The trope of “the depressed college professor who inappropriately finds a new lease in life with a manic pixie dream girl” got graphic in 1994 with Paul Pope’s “The Ballad of Doctor Richardson.” Pope was in his early 20s then, taking his cues from Dave McKean and not quite yet the sci-fi artist that could inspire Jeff Smith and “RASL”, but already he’s inserting small futuristic details in what is otherwise a juvenile story about the titular doctor (of Northern Renaissance Art), who has everything in his life except love. AWWW.
While sitting morose in the subway, Doc Richardson is confronted by a cute former student who schools him on how the heart wants what the heart wants and the such. Emboldened and cautioned by T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” (DOES HE DARE DISTURB THE UNIVERSE?) he falls in love and goes to cherchez la femme at a near-future-boho club, “where the people come and go talking of Ani Di Franco.” The pursued girl’s manic-ness seemed to me dangerously close to being a medical problem, but Pope means her to be adorable. Maybe if he’d drawn her cuter, I might have had some sympathy for Doctor Richardson’s horn-dog quest.
“The Ballad of Doctor Richardson” grew from Pope’s real-world speculations about the private life of one of his college professors. But the young artist doesn’t quite manage to inhabit a character twice his age, and one can only forgive the tenderfoot optimism of the anti-Eliot happy ending by remembering that Pope was pretty much a baby faking world-weariness.
Will Eisner generously blurbed: “He’s on the right track.” Eisner was right.
RATING: GOOD ENOUGH
POST – SCRIPT:
Interestingly, Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when he was 22 – the same age as Pope was when he wrote “The Ballad of Doctor Richardson.” Both young men prematurely concerned themselves with the plight of the aged and unfulfilled. Only one captured the feel.