Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 325 (12/25) -- Castle Waiting, Vol. II by Linda Medley

For Christmas's installment of Book-A-Day -- which I expect no one will read for two or three days anyway -- I have just about the sweetest graphic novel imaginable, one that will have visions of sugarplums and candycanes dancing in your head if you read it close enough to bedtime. It may even be too sweet for some, but it's a lovely, positive collection, with fine drawing and characters that are well worth spending some time with.

Of course I'm talking about Linda Medley's Castle Waiting series -- the first collection of which was Book-A-Day # 98 the first time I got on this merry-go-round, back in 2006 -- which is the marzipan of comics: lovely to look at, crafted with exquisite care out of one of the sweetest materials on earth, but perhaps slightly lacking in deeper nutritional value. In a half-ruined castle somewhere in a vaguely medieval Europe -- far from wars and strife, in a world where both giants and dwarves (they prefer to be called "hammerlings") roam, and animal-headed people are common enough not to be worth comment -- a motley group of folks live, most of them refugees from somewhere else and all of them fairy-tale characters to some degree.

Castle Waiting, Vol. II collects the most recent sequence of single issues from Fantagraphics, in a format matching the first volume. The central character, Lady Jain, is still settling into Castle Waiting, and she decides on a room in the early pages here, which means the rest of the book is mostly about moving her into her new place, with digressions for flashbacks, ninepin bowling, goat-penning, horse-shoeing, and lots and lots of conversations. Castle Waiting is a very talk-focused comic; the characters chat incessantly with each other about various things -- their work, each other, their pasts, relationships -- and those conversations are as much what Castle Waiting is about than the actual events.

In fact, Castle Waiting is one of the most feminine comics out there -- not in a frilly, silly sense, but in that it's deeply about the things that women traditionally care about more than men: domestic life, relationships, emotions, friendship. Medley shows that those concerns are what make up real day-to-day life, telling a low-key story about a wonderful place to live and showing, along the way, why it's wonderful: the people here genuinely care about each other, and work to help each other all the time. Readers who know nothing of comics but the big mainstream punchfests will be deeply confused by Castle Waiting -- all the conflict here is personal, and any violence took place before this story and off the page. (But that violence is still important, of course, and the careful reader can see how it has affected the people now at Castle Waiting.)

The folklorish origins of the series aren't as clear now as they were at the beginning -- the prologue story, "The Curse of Brambly Hedge," showed how this was Cinderella's famous sleeping castle -- to the point that I'm not at all sure if all of the characters still are minor figures from folklore anymore. And it's not clear if Medley has an overarching shape to this story -- if she'll continue to explain everyone's history, and eventually get to the mystery of the father of Jain's infant son Pindar. But, even if Castle Waiting never goes anywhere in particular, that's not to point of it anyway: this is a story about people and how they live together and support each other. That kind of story is so vanishingly rare in comics that it should be treasured when we do find it -- particularly when it's as lovely and engaging as Castle Waiting.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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