Wednesday, September 28, 2011

copyright (C) 2011, Paul Pope

copyright (C) 2011, Paul Pope

The other day I was in the Barnes & Noble on Court Street and I saw The Best American Comics 2011. Flipping through the book, I peeped a new graphic short story written and drawn by artist Paul Pope. One of my favorites, I discovered Pope years ago when he self-published The Ballad of Doctor Richardson and THB. Having grown weary of comic books during the Image years, when a hack like Rob Liefield could become king, Pope renewed my faith in the medium. To me, his art was beautifully lush and finely detailed while still being sensitive, urbane and surreal.

If Pope's drawings was music it would be Fripp & Eno joining forces with Sid Barrett, Dionne Warwick, David Lynch and a squad of glitter rock gods. Reprinted in this volume was a piece called "1977," a cool strip about a young kid who discovers David Bowie while listening to his mom's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). It's a charming piece where the reader witnesses a young kid (Pope) discover the vast universe beyond the comforts of home and his mother's car.

1977 has become one of those years that artists enjoy revisiting, be it Paul Pope or Spike Lee, whose own ode to the decade became the film Summer of Sam (1999). Having grown-up in New York City, my experience was closer to Lee's cinematic mash-up of serial killer Son of Sam, disco, the blackout, punk rock, heatwaves and the Yankees winning the World Series than Pope's own suburban locale.

In the most recent issue of the Dublin-based cultural magazine One More Robot, I contributed my own "version" of 1977 in the autobiographical essay Broadway Buddas and the Birth of Hip-Hop, which tells the tale of how I discovered the joys of toking weed (aka "budda") the same day I first heard hip-hop. Hanging with my buddy Kyle in those long ago yesterdays, we could get a thick sack of smoke for $3.00 then go hear DJ Hollywood and Lovebug Starski rocking a Harlem block party. As one advertising genius once proclaimed, it was "two great taste that went great together."

Considering Hollywood and Starski as underrated pioneers in the field, I've long wanted to write about their contribution to rap music. In 1997, I spent a few days interviewing them both in a 7th Avenue bar and heard some cool back in the day stories. It was supposed to be in Vibe, but for some reason the editor killed the piece before I even transcribed the tapes.

Years later, thinking back on that summer day in 1977, I realized I needed to document that small slice of hip-hop history . Having carried the memory since I was thirteen years old, I finally wrote the first draft of the piece last year between Christmas and New Year when I was chilling in my other hometown, Baltimore.

Cat sitting for my friends Beth and Don, one chilly night I gulped a few glasses of white wine, drifted on black cloud and imagined that I was some bizarre combination of Nik Cohn, James Baldwin and Hunter Thompson. Illustrated by my friend John Breiner, a brilliant young Brooklyn based artist, "Broadway Buddas and the Birth of Hip-Hop
" is a throwback tale that pays homage to the streets of Harlem and the underground sounds that changed the world.

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