Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Castle Waiting

For whatever reason I’ve been tripping over a lot of fiction this past month with a strong bent of feminist theory behind it. The first of them is the least obvious and probably my favorite.

With its quiet blend of fantasy, folktales and character-driven storytelling Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting is one of the most charming series in comics to come along in years. Published both through numerous publishers and independently over the last several years, this new collection brings the first twelve issues of this Eisner Award winning comic book series to a wider audience.

The collection opens with "The Brambly Hedge", a story that gives the origin of the castle itself. In a comic retelling of the classic Sleepy Beauty fairy tale we see a medieval castle and its loving inhabitants abandoned when the sleeping princess wakes up, finds her prince charming and rides off in the sunset with him forever. The castle transforms into an outpost of sorts for the unusual, the unwanted, and those just needing a place to hide from the world at large. Talking chivalrous horses, pregnant mothers on the run and nuns who were once bearded ladies in the circus are just a few of the wonderfully colorful inhabitants of the castle. The stories then enter the lives of the castle's inhabitants, and we learn about their unique backgrounds and what made them an outcast from society at large.

Medley’s stories are not the normal adrenaline-pounding action tales of comics, but character driven stories dealing with real life issues that range from the touching to the hysterical. One of the main characters Lady Jain, for example, is with child and on the run from the father. In another story we see a nunnery with worship based around a sainted bearded lady. All together the book raises thoughtful questions on women’s roles in society, both past and current, as mothers, friends, workers and lovers. But because it lacks the dogmatic speech that all too often accompanies stories with a feminist bent, the message will go to people not normally open to such ideas.

A very interesting aspect of the collection is that we witness Medley's storytelling become more assured and complex as the series progresses. The initial story is a fairly straight-lined narrative. The following stories become more complex, using flashbacks and stories within stories in a manner that’s not just clear but also creates an effective rhythm of pacing to her tales that’s both fun and gripping.

Prior to her work on CW, Medley worked as a children's book illustrator and colorist for mainstream comics like Batman. Medley brings in experience from both fields by using hard-edged lines with simple forms, creating black and white artwork that melds nicely with the fairy tale feeling of the stories. Highly appropriate for all ages, CW is a unique creation that’s fun enough for young readers but filled with enough layers and depth to satisfy readers looking for a bit more.


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