Friday, December 27, 2013

YALSA top ten 2007: Castle Waiting Volume 1

Castle Waiting (Volume 1)

Written and illustrated by Linda Medley.  
Published by Fantagraphics (2006)

I'd read some of Castle Waiting ages ago. What issues, I'm not sure, but I think I pulled at least three or four out of a dollar bin back when I was an undergrad (ie. forever ago). I remember liking it fine, though never bothering to seek out more (of course, I don't think it was even really that easy to seek out more before this collection came out).

This is a big, fat collection of comics, and it's kind of interesting to see how they were released originally. Medley originally self published the first few issues of Castle Waiting in the late '90s after receiving a Xeric Grant. Then in 2000 Jeff Smith's Cartoon Books released a few issues (who knew they published anything other than Jeff Smith comics?), then it was self published again, then Fantagraphics picked it up. Geeze. Maybe the weird and haphazard way this book was released (with many gaps) explains the kind of strange way that the series unfolds.

The first three issues retell the sleeping beauty fairytale, then all of that is completely ignored and we jump forward like 80 years or something. It seems sort of strange to me that you could read this series without the first three issues and you wouldn't lose anything. I guess Medley published her original story, and decided to just use the same title or something. I dunno.

There are then several issues that seem like they're what the series is "really" about. A pregnant woman arrives at the castle, which now serves as a refuge for various oddball characters. The castle is at this point a place where anyone can come and stay, though it appears that it's at the end of its life as there are few inhabitants and much of the castle is now abandoned.

We get introduced to the characters, the new woman wants to be the librarian in the castle, and issues of flashback telling the entire backstory of one of the characters. I'm not opposed to this, I'm not even opposed to the (multiple) nested flashbacks that are used in the story. And the story (about bearded nuns) is even good and enjoyable (I'm pretty sure I read some of these issues all those years ago). But these issues finish off the volume, and to me it really felt as though Medley had absolutely no idea where she wanted this series to go, or what she wanted to do with it.

However, none of this is to say that this volume isn't worth reading. I liked it! The world Medley has created is interesting, and I want to know the backstories of pretty much all the characters (a knight who is a horse, a weird birdman who runs the castle, a blacksmith who doesn't talk, a cook/cleaner and her son who don't actually seem that interesting until you actually hear their story in the second volume, a bearded nun, assorted demons, and the woman who gives birth to a somewhat monstrous child).

I just found the way it was presented kind of strange.

After reading this volume I went out and got the second, which had a vastly improved narrative structure. It still has lots of flashbacks, but they generally seem to be related to what's going on, or at least don't overtake the entire story. I felt as though I was learning about the characters while an ongoing plot was happening. Of course it also just stops. Like, seems like there are pages missing stops. I discovered that this is because it was released before the final three issues of this story were printed (or even drawn). Fantagraphics released a "definitive edition" that features another 70 pages of story, and is completely relettered (the lettering for much of volume 2 is, while not awful, not very good). You can buy the last three issues for $8, but it still seems super weird that the book was released the way it was, even if "it looked as if Castle Waiting was definitely over".

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