Ethan Rilly’s latest issue of Pope Hats is my first interaction with the long-running series, and it seems to be a good jumping in point – instead of continuing the narrative from the first three issues of Pope Hats, Rilly fills the fourth with a series of short stories in 32 pages of full color, oversized print. AdHouse has done a lovely job with the printing; Pope Hats #4 has a very nice cover stock and paper quality that makes it a joy to hold in your hands. Pope Hats #4 is Ignatz nominated this year for Outstanding Anthology, and it’s easy enough to see why. Previous issues featuring Rilly’s long running story have been nominated for Ignatz and Doug Wright Awards. In this issue, Rilly has put together a remarkable collection of short stories.
A throughput on this collection is Rilly’s theme of personal responsibility and control; Rilly seems interested in the intersection between what his characters are truly responsible for, and what they feel they are responsible for. In the longest piece, “The Nest,” a retiree father and mother must take care of their college-aged daughter who returns home from college, apparently suffering from schizophrenia. In another, “Stained Glass,” an artist decides the work he has done on a commissioned stained glass piece for a church isn’t satisfactory, and that he is responsible for making things right, no matter what the cost is.
Wrapped up in his characters’ personal control is the ways in which they try to defend themselves from the outside world. Rilly’s characters are beset on every angle, and build emotional walls, take drugs, write songs, and paint garage doors to escape the crises of their lives. They destroy themselves in order to salvage their self-worth. And importantly, sometimes these defense mechanisms don’t work; things get worse, and don’t get better.
Many of Rilly’s characters in Pope Hats #4 feel worn down and faded, and his color choices reflect that; light yellows and peaches take the place of deeper hues in much of the book. In typical slice of life fashion, most of the drama of Pope Hats #4 comes from quiet moments, and in that regard, the collection as a whole can feel understated. Rilly is more interested in the subtle interactions between characters than fiery revelations. But the subtleness of the collection is its strength. Pope Hats #4 is a collection worth your attention. Recommended.
Ethan Rilly is a cartoonist and illustrator from Toronto Canada. Find more of his work at his website.
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