Jerry Pope's hare-brained ideas draw upon experience

Shelly Frome
Black Mountain News | USA TODAY NETWORK
Jerry Pope works in his home study, accompanied by an arsenal of pointed colored pencils and a sharp wit.

The key to graphic artist Jerry Pope’s seemingly endless projects are the sketchbooks he’s maintained over the years.

Pope never knows what’s next or the form his thoughts will take, be they paintings, illustrated tales or even Appalachian coloring books. Scanning his sketchbooks jogs his memory. Ideas work their way to the top of his list, or they simply pick up where they left off. 

For example, his recent wordless novel “Fetch.”

Jerry Pope poured his grief over losing his dog Rusty into "Fetch," his wordless novel that is a eulogy to a beloved pet and a parable of hope in the midst of change.

“I started ‘Fetch’ well before my dog Rusty died,” Pope said, “but I didn’t have an ending. Later, when he passed away, I turned my grief into art. I started playing around with scratchboard (a black ink on white clay medium). The black and white motif evolved into a hopeful story and a way of assuaging the sadness. I sell a lot of them to veterinarians and friends who have lost pets. In this way, art became a means of expressing the inexpressible.”

Back in the days when he was dating his now-wife Rebecca Williams, he and she were involved in a theater company whose work was based on myths influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell, a noted professor of mythology and comparative religion. Pope and Williams, a documentary film maker, began making up fairy tales about an enchanted owl. Perusing his sketchbook some 25 years later, Pope created “Owl Girl,” who became the springboard for “new wordless stuff” in a book coming out this month, he said.

Pope experiences times when a scattering of notions begins to “stick in the wall of my mind,” he said. Hanging out in his head are story fodder such as Pellom’s Time Shop, a watch repair shop in Black Mountain where, he said, “clocks never get fixed and time is meaningless.” Pope’s mind plays with the door above Town Hardware “with a ‘Joe sent me’ speakeasy hole in it.” He notes that Elvis Pressley once had a tooth pulled here.

Crowding the various ruminations in Pope’s head are the oral histories of the Swannanoa Valley that he and Williams collected and staged as the “Way Back When” theater series. And there’s the shaggy dog story he made up about a pig, which, wrapped up with the other hare-brained ideas in Pope’s head, ended up in his book, “The Elvis Tooth,” published in 2013.  

Pope’s wit and love of drawing took him only so far as a student at the University of Tulsa. Given his antic disposition - and a fear of ending up as a staff illustrator for Hallmark Cards - he turned to the burgeoning experimental theater scene.

“While engaging in theater all over the region,” Pope said, “Rebecca and I began attending the annual meeting of Alternate Roots at Camp Rockmont. The name stood for Southern performance art rooted in place, tradition and spirit. Here I finally found my people. We eventually moved to Swannanoa in the year 2000.  I love the Appalachian lifestyle and the history of this Valley. We see a sunrise and sunset over the mountains every day. As a survivalist, I feel a mountaintop will be the last place to go.”

Pope can be found at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market on Saturday mornings. Residents and visitors can peruse his books, as well as the other offerings of his illustration business, “Hare Brand Ideas.” His business logo, a cartoon rabbit in a light bulb, was arrived at five years ago when Pope decided to launch a full-fledged enterprise. He plucked the name out of a chapbook of his funny notions. 

“I cover a broad span at my table” at the tailgate market, Pope said. “Some people are checking out everything as they kind of cruise by. And there are those who I can tell where their eyes are going and I point out that the whimsical postcards are of old Black Mountain. Or the comic books have a touch of surrealism. Newcomers and tourists are my main market. I get them on my mailing list and inform  them of new ventures.”   

Speaking of which, he is now creating a project based on his grandmother who lived in Oklahoma Indian territory, dated cowboys and was there during the Tulsa race riots.