “Where I feel more responsible is in terms of being honest to where and how I grew up. [Those students] are literally where I used to be.

“And the stories I'm telling are stories that I want to tell that maybe I haven't seen. I feel like there is a perspective I haven't seen, or a setting or language that's not already out there. But even when I'm doing something where the way someone talks or acts is something I haven't seen out there, it's still, I think, relatable on a universal level. Even if you're different, you can still connect.”

Still, work like the comic “Fatherson,” or an illustration such as the one Pope did for The New York Times Magazine for “‘Black Panther' and the Revenge of the Black Nerds,” benefit from Pope's unique perspective and distinctive style. Inspired initially by the Sunday comics section and television shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” Pope admitted he knew little about making art for a living.

“I knew about Andy Warhol. That was the only artistic representation I had: Where you would be an artist in a studio and make paintings and people buy them,” Pope said. “I started at college thinking I wanted to do animation, but I had a teacher who was an award-winning illustrator, and I decided that I could maybe do that.”

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Part of Pope's Columbus residency includes an exhibition of his work at the Columbus Museum of Art (on view through March 2019), marking the 30-year-old's first solo museum show and, thus, a taste of that Warhol model.

“It's pretty surreal to think what I do for pages is on a museum wall,” he said, adding that the exhibition includes some non-comics work in gouache in addition to his previously published illustrations.

Pope had yet to decide on a direction for his work during the residency, sharing that he has a long-form work on which he may want to make some progress but that he was also experimenting with some ideas he might want to present in zine form. Meantime, he will begin the public portion of his residency with a talk at CXC on Sunday, Sept. 30, with William Evans, editor in chief of Black Nerd Problems and Alive contributor.

“I guess I don't think of myself as a black nerd,” Pope said. “Although I'm very, very nerdy and I am black.”

Editor's Note: This version of the story includes an updated/corrected title for Pope's "That Box We Sit On."