Wednesday Review: Castle Waiting (& extra thoughts)

Ya know, despite Monday's assertions, I'm not immune to the power of negative press. This blog got me so down and confused I considered taking a day off from writing my bookstore business plan. But on the other hand, there's this bookseller's blog, and all the stuff his Decatur bookstore has got going on. My favorite line:

"the “futureTense” panel is meant to be a humorous, tongue-in-cheek takedown of “the sky is falling/no, we built the sky” give-and-take dichotomy between old and new media"

Giggles trump blues once again. Ultimately, as we know, it ain't an internet-or-indies kind of world. Bread and roses, convenience and community, progress and tradition -- we're gonna have it all.

In the meantime, I've got like months worth of book reviews to catch up on. Here's a start.

Castle Waiting
by Linda Medley
(Fantagraphics, June 2006)

I feel like this book and I have been giving each other the eye for over a year -- we had the feeling that we'd like each other, but for some reason it took a while to take the plunge and get acquainted. When we did (thanks to a friend at Norton who scores me comics sometimes), it was love at first sight that just keeps getting better. It's a sort of a fairy tale graphic novel, as the title implies, and the first section (the book was originally published as single-issue black and white comics) is straight-up Sleeping Beauty. But once she takes off with the Handsome Prince, what happens to the castle staff she leaves behind?

As it turns out, they turn the castle into a kind of refuge or waystation, a calm good place in a world as chaotic as our own. And it attracts good characters, from the Ichabod Crane-like castle steward (he really IS a crane), and Chess, the womanizing horse-man, to Lady Jain, the pregnant refugee whose arrival gets the real story started. There are "poltersprites" (pesty magical infestations), magic of all sorts, and a whole subplot involving a convent of bearded women.

But that doesn't really tell you what this book is like, or what it's about. First of all, Linda Medley's drawings are a far cry from the wispy romantical creations of other fantasy comics like Sandman -- the thick, clean line drawings and authentically funny facial expressions of her characters are the first indication that this isn't a regular fantasy story. It unfolds like a novel-in-stories, in vignettes and overlapping, everyday plots, with a feel of real life in a community. One of the best storylines involves Lady Jain and the matron of the castle dying their hair with henna to drive away the blues, to the bewilderment of the male creatures of their acquaintance. And the resident nun, Sister Peace, a goofy, compassionate class clown, tells a long story-within-a-story that reveals that the pure joy of storytelling is the book's true subject matter. There are mysteries and revelations and developing relationships, and the sense of much more -- in a small, un-epic way -- that has yet to be revealed.

I've often read these stories described as "feminist" -- there are plenty of strong women, and a couple of nasty misogynist characters do get their comeuppance. But I think it's more accurate to think of it as humanist, or even transcendent. It's a world where fugitives are offered shelter, captives are rescued and avenged, sacrifice lives side by side with joy, and wildly different folks sit together around a table and become a community. It's a utopian vision, but if you can't have happily ever after in a fairy tale, then why tell it? And this is a book about happily ever after -- rainy days, moments of fear, dishwashing, squabbles and all. And it's beautiful. And did I mention darn funny?

If you can't tell, I've completely fallen in love with Linda Medley's world. I just bought the next two single issues at my local comics shop, and ordered everything else that exists from the Fantagraphics website. As Shelf Awareness puts it in their Book Brahmins interview series, this is a book I am an evangelist for. Don't wait for the right moment. Take the plunge. Fall in love.


Von Allan said…
Linda Medley's stuff is truly wonderful and I'm proud to say I jumped on the band wagon back when she was self-publishing it. I really regret not being able to head down to the States for one of the Trilogy Tours that she became a part of (I can't remember if she was with the original one or not, but it would have been neat to see her with Jeff Smith, Charles Vess, and the rest). Castle Waiting is quite a fantastic story, though, and needs to be read by more people.


P.S.: which reminds me: eventually I'd love to send you a galley of my own graphic novel if you thought you'd be keen! I'm not quite ready yet, but soon!
Mike Baehr said…
Thanks for the great review!

Mike @ Fantagraphics
houseofduck said…
I am a very strong fan of Linda M. I am actually on my fourth copy of the book. Three previous copies have been given out to spread the fun...

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