Fatherson (Frontier #13)
I never know what to expect from an issue of Frontier, and Richie Pope’s Fatherson did not disappoint me for being surprising: this comic is different than anything I’ve read before. Of course, that’s part of the fun of indie comics in general, but Pope’s comic initially stood out for because of the colours, the rubbery, clinical texture of the Fathersons, and the instructive appearance of the lettering.
I was reminded—deliberately, I’m sure—of those dinosaur pills that I used to get as a child, the kind that you would put in water and watch grow, just like the Fathersons, and just like the Fathersons, you never knew what you were going to get, though you always wished for a tyrannosaurus rex. The colours of those pills were primary reds and blues, and the bright colours of Fatherson are just set off of primary, bright and powerful and reminiscent of the bright and powerful colours that make up medication packaging, as we find out in the interview with the artist at the end of the book. Once the connection has been seen, it cannot be unseen, and the colours have the effect of making you think of health and unhealth in the same breath: there is the promise of health, but the reality of life that is often fraught with illness and disease, literally and figuratively. In the same way, the Fathersons present a world of possible healthy relationships, but the relationships are fraught with the individual and not always positive quirks of the Fathersons. Indeed, “some Fathersons get sick. Sometimes they don’t even know.”
But don’t worry. There are many, many variations of Fathersons. Instead of a single narrative, we are presented with a world of possibilities. In the interview at the back of the monograph, Pope talks about how “an illustration on its own can allude to a larger narrative.” Well, each page in Fatherson alludes to a larger narrative. Each Fatherson has his own unique characteristics that imply a unique narrative to go along with it. Even though the words describing the Fatherson variations are clinical and dry, factual, the mind fills in the blanks, or at least wonders what could be and why. What do the Fathersons who congregate and make friends with other Fathersons talk about outside? (What did our parents talk about at the adult gatherings from which we were excluded?) Those Fathersons who “run so far they forget who they are”—who do they become? (Who did our parents become when they ran away so far from us that we thought they were fiction?) What are those Fathersons thinking who “act childish and reckless for no other reason than to pass the time”? (What were our parents thinking when they acted like teenagers instead of the adults who are supposed to care for us responsibly?)
The thread that runs through all variations of Fathersons is that they live in a world that is their own. Once fully developed in the bathtub, a Fatherson has his own interests and ways of being that are uniquely his, and that don’t necessarily—or even often—involve the person who bought the Fatherson in the first place. You are incidental in the Fatherson’s life. This is a powerful narrative against the common narrative that a child—or in this case the purchaser of the Fatherson—becomes that Fatherson’s whole life. It’s a narrative that needs to be heard more often. Our parents don’t stop being people simply because they have children, and perhaps their personhood outside of parenthood needs to be acknowledged more fully. On the other hand, it sucks to have a parent who runs away from you. Maybe a balance can be struck, and maybe not, but you can always trade in your Fatherson for credit towards another.
Writer/Artist: Richie Pope
Publisher: Youth in Decline