July 13, 2006

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Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley (2006, Fantagraphics, 448 pages)

Since The Sandman broke the mold of “what comics should be” there has abeen a steady head of steam building under the fantasy comic genre. Writers and illustrators more Brothers Grimm than Stan Lee have found a widening berth in the comic publishing houses to settle in and their stories are skewing further and further from the Sok! Zap! Ka-Pow! action-addiction of pedestrian funny books. While French and Dutch artists have been banging this particular drum for decades now, America, the home of comics for chrissakes, has begun to see its fantasy-comic creators spring forth en masse.

Delightfully this charge has Linda Medley in the thick of it. Her Castle Waiting, which sadly stopped regular production in 2001, has been collected and hardbound by Gary Groth’s (of The Comics Journal fame) Fantagraphics Books, the artsy-ist of American comic publishers.

Castle Waiting is a post-modern fairy tale in the least obnoxious sense of the term. Medley lightly mish-mashes the worlds of popular fable (including a copious nod to Sleeping Beauty to kick the series off proper) and myth in the land of Putney. Here, we find the titular castle abandoned by most of its original inhabitants and now serving as sanctuary to a small misfit population. Taking residence are a trio of handmaidens, a battered princess, a heartless iron worker and a horse-headed knight (literally horse-headed, mind you) to name a few. But the wide net of fantasy reference isn’t the focus here, it’s the simple lives that the fantastic characters lead that make Castle Waiting such a sweet pleasure.

Castle Waiting’s conflicts are moral and ethical — even deftly spiritual at times — as opposed to the clang of swords and shields that make up the majority of fantasy epics. It’s been touted as a feminist fantasy (an assumption tritely based on its lack of violence) but really it’s simply clever fun fantasy. Medley doesn’t avoid confrontation per se, she frames it in surprisingly realistic manners. It’s not a dragon terrorizing a village that concerns Castle Waiting’s denizens, it’s the tyrannical miller and his stranglehold on flour production and unfair treatment of workers that ruffles their feathers. Thats a brave story to tell, a simple, familiar issue with a clever resolution minus the smarm that Disnification has taught us to expect from fantasy.

Medley breathes a charming life into her creation both in prose and illustration (less Prince Valiant and more Archie). She has a solid stable of characters from which to launch from and has aptly hurdled the constraints of the fantasy genre. It’s a joy that Fantagraphics has brought back this title both in an easy-to-read and attractive book and by deciding to relaunch the regular series later this year. A

— Glenn Given


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