Youth In Decline
September 25, 2016
I got to see Richie Pope on The Black Comics/Race and Comics panel at the 2016 Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF). It was the first time I heard of Pope and got to see his art projected on the hotel conference room screen. I left the panel feeling great about adding another new creator to my list and didn’t think too much about it until a friend lent me Frontier #13.
In the mini-interview at the end, Pope said he wanted to use his art “to play around with the gaze and experience around black fatherhood.” I was able to gather up the experiences with my own father, the experiences of my black friends, and what I had seen in media to connect with what Pope was putting out. I was familiar with the stoic black father and to see Pope tackle that stoicism with the bright colours – blues, pinks, oranges and purples – with the instructional narration and pill package accomplished what he set out to do. It’s a juxtaposition that allowed for the distance to breakdown and analyze everyday life. It was an act of self reflection that got people to understand an experience outside their own or inspire others to self reflect as well.
That’s why I think the audience is black folks. Not that other people aren’t allowed to or can’t enjoy it but the intention was for those with black fathers to connect with it. If not intention, then a by-product of being a black man creating like Pope said: “It doesn’t dictate, it informs.” The black experience isn’t a universal experience since the black culture isn’t a monolithic one. My father is a Somali who grew up in Kenya so I didn’t grow up seeing him with a durag on his head, and his sport of choice is soccer as opposed to basketball. Yet, I still laughed at the line, “Others just pretend like they’re okay and put cocoa butter on their sores.” I grinned at the grand-fatherson because it reminded me of my maternal grandfather who died two years ago.
Pope allowed a distance to be created so that we can self reflect. I can stand back and engage with the black father in a way that I haven’t before. The pill packaging the fatherson arrives in is the physical confinement of the expectations of black fatherhood both societal and self imposed. The colours and Pope’s style made me smile and shake my head ruefully. These behaviours are silly or aggravating in our fathers but they happen. They’re real. They – our fathers, my father – are real. There’s joy in that reality. Pope makes it beautiful with men who would scoff at ever being called “beautiful”.
My favourite part of the book was the interior pages of the cover.
It reminds me of when my father tells me – quite earnestly and very serious – that I can accomplish anything or that I should travel to gain a greater understanding of the world. The same man who makes terrible dad jokes about underwear and then proceeds to laugh at his own joke. He’s the one with the crooked moustache and the knowing smile on that interior page above. It makes me giggle the longer I look at it and the colour – pink – feels on par with Pope’s overall intentions for this comic; being at odds with expectation.
But there’s also a part of the fatherson that will always allude me. I’m a daughter of a black father and not the son of one. There’s a specificity in the expectations that crafted a father and his father before him that will follow the son after him. I like to think the comic offers a different way of being by opening up our eyes to the nuance that was always there.
Fathers come in all shapes and sizes (black fathers too) and I was reminded that mine is as complicated a human being as I am.