SPX Pulls: Pope Hats 1 - 3 / by Patrick Smith

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“Well, four years sure do make a difference”. That was my first thought after I finished reading issue three of Pope Hats, because if I had gotten this when issue one had come out in 2007 I would have never given this series a second thought since issue one was terrible. Actually, terrible might be a bit strong, but it's how I perceived it in relation to what came later. In the grand scheme of things issue one is probably fine for what it is, but it was also a book that inevitably fell into that genre of comic which I have taken to calling “twenty somethings dicking around.” The issue had no real point of view (or at least none that felt authentic), the character's personalities felt forced, the art felt stilted and it had a weird pseudo-paranormal element that didn't work at all beyond possibly giving the book a weird metaphysical hook. So in short I didn't like it, and the interesting thing is I feel like Pope Hats creator Ethan Rilly felt the same way. In the four years between 2007, when issue one was put out, and 2011, when issue two was put out, the book was overhauled in such a way that every problem I had with issue one was wiped away. As such issue two and issue three are two really strong reads as single issues.

Pope Hats centers on Franny Scarland as she navigates her job as a law clerk at a prestigious law firm while also dealing with her personal relationships. That really is all the book is about, but like most things it really comes down to the details for how well this thing works, and Rilly is an artist that thrives on small details whether those details be depicting a law office or small defining characteristics. The first issue only dealt with Franny's job in a very small scene, but perhaps not unsurprisingly that scene was the most authentic feeling scene of the whole issue. This is a genius move on Rilly’s part. By shifting the book's main focus to Franny’s relationship with her job it actively tightens the characterizations of her relationships with the people she knows outside of work- which in turn informs her relationships with the people she works with, which makes the whole thing an incredibly compelling read.

The biggest reason for why the book became so compelling, though, is because of Rilly's art. Like I said in issue one I don’t think the art really worked at all. To be honest it reminded me a little bit of what Bryan Lee O’ Malley's art looked like in the first volume of Scott Pilgrim--at least in terms of how its original, somewhat stilted look is miles away from the fluid style they would later incorporate. Over the four years between Pope Hats' first and second issues, Rilly's art improved by such leaps and bounds that it barely resembles its earliest incarnation. The biggest improvement is that he simplified his character design, using clean lines and rounded edges to give the characters a very fluid look, but the biggest improvement is how Rilly approaches their faces. Instead of trying to give his characters “realistic” eyes and noses he boils down his character's facial features to dots for eyes and little slopes for noses, which make the characters more aesthetically pleasing to their overall design. It also has the added benefit of allowing certain characters to have more exaggerated appearances without feeling out of place. This is probably most apparent in the character of Marcel Castonguay, the hulking senior partner at Franny’s law firm, who seems almost too small for his body and has eyes that seem both empty and all encompassing.

The simplified design of the characters compliments the absolute attention to detail that Rilly gives the world his characters inhabit. Whether it be a law office or a city street, Rilly conveys the whole thing that gives the book a feeling of authenticity. Like I said, I had many problems with Pope Hats' first issue but Rilly used the years between the first and second to not only fix any flaws the series had, but by the end of reading the third issue Rilly had learned to transcend those problems and create a series that in my mind made me physically excited for the process and improvement of making comics. My final thoughts on these books didn’t end with well “Well, four years sure do make a difference.” It ended with “I can't wait to see what Rilly does next,”,and that’s a great thought to end on.

TL;DR: Although it started out shaky, Pope Hats is an incredibly compelling series with dynamic art and important attention to details that make the workplace/social life dynamic really work.

Pope Hats is written and illustrated by Ethan Rilly and published by AdHouse Books. You can purchase a copies here.

BONUS MINI-REVIEW:

Hi, Beth here. This is another book that both Patrick and I picked up. I guess I didn't really notice the art-shift (I'm not hyper-attuned to art anyway) nor was I bothered by inconsistencies of the first issue. Actually I was kind of interested in the whole ghost thing. Maybe it's because I AM a 20-something woman, but I didn't have any trouble at all relating to the two main characters from the first. In fact, I was sold on the project two pages in when one character asks the other if they can't go to the bar tonight "morally or financially." I do agree that issues 2 & 3 were stronger, but I would not discount issue one nearly as strongly as Patrick. I quite liked it. Other than that I won't really bore you reiterating things Patrick said, though I still think that AS a 20-something woman who is overworked/underpaid/under-appreciated at a job I hate and trying to make it on my own in a city it hits home differently for me. It would have to. But since Rilly is a man who knows if that's what he was going for. Either way it goes to show that, as in all things, it's all a matter of opinion. Whether you agree with me or with Patrick I would TL;DR this as a series to read and a creator to watch. (Rilly was nominated for an Ignatz for Pope Hats at this year's show.)