Saturday, June 24, 2006

COMICS: Castle Waiting

Linda Medley's Castle Waiting

No other book this year has made me as happy to be a comics reader as the hardback collection of Linda Medley's wonderful fairy tale, Castle Waiting. (The last issue of Schizo comes close, though that is a very, very different kind of comic.) In fact, no comic has given me as much pleasure since I read Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Click for full size. Sorry about the center line.

This is not my first exposure to Linda Medley and the magical world of Castle Waiting. I've been a fan for many years. In fact, I already own every comic collected in this book. Which should tell you just how much I love her work. Having it all collected together in one volume was too much for me to resist -- even considering my recent determination to cut back on my comics spending. This book was an absolute necessity for me.


I love Medley's artwork. Absolutely love it. She perfectly captures facial expressions like nobody else, with great nuance, subtlety and humor. Some expressions are grandly exaggerated, and are hilarious for it; others display the most minor of distinctions from one expression to another, but still render a character's emotional shadings clear to the smallest degree. Enjoy a few of my favorites in this post.


Castle Waiting is a fairy tale, using elements from several classic tales (such as Sleeping Beauty, Simple Simon, or The Three Little Pigs) as jumping-off points, but creating a wholly original and vital world of its own.


The titular Castle houses a menagerie of charming people and creatures who have sought sanctuary within its walls, among them Lady Jain, who has fled her abusive husband to have her lover's child; her half-beast baby, Pindar; Sister Peace, former circus bearded lady, current member of the Solicitine Order; Rackham Adjutant, giant stork and the castle steward; Iron Henry, the blacksmith with a literal cage around his heart; and Sir Chess: knight-in-residence, ladies man, horse.

Rackham and Sister Peace.How embarrassing.

The first part of the book publishes the origin story of Castle Waiting (first published as The Curse of Brambly Hedge), if a castle can have an origin story; basically, it's Sleeping Beauty, with a number of original additions and comic flourishes. What I especially love about this story, and all that follow, are the details Medley puts into her art and her characters. Sure, there's a wicked witch who puts an enchantment on a princess and her castle -- but the witch has feelings, too; she's slighted by the king, jealous of her sister witches, and she's a little sad and lonely:

Horses don't like me.I like you.

After this, we move on to Jain's story, as she enters the Castle and meets her fellow residents. Each is special and mysterious in his or her own way, and each is funny, interesting, and real (in fairy tale fashion). It's these opening chapters, following the origin, that I love the most. There's not a tremendous concern with advancing a plot, or establishing conflict, although certainly those things are evident; the primary joy comes from spending time with these people, learning about their personalities and their backstories, laughing with them.


The latter part of the book spends a long time in flashback, telling the story of Sister Peace. I feel this is the less successful part of the story. It's too much time with one character, mostly excluding all these other people we've come to like, and it's not quite as playful and enjoyable as the earlier chapters. That said, compared to most other comics, it's still very good, and the artwork is every bit as lovely as in the rest of the book.

Kinda bitter.

All in all, it's the telling of the story that entertains more than the story itself. I love these characters, I love their look, I love their dialogue, I love their interactions. I like spending time in the company of this cast, with no particular need to get anywhere. Sometimes this gives the individual chapters a bit of a meandering feel. And I like that about Castle Waiting. When the stories have more purpose, as in the Sister Peace narrative, some of the tangential charm is lost.


There's something on nearly every page that at least makes me smile, and, as often as not, laugh right out loud. It's a beautiful story in a beautiful package (though smaller than full comic page size -- in fact, close to the size of the Bone: One Volume Edition paperback). There are very few comics I would recommend as highly as Castle Waiting. This is one of my all-time favorites.

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