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She Has No Head! – Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting.  Linda Medley (creator/writer/artist).  Fantagraphics.  457p.  $29.95.castle waiting cover

I was planning to write about the first issue of the new Spider-Girl mini-series, whether I loved it or not, but I just couldn’t gear myself up for a full column slamming it.  It was so incredibly mediocre and uninteresting, and completely what doesn’t inspire me about comics these days that I just couldn’t bring myself to devote the column inches to it.

Instead I decided to talk about a book that I recently discovered, and don’t know how I could have missed all these years – Linda Medley’s excellent Castle Waiting.

It’s not that surprising that I missed it I suppose, considering my sporadic relationship with comics (periods of obsessive love followed by periods of complete burnout), when you also consider Castle Waiting’s own valiant but sporadic publishing history.  In 1996, Medley was awarded a Xeric Grant and self-published the first seven issues of Castle Waiting in 1997 and 1998.  Cartoon Books then stepped in as the publisher of issues #8 – 11, followed by Medley self-publishing on her own again in 2001 and taking the series up to issue #16.

Self-publishing comics, as many of you likely know, is very difficult work, especially to when you are responsible for the entire package – writing, penciling, inking, lettering, editing, etc.  It’s incredibly time consuming and exceedingly difficult to get your product into the hands of readers in big numbers and is thus highly unrewarding in the financial department.  Few creators have the stamina and dedication that Medley has exhibited in continuing her series come hell or high water.  Along the way Medley was nominated for an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology or Collection in 1996 and a Lulu Award in 1998.

Since this is a book of modified fairytales, it’s nice for it to receive a modified happy ending in the form of Fantagraphics stepping forward in 2005 to give Medley the attention and publisher she deserved.  In 2006 a gorgeous hardback edition collecting Castle Waiting was released.  At 457 pages it is a massive and stunning work of art, from the production values by Fantagraphics to the beautiful comprehensive work inside.  For Medley and Fantagraphics efforts they were awarded with a well deserved Eisner Nomination in 2007 for Best Graphic Album; and Castle Waiting’s French edition was the Official Selection Internatialde la Bande Desinee de Angouleme in 2008. Most importantly however, Fantagraphics hardcover edition provides people like me (and you!) an opportunity to discover Medley’s brilliance for the first time.

Castle Waiting begins with an introduction to the castle in question via The Curse Of The Brambly Hedge, which is a new take on Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of previously minor characters.  When Sleeping Beauty abandons the castle, and all the people that were sleeping alongside her for a century, for her new Prince, the castle is forced to find itself a new destiny.  The story then flashes forward in time to find the castle having become ‘Castle Waiting’ a home (and haven) for misfit fairytale characters of all shapes, sizes, and beyond.  The vast cast of characters makes for a fascinating and seemingly endless tapestry of stories to be explored.  Medley makes her way through the cast slowly and deliberately and thanks to that care, the cast size never feels overwhelming.

Not unlike Fables, Medley’s Castle Waiting tackles traditional fairy tales with inspired re-invention and especially to my liking, is that it does so with a bit of a feminist slant.  The tales inside Castle Waiting are extremely female friendly and are something I’d love to see offered up to every little boy and girl as the required alternative to our more standard ‘happily ever after’ tales.  Medley’s characters, for the most part, are a selection of lesser-known fairy tale characters and their stories are full of heart and life lessons that are wonderfully (and naturally) woven into Medley’s tales without ever feeling cliché of forced.

Something easily overlooked because of the general strength of Medley’s writing, world building, characters, art, and unique perspectives, is the sense of humor, which is sharp and constant.  There’s a real feeling of lightness and joy to her writing and characters that is completely infectious.  And yet the humor never attempts to overshadow the other aspects of Medley’s work and thus never diminishes the overall heart and tone of the work.

Story continues below

Castle Waiting Chapter 7.1 copy

copyright: Linda Medley

Castle Waiting Chapter 7.2

copyright: Linda Medley

The illustration, though I understand it’s likely not to everyone’s taste, is flat out phenomenal.  I don’t really know how to describe it except to say that the attention to detail, the consistency (every panel is picture perfect), the clarity of story telling, and the character design – down to the smallest facial expression, is just top notch.

Check this out – one of my favorite examples of Medley’s gift with pacing and character – a nearly wordless scene in which Sleeping Beauty’s people react to her abandoning them:

Castle Waiting Chapter 3.1

copyright: Linda Medley

Castle Waiting Chapter 3.2

copyright: Linda Medley

One of the best things about Medley’s Castle Waiting is the wonderful cohesiveness, which is rare, even in creator owned works and perfect creative team pairings.  It feels absolutely like a singular and uncorrupted vision in a way that few books manage.  And I strongly believe that it is that uncorrupted and singular vision that makes this book so strong.  That said, it speaks to Medley’s abilities as not only writer and artist, but also an editor, as it’s exceedingly difficult to create work on your own and to also know how to best edit and revise your work.  It’s something many people never master, and if they do it’s unlikely they master it with the same deftness that Medley exhibits here.

You can feel in the pages that Medley has spent an insane amount of time creating the world of Castle Waiting and it’s clear that she knows her characters and world inside and out.  The wonderful result of that is that you don’t actually feel the writer or artist at all, but rather the characters themselves.  It’s shockingly easy to get lost in their stories, and despite the massive size (I said 457 pages already right?) I was through it in a matter of days.  More importantly, as soon as I finished I looked online in hopes that Volume 2 was already out, so I could read more.  Alas, it’s not scheduled to be released until December 2010, but it will also be by Fantagraphics, and with what looks to be the same exceptional production values.

I’ve tried to do as well here in describing what is so exceptional about Castle Waiting as Jane Yolen does in her excellent introduction, but hers has a simplicity that I just can’t match, so I’ll quote her:  “Castle Waiting is a feminist fairy tale with attitude, heart, imagination, laughter, love, and truth.”

That, as far as I’m concerned, is definitely the truth.

Castle Waiting Volume 2 will be released from Fantagraphics in December 2010.  You can also pick up individual issues from Fantagraphics (though beware that some issues are sold out).  Both volumes are scheduled to be $29.95, and I know that seems pricey for a comic, but considering the size, the hardcover production values, and the fact that this beautiful edition will likely sit prominently displayed on your bookshelf for eternity, I think it’s well worth the price.  There’s also an amazing (but very pricey) handmade edition available from Fantagraphics for Volume 1.


[…] reviews, comics, comics should be good, feminism, she has no head! | Tags: fantagraphics New SHE HAS NO HEAD! is up – a review of Linda Medley’s excellent tome, Castle […]

Bought the hardcover for my niece for X-Mas a while back. Read it first, and immediately wanted to buy another one for myself. Bought the new issues that came out after the collection, too. This series