Since 2009, when he published the first issue of his recurring comics series Pope Hats, the Canadian cartoonist Ethan Rilly has attracted fans. Like, big-deal fans, at least in the odd and rarefied world of art comics, with praise coming his way from cartoonists like Seth and Adrian Tomine. He’s won an Ignatz award and a Doug Wright Award, and he’s the kind of creator whose books other creators wait for eagerly. Reading the comics, it’s easy to see why: Rilly’s cartooning seems effortlessly evocative, each panel detailed and crisp but never stiff—there’s a real sense of actual life zipping by within each contained space. He seems like a cartoonist, as Tomine half-complimented, half-complained, “who just seems to know how to draw everything.”
But the latest issue, Pope Hats Number 4, demonstrates that Rilly is also developing into a unique and clever storyteller. In this issue Rilly sets aside the continuing tale that has occupied the first three issues—gone, for the moment, are aspiring actress Vickie and her law-clerk roommate Frances—and instead publishes a series of elliptical, heart-rending short stories, set both on worlds faraway and unfamiliar and in towns recognizably our own. In the story that got me the hardest, “The Nest,” a middle-aged father and mother struggle to help a daughter struggling with what appears to be schizophrenia. Like all Rilly stories, it’s understated where other writers might have been grand; it’s psychologically acute, and attuned to the weird and intimidating magic of everyday life; and it’s drawn so beautifully that many simple panels made me gasp. It’s another exceptional work from one of our finest cartoonists, and I can’t wait to see what Rilly does next. We’re very proud and pleased to have Ethan Rilly illustrating the July issue of the Slate Book Review.
Pope Hats Number 4 by Ethan Rilly. AdHouse Books.