Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > CR Reviews

Pope Hats #1
posted May 14, 2009


Creator: Ethan Rilly
Publishing Information: Self-Published, comic book, 32 pages, 2009, $4
Ordering Numbers: 9780981201306 (ISBN13)

First of all, somehow cartoonist Ethan Rilly has coated his comic book cover with some sort of invisible film or pixie dust that makes it impossible to scan. The yellow in the image above is actually more of an orange, or flesh color. The grim shape behind the two girls on the horse is a row of houses. Here's a photo of the cover. Isn't that much better? Judge the art on the linked-to image, not the one above. Second of all, it struck me when I was reading this what a great delivery system a single comic book can be for a debut artist. Pope Hats is a snazzy-looking package, but it's also an accessible one: it's a short story and an addendum, offered at a modest price. While picking up a brand-new graphic novel by an unknown talent takes a certain leap of faith in that if it stinks you have this big clunky object and you're out the price of a dinner, you can sweep one more comic book into your buying swirl of multiple comic books without blinking an eye.

All of this blather should underline that I think Pope Hats #1 is a fine little comic, an enormously promising comic, but it's one about which I have very little of substance to say. Part of that is there's not a lot to the comic in terms of narrative or thematic density. Vickie and Franny share a home in what I'm guessing is either Toronto or Montreal. Rilly offers up a heaping portion of naturalistic dialogue supported by page after page of attractive drawing as we watch the pair scuttle about, embracing the the vicissitudes of early twenty-something life. Franny initially seems to be the slightly more stable of the two in that she has a low-paying job and seems less likely to poke at the boundaries of her present condition. Rilly introduces a supernatural element that gives lie to that characterization, as her interaction with an oddball ghost, real or not, seems intended at least on first read to portray Franny as requiring compensation for something missing in her everyday life. What that might be, we don't get to see enough of her to tell.

Even that makes Pope Hats sound like something more grand than it is, and while future issues may widen the scope or deepen the impact, the joys of issue #1 are in the supple cartooning and funny character moments. The promise is in the feel of the comics-making, not the resulting work's import. There's a humorous scene as solid as any you're likely to read this summer where Franny makes her way through a day of weekend work by thinking solely in items of consumption: cigarettes, the Internet, romance novels. Any number of individual panels stand out: I very much enjoyed one early on where Vickie recovers from a bout of street vomiting to declare herself fit to go, the kind of superheroic discovery -- in this case complete with a sunburst background! -- that only young, attractive women seem able to pull off. I wasn't as impressed with a showy extra where Franny tells a pair of ghost stories as I think others might be, but that kind of tight focus on a single character is a daring choice for a young cartoonist. Just as future issues may add weight to the characters, they may also reveal them as entirely too shallow to hold our attention much past 40 pages. For now, I'm smitten, and I imagine other people will be, too. It may sound ridiculous saying so, but this is the kind of book that you could even imagine a talented creator disavowing at a future date. Pondering the multiple possibilities is a lot of the fun.