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Hope Dwellers

Getting Out of Hope, James Cadelli’s debut graphic novel, opens with a literal cliffhanger: Justin and his two friends, a trio of hippie dudes from “Halifax-ish,” are road-tripping across the country in a creaky RV, having pledged to “do anything and everything that’s fun, funny and dumb.” Justin’s friends are stoked to jump off an intimidating cliff into the lake below – but Justin, a more sensitive type, demurs. He leaves them to their uncertain fate and drives into town to get some food.

What, from this introduction, threatens to be a run-of-the-mill comic about some party bros getting lost in small-town BC, fortunately expands into a more refreshing narrative, thanks to the addition of an assortment of characters: the inhabitants of Hope. Justin pulls into this community just as the RV dies on him and is rescued and given lodging by Marie, a Montreal transplant cursing her dead-end job as a building manager.

Marie is immediately sympathetic in a way that opens up the story. She’s gruff, but can’t help being kind to others, despite the headaches they give her. Her kitchen is covered in Post-its that give a sense of her days hassling tenants for overdue rent, fixing household appliances, and cleaning puke off the front steps. One wistful note, near the bottom of the fridge reads: “TRAVEL? LOL.”

Getting Out of Hope
James Cadelli

Conundrum Press
$18.00
paper
208pp
9781772620146

Marie’s tenants are introduced in due course. Jojo, an elderly lady, is alone with her chronic pain, baking and writing letters to her dead husband. She lives below Tom, a sullen drug dealer. At first, Jojo and Tom are predictable adversaries: Tom plays loud music and Jojo bangs on the ceiling with a broom handle. However, when Jojo asks him to sell her some painkillers, their relationship takes a turn. They wind up getting stoned together and baking a cake. It’s very nearly a Martha Stewart/Snoop Dogg moment. Minor characters who roam the building include a world-weary child who goes door-to-door collecting cans; Jean-Sam, who has a morbid photography obsession; and Cass, Marie’s freewheeling friend.

Cadelli proves to be a generous storyteller. He gives his characters room to grow, and shows a decidedly non-judgmental approach to drug use, whether it’s for fun, relaxation, or pain relief. Getting high together often compels characters to bond when they otherwise would not have. There are occasional flat notes, like a joke Marie makes about being “pretty sure [she] has AIDS now” after touching a used needle, but generally, Cadelli is able to strike a balance between strife and silliness. The town of Hope is effectively isolated, and one gets the sense that its denizens are stuck there. “What’s out there? Beyond them mountains?” Tom asks Jojo as they smoke together, staring out the window, and she responds, “To be honest, I forget…” Soon, Jojo will ask Tom for a far heavier favour than sharing his stash. While Tom and Jojo provide a darker side to the narrative, the other characters liven it up; ultimately everyone helps each other to move on and out.

The drawing style in Getting Out of Hope is simple, sometimes grazing the edge of underdeveloped, but as the story builds to a climax, the images do as well. There are some nicely cinematic moments near the end. When Cadelli lets himself have fun with some full-page scenes, it pays off. Getting Out of Hope is a romp, at once lighthearted and unexpectedly serious, and a solid debut.mRb

Helen Chau Bradley is a former bookseller and forever reader. She spends her days working at POP Montreal and her free time making noise with her band Heathers, among other things. For her tiny book reviews and reading recommendations, follow @notesofacrocodile on Instagram.

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