Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2276
AUTHOR: Pope, Paul
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ARTIST: Paul Pope (illustrator); Lee Loughridge (colorist); John Workman (letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
FIRST SERIAL PUBLICATION: 2002-2003
FIRST BOOK PUBLICATION: 2005
100% is a black-and-white comic first published by Vertigo Comics, an imprint of DC Comics, in five single issues. It was Paul Pope’s second full-length publication for Vertigo (after Heavy Liquid in 2001). Throughout the 1990’s Pope had numerous short stories published in anthologies, most notably Dark Horse Presents and Negative Burn.
Pope negotiated successfully with DC for 100% to be published in black and white rather than color. The majority of 100% was completed between August, 2000, and January, 2003.
Pope has stated that inspiration for 100% was writer Philip K. Dick’s novel Man in the High Castle (1962), and that it was initially conceived of as a series of loosely connected, old-fashioned short romance stories in a science-fiction setting. Instead, Vertigo solicited Pope to create just one story. Pope took what he considered the best elements and created one complete story. Parts of 100% are based on real experiences involving Pope’s family and friends. The title 100% is intended to be perceived as a catchy slogan, similar to the title of a rock album. Pope has also stated that though Heavy Liquid is set in 2075 and 100% and Batman: Year 100 (2006) are set in 2038, all three stories occupy the same universe.
Pope based the six main characters on superhero and other comic-character archetypes, giving each a “costume” and look. Daisy is intentionally based on the Vertigo character Death, Haitous is inspired by Frankenstein and the Hulk, and John wears Hercules-like armbands and a T-shirt with a logo on the chest.
Set in New York over a two-week period in 2038, 100% tells the story of three relationships of six connected people: Strel and Haitous, Kimberley (also known as Kim) and Eloy, and John and Daisy. The story is told in twenty-five chapters of varying length.
Kim, a young bar worker at the Cat Shack Nite Club, decides to buy a gun after a girl is murdered in the club’s back alley. Strel, Kim’s friend and coworker, helps her negotiate a deal in a crowded and noisy nightclub. Later, they discuss Strel’s dream of owning her own coffee business.
John, a busboy at the Cat Shack, meets Daisy, a new “gastro” dancer starting at the club. (Gastro dancing is a type of strip tease that uses magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, technology, allowing a dancer’s internal organs to be seen.) Daisy accidentally leaves her diary at the club, and John takes it for safekeeping. When they next meet, Daisy accuses John of stealing and reading the diary. When she realizes he has done neither, Daisy storms off, forbidding him to watch her dance. As Daisy readies herself to become her onstage persona, “Dollar Bill,” she takes mood-altering pills that help her perform her athletic and erotic act. After her performance, Daisy checks to see whether or not John kept his word not to watch her perform; he has. Their attraction is evident; they kiss, though both seem surprised they have done so.
Cleaning the backstage employee room, John notices Daisy’s stage clothes. In a spur-of-the-moment action, he pockets a pair of her underpants. When he realizes she is showering, he quickly leaves with the underwear. On her way home, Daisy agrees to go on a date with a very nervous John.
Haitous, Strel’s estranged partner, who has returned from a year-long Eurasian G-Fight tour, watches footage of his next opponent, a vicious young fighter named Wallman. G-Fight uses the same technology as gastro dancing, allowing spectators to see the internal organs of a boxer during a match. Haitous calls Strel via a videophone, but she hangs up.
Strel introduces Kim to her cousin Eloy, who is immediately enamored with her. Eloy is creating an art project in which one hundred kettles boil at the same time, with all their whistles tuned to a “C” note. Kim is overwhelmed when Eloy tests his artwork for her and Strel. On a date, Kim tells Eloy how she feels buried under “bad stuff” happening all the time, but Eloy helps her find a different perspective. On their way home, they kiss, cementing their new relationship.
While on a date, Daisy tells John of a violent story that may or may not be about her, in which a woman witnesses her father kill her mother and mother’s friend. On their way home, John gets soaked from water splashed by a passing vehicle. They go to her place so John can dry off, and she finds her underwear in his coat pocket. At first angry, she soon relents, and they spend the night together.
