So, once again my papal project has stalled, but each time I get back into it I get a little bit further, and gain I little more confidence in the idea. I still think that Habemus Papas is something that I want to do sometime in the future, but for now there are a few things that need ironing out. It's a strange way to come at telling a story, because I don't really have a story that I want to tell. I've started with a concept, a plot device, I guess, designed to get a lot of popes in one room, but I have no idea what should happen next.
I started off thinking that this would provide lots of gag-a-day strips, little jokes that I find amusing but would be utterly inaccesible to most people, but where do you go with such an idea once you've run out of terrible puns to come out of the mouth of Gregory I or funny situations to put JP II in? And how many long and facetious notes can you write before you either get bored or people notice that you actually don't know very much about popes at all and just spend too much time on wikipedia?
The idea of a big interlocking storyline with many of history's popes being trapped in the modern-day vatican being unwilling or unable to return to their own times seemed to be the way to go, but how to make it happen, or why? I still like this idea, and I think I've engineered a moderately plausible way to pull it all together (ok, I'm not that happy with it, but it's a start), but my primitive cartoonish style is not at all suited to telling that kind of story, since I can't express settings and backgrounds, let alone the subtle facial and body expressions needed for the diverse range of characters.
The characters themselves are probably the biggest issue. With 265 of the guys to choose from (and a few anti-popes and other hangers-on too), how do I choose who I want to have the starring roles, and how to I ensure that they're different enough from each other. I want to give them life and put them in strange situations, but I want them to retain enough of both their place in history and their actual character (as little as we know about it), and that's hard for me. I've never been good at characterisation. The other issue with the characters is that they were all, and some of the are, real people. I want to convey a sympathetic and generous outlook, try and get at them as real people in a tough job, but still be funny and still convey a little of what I am a protestant have to think is the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
Some are easy, the current Pope, Benedict XVI, is a shoe-in, he has to play the role of the tie to the real world, the everyman protagonist through whose eyes we get to see this strange other world populated entirely by pontiffs that I want to introduce. He comes with a serious theological bent, a German efficiency and wry sense of humour, and also with a fun little byplay with side-kick and offsider in the ever-handsome Mnsgr. Ganswein. I'm still not happy with how I draw him, but he's gotta be the man.
JPII, the ludicrously popular and talented at everything Pole whose shadow BXVI is always trying to pull out of, is also a shoe-in. I imagine him as a bit of a jock-pope, matey and super-competent, and expect that he grates on the more rigid Benedict. Sure, they agree on a lot of things, and they are friendly, too, but they don't quite see eye to eye, he's the Lancer to Benedict's Mario. Why cast JPII like this? Because he's way too popular with my generation not to try to mess with, it's a kind of reverse Jar-Jar Binks situation.
JPI has got to be in there too, I see him as the peacemaker, both between the power partnership of BXVI and JPII, and the strait-laced moderate Paul VI and my favourite larrikin pope John XXIII. The world saw so little of him that you can do a lot with his character, and besides, he wrote letters to Pinocchio, he's just too cool to leave out. Of these, Paul wasn't a particularly exciting man, but he served the church and the world faithfully and humbly in the aftermath of Vatican II in an increasingly difficult time, and probably makes a good counter to the dominant personalities of the other four modern popes. So I can't leave any of them out.
Going further back, Pius XII, who served during World War II, Pius XI, the pope of the depression and Benedict XV, of World War I, who together represent the strength of the church and its position in the Europe and the world in difficult times, are all interesting men to me (and Benedict particuarly is fun to draw). Leo XIII, the intellectual reformer and oldest pope in history, is photogenic too, and Pius IX, the pope whose reign saw the end of the Papal States and the beginning of the modern Vatican as we know it today, is surely worth adding to the list of regulars.
So here I have a cast of ten major characters spanning 100 years of fashion and history, and I am reluctant to stop there with such fun options like the old monk Gregory XVI next in the list, and from there it's only a short jump back to the popes of the industrial revolution and renaissance, not to mention all the medieval and ancient guys that I already have such a fondness for...
In other words, this is just the start, and there's plenty more where this one came from, setting, mechanics, dialogue... It's a big job, one I'm utterly unequipped for, and yet for years this idea idea has floated around in head and kept me up at nights. It's time I got this show on the road, preferably before I have yet another pope to add into the mix. That means picking a target to work towards storywise, otherwise I'll get stuck in the soap-opera zone of character interplay and never get anywhere, if indeed I even get there. I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.