Pope Hats #3

Pope Hats #3 cover

Although people like to say that there are comics out there for everyone, some types are much more common than others. If you are looking for a horror title featuring a big-busted fighter, for example, there are plenty of comics to choose from. If you’re looking for a comic that relates more directly to many people’s daily lives, though, particularly one with serious depth, it’s not so easy.

That’s one of the big reasons I love Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats. It’s the story of Frances Scarland, a law clerk, and her roommate Vickie, an aspiring actress. So much of the book is simply about Frances trying to cope with daily life — a heavy workload of tasks she doesn’t necessarily enjoy but have to be done, her caretaking of the flaky Vickie, and her inability to figure out what she really wants or how to get it. In other words, an existence that more closely resembles many of ours.

Pope Hats #3 cover

Frances’ new boss is an imposing mountain of a man who seems to do whatever he wants and skate through life with others taking up his slack. There’s a lot of office politics, too, with the size and placement of an office being read as a coded message about position and career viability. I don’t know what Rilly’s done in his life beyond make terrific comics, but there are so many well-observed details about corporate gamesmanship that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’s worked in such a convoluted business setting.

Meanwhile, Vickie’s stumbled into a terrific opportunity to get a TV show, even though she spends her life drinking or hung over when she’s not actually on stage. Frances is good at her job — in fact, many people take the time to tell them they envy her, in various ways — but it’s something that she never envisioned doing and has no particular connection to. That’s in contrast to Nina, a lawyer at the firm who really cares about her achievements and position but continues to be set up for failure by others, sometimes just because they can mess with her life that way.

The other major reason I adore this series is the skill of Rilly’s cartooning. It sounds as though this book might be as numbing as the life it portrays, but his delicate linework — reminiscent of the clear line approach most attributed to Hergé — and his perfect grasp of just the right moment of motion keep events visually involving. His characters seem like people I could know, those who might be hanging out just around the corner. It reminds me of the work of Adrian Tomine, only it’s about more than just liking or observing someone else.

The through line here is that the various responsibilities Frances doesn’t want (but she’s doing her best to handle) keep her from sleeping. In such a state, each day where something doesn’t go off the rails is a small victory. The recurring thought is “today I’m crap but tomorrow I’ll be good”, indicating the minor optimism under it all. There’s always a new chance with a new day, in spite of her life of quiet desperation.

Note that this book came out last fall, and I’m just now getting around to talking about it, because I have too many stacks that books are easy to get lost in. However, there hasn’t been a new issue yet. That’s the biggest flaw in the series — it comes out yearly at best. Still, the material is universal and timeless enough that it can be read at any time.


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