Haitous is preoccupied with thoughts of Strel. His trainers advise him to work out something before the fight, or he will get beaten. Haitous corners Strel at work, pleading to see her later. Strel initially refuses but eventually relents, though reluctantly. Strel had wanted Haitous to retire from boxing, but he went on the Eurasian tour; thus, Strel kicked him out.
Eloy returns home to find Haitous waiting to ask him if, as a favor, he would bet a large sum of money on the long odds of Haitous winning his fight in the last round. Eloy then attends a funding meeting for his art project, but the backers make it clear Eloy must change the project to secure the money. Kim is adamant that Eloy should not change the project, accusing him of hypocrisy if he does. Eloy turns down the funding offer. Sullen, he decides to scrap the kettle project and his artistic ambitions; he soon changes his mind, however.
Haitous and Strel agree to start seeing each other again. He makes Strel promise to check the contents of a safety-deposit box after his fight. Haitous wins the brutal bout in the last round. After the fight, Strel finds the deposit box filled with money: the winnings of Eloy’s proxy bet and enough to start a coffee business. Strel visits a severely battered Haitous and returns the money, stressing she cannot accept it unless they are together. That is fine by Haitous, as he is giving up boxing for good.
After freaking out when she hears John say “I love you” in his sleep, Daisy stresses out about their quickly developing relationship. John finds her vomiting in the toilet after the drugs she has taken for her gastro performance make her sick, and he nurses her to health. John asks Daisy to open up to him, but she deflects his attempts at intimacy, claiming she is “disappearing.” Scared of John’s growing attachment to her, she decides to leave New York and is gone the next day. Deeply upset, John decides he needs to do “something crazy” like traveling to an exotic location. He throws a dart at a world map; where it hits is where he will go. Unfortunately, it seems fate is against him: The dart lands in the middle of New York City.
•Kimberly, a.k.a. Kim, is a young, good-natured bar worker at the Cat Shack. A feeling of helplessness spurs her to buy a gun. Her idealistic attitude helps Eloy remain true to his artistic vision. At first a timid character, she becomes more trusting and matures throughout the story.
•Strel is the shift manager at the Cat Shack and Haitous’s estranged wife. She has a matter-of-fact attitude but a stubborn streak when it comes to Haitous, as she is wary of renewing their relationship. She has dreams of running her own business. She is friend and mentor to Kim.
•Daisy is an itinerant gastro dancer going by the stage name “Dollar Bill.” She works for a short time at the Cat Shack. She has a drug habit and a troubled past. Her real name is Jennifer, and she is reluctant to open up to anyone, deflecting any attempts at intimacy. She has a brief and intense relationship with John but leaves New York when she realizes John is falling in love with her.
•John is a good-looking and hardworking busboy at the Cat Shack. After ditching his education, focused on medieval literature, he decides to do something different with his life. He has a short but intense relationship with Daisy. Generally levelheaded but prone to angry outbursts, he yearns to be more spontaneous and impulsive. His emotional attachment to Daisy scares her away.
•Haitous is Strel’s estranged husband. He is a huge man, formerly of the Navy, and a somewhat battered G-Fight champion. A melancholy and brooding character, he has been away on tour for a year and is now genuinely trying to fix his relationship with Strel. He decides his fight against the vicious Wallman will be his last.
•Eloy is a tall and bald African American. He is an experimental modern artist who develops a relationship with Kim. He is Strel’s cousin. He is highly intelligent but slightly nerdy. His artwork garners interest from wealthy art patrons, who agree to grant him money to finish the project if he will change it. He refuses.
Pope’s style is influenced by a combination of Japanese manga and European comics artists, such as Hergé (The Adventures of Tintin, 1929-1976), Daniel Torres (Rocco Vargas, 1997), and Bruno Premiani (Tomahawk, 1950’s; Doom Patrol, 1960’s). Pope is the only Western artist to have worked for Kodansha, Japan’s premier publisher of manga comics, for more than five years.
Pope uses a brush for all his artwork, which has been likened to calligraphy instead of the traditional comic pen-and-ink style. His art has also been compared to David Mazzucchelli’s (City of Glass, 1994; Asterios Polyp, 2009) and Eddie Campbell’s (From Hell, 1989-1996).
Pope’s visually complex layouts are considered technically perfect and constantly inventive. His panels express a congested world without being cluttered, whether they depict the streets of a future New York, a night club, a sushi bar, or a run-down apartment. His work is both subjective enough to immerse the reader in the 100% world of a future New York and objective in the portrayal of characters and their relationships, deftly using black, white, and gray-scale production to provide a measure of emotional distance from the characters.
The liberal use of sound effects, from the lighting of a cigarette to the oppressively loud music beats in a night club, evokes the constant noise of the constantly busy New York urban landscape. Using primarily rec-tangular panels that are always offset provides a subtle pace of events happening in the narrative in uneven and varying time frames.
The themes of trust and intimacy in relationships are strong in 100%. Pope employs symbolism and metaphor in the objects and actions around each relationship. John and Daisy’s relationship burns quickly, like the firecoat she uses in her gastro act. For John, Daisy is like the mood-altering drugs she uses. The initial “high” of the relationship is tempered by the emotional “low” of her leaving. Kim and Eloy’s relationship is mirrored in Eloy’s kettle art project. Like a kettle boiling slowly, their relationship builds to “100 percent” intensity.
The metaphor of boxing looms over Strel and Haitous’s relationship, which is characterized by “rounds.” Haitous, who loses the first encounters with Strel when she refuses to talk to him, wins over Strel eventually. Just as Haitous goes the distance to beat Wallman, Strel and Haitous’s relationship has “gone the distance” to the final round.
The theme of the body as an emotional barrier is also prevalent. 100% draws parallels between stripping and boxing as “sports” heavily invested in the exploitation of the body; both professions offer financial rewards at the physical and emotional expense of the participant. Daisy and Haitous trade on their body—how it looks and what it can do.
Haitous is unable to be completely honest and emotional with Strel until he relinquishes the body-focused G-Fight. He finally decides that he would prefer to be with Strel than be seen by G-Fight patrons. Daisy prefers to be exposed on stage rather than “open up” to John. While she allows John access to her body, like her diary, her inner thoughts are off-limits. Telling John her real name, Jennifer, is the most she can afford of her real self.
100% was Pope’s second work for Vertigo and one of his few full-length works for a major publisher. Pope’s work for Vertigo propelled him to his highest-profile work, Batman: Year 100, for which he won two Eisner Awards. Pope’s status as an artist was raised in the wider art community, and in 2008, he branched into fashion, designing a collection for DKNY Jeans.
100% crosses romance with science fiction and is clearly influenced by the cyberpunk science-fiction genre, specifically the stories of novelist William Gibson, which often intertwine technological and artistic aesthetics. The idea of gastro on both strip club dancers and boxers is a unique concept not only in comics but also in the genre of literature in general. Gastro is the culmination of voyeurism and pornography, allowing the innards of the body to be seen. However, Pope is particularly adept in handling the idea, never actually showing either Daisy’s or Haitous’s internals.
- Mazzucchelli, David. Asterios Polyp (2009).
- Pope, Paul. Batman: Year 100 (2006).
- _______. Heavy Liquid (2001).
- Pope, Paul. “Paul Pope Interview, Part One.” Interview by Ray Mescallado. The Comics Journal 191 (November, 1996): 98.
- _______. “Paul Pope Interview, Part Two.” Interview by Ray Mescallado. The Comics Journal 192 (December, 1996): 91.
- _______. Pulphope: The Art of Paul Pope. Richmond, Va.: AdHouse Books, 2007.
100%Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes & Superheroes, First Edition Bart H. Beaty Stephen Weiner 2012 Salem Press