Friday, June 16, 2006

Graphic Lit: Castle Waiting


Comics are for kids.

At least, that’s what the conventional wisdom used to be.

Nowadays, we know that’s not the case. Today, comics are rightfully regarded as an art form unto themselves, something that adults can partake in without feeling like they’re slumming.

But when even the formerly child-friendly superhero books start catering to older audiences, it can seem like younger readers are left out of the loop.

After all, when a general audience title like DC’s "52" features a character named Black Adam literally tearing a villain in two, with blood and guts flying everywhere, where can a comic-loving parent turn?

One good place to go is "Castle Waiting," the new graphic novel by Linda Medley. Her book is a charming, thoughtful and heartwarming twist on traditional fairy tales that will appeal to both children and adults.

The story focuses on a decrepit castle occupied by a handful of lonely and eccentric souls who offer refuge to those who seek it.

The first third of the book details how the castle came to be abandoned. The second involves a pregnant young woman who comes to the castle seeking shelter. The final section chronicles the history of Sister Peace, who is a member of an unusual convent.

The idea for the book came to Medley back in college, when she was studying folklore and fairy tales.

"I had always been interested in what was going on outside of the actual fairy tales. There must have been a whole lot more going on in [the characters’] lives," she said during a recent interview.

"Castle Waiting" has actually been around for a number of years, since 1996 in fact, when Medley self-published "The Curse of Brambly Hedge."

The series ran for a number of years under the umbrella of several different publishers. When one company canceled a projected trade collection, a frustrated Medley decided she’d had enough.

"I thought, ‘Somebody is trying to tell you something,’ " she said.

It wasn’t until Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth started inquiring about publishing the series that she decided to return to it.

The new book collects the entire run from "Brambly Hedge" onward. But that won’t be the end of the series. Next month will see the return of "Castle Waiting" in regular comic pamphlet format, picking up where the hardcover edition left off.

Medley said she regards "Castle Waiting" as one long novel, with different "chapters" focusing on each of the castle’s residents.

She said that, though this is a fairy tale that takes place hundreds of years ago, it deals with issues and themes that people have to deal with today. Particularly, the idea of displacement, and forming a family outside of your own lineage.

Medley sums up her central question as: "How do you go to [a new place] and find a way to make it your own and fit in?" concluding that, "You can find family outside of your own blood relatives."

Other great comics for kids

"Billy Hazelnuts"
by Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics, 100 pages, $19.95.

No other cartoonist shifts with such whiplash effect from the sublimely poetic ("Sock Monkey") to the obscenely vulgar ("Maakies") as Tony Millionaire. This book is decidedly planted in the former category though, and may well be his best book yet.

The plot involves a mouse-made golem (the titular Billy), a brilliant girl scientist, a spurned poetic suitor, a graveyard for worn out planets, robot alligator men and lots of over-the-top dialogue ("I’m a barrelful of Hate! Come open me up!")

It’s perhaps a bit too dark at times for the very young, but "Hazelnuts" offers enough madcap whimsy, to say nothing of the gorgeous art work, to enchant anyone over the age of, say, 7.

"Carl Barks’ Greatest DuckTales Stories Vol. 1"
Gemstone, $10.95.

Barks’ stories were the inspiration for the Disney cartoon show from the early ’90s, hence the title of this new volume, which collects a number of notable Uncle Scrooge stories from the 1950s and ’60s.

There’s a reason why Barks’ work is lauded as much as it is by hard-core comics scholars. He was able to combine high adventure and goofy humor with seemingly effortless aplomb. Parents owe it to their kids to include this book on their shelves.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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