Columbus Makes Art Presents: Hartley Lin Comes to Cartoon Crossroads
Under the pseudonym Ethan Rilly, Montreal-based cartoonist Hartley Lin debuted the series Pope Hats in 2009. Its main serial was about two young women, Frances and Vickie, and how they maintain their friendship amid the chaos of early adulthood. Fast forward to 2018. The pseudonym has been dropped and that serial story from Pope Hats was collected earlier this year as Young Frances, one of the most lushly drawn and elegant character studies to be released in comics this decade.
Lin and his publisher, AdHouse Books, will be appearing at the Main Library for the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) Expo Book Fair Saturday and Sunday. CXC 2018 runs through this Sunday, Sept. 30. On the eve of Lin’s appearance as a special guest of CXC 2018, Festival Director Tom Spurgeon revisits with Lin the story that is Lin’s graphic novel debut.
Tom: Were you a comics reader as a kid?
Harley: I definitely was a comics reader as a kid. A friend introduced me to Marvel Comics when I was about 10. I gravitated toward the X-Men titles. This was right before Image Comics started, and I followed all that stuff because Jim Lee was my hero at the time. So that’s what I grew up with. Much earlier there was Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes in the weekend newspaper.
Tom: What made you finally decide to start making them?
Harley: Comics as a medium really clicked for me when I moved to Montreal for school in 2000. I started to notice all those moody Drawn & Quarterly comics. Dirty Plotte and Optic Nerve and Chester Brown’s work. It was such a relief to discover all that. And Jimmy Corrigan came out around that time. I read that book instead of studying for an exam, very late one night. It was so moving.
Tom: Tell me how you arrived at your current style and what you want to achieve through the visual tone of what you do?
Harley: It’s probably the usual suspects in alternative comics. Certainly Seth is in there. His It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You are books that I go back to. A lot of art outside comics probably seeps into my stuff. For my visuals, I just try to keep them accessible and in tune with everything else.
Tom: What interests you most about the core relationship between your two lead characters, Frances and Vickie, in Young Frances?
Harley: Well, friendships can be complex. Sharing a sense of humor and point of view, depending on one another, feeling strongly about what the other person should or shouldn’t do at certain times. I’m drawing both from dynamics I’ve observed and experienced.
Tom: One thing I thought very well done in Young Frances is the way you took care of sequences driven by dialogue. How do you break a sequence like that down while creating it?
Harley: Sometimes it’s haphazard, but usually the characters are staged and framed in such a way to help communicate the scene. Or that’s the idea. The way Vickie moves around in that kitchen where Frances is working – all that movement is important to me. When I’m drawing a page there’s mostly this persistent feeling of dread, of trying very hard to not screw up the important information. Because it’s so easy for everything to go off the rails. Readers seem really forgiving, though.
Tom: How much are you interested in crafting a narrative, as opposed to just documenting certain emotional states and situations?
Harley: I’m definitely interested in all those things, and for whatever reason, I don’t view them as being too much in opposition. The comics that I do are categorically fiction, and that sets certain limits. But you can play with those limits. There’s a lot of room for realism and so many other things. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to weave a bunch of stuff that interests me into a conventional fictional story. And I have this delusion that it might actually entertain some people.
Tom: Is there a plan for five years down the road? Will we see more issues, more collections?
Harley: My main ambition is just to have more time and space to make more comics.
See Hartley Lin during Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), running through this Sunday, Sept. 30. CXC 2018 includes a comics expo, speakers, workshops, screenings, exhibitions and more at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Wexner Center For The Arts, Thurber House, Columbus Museum Of Art and other locations.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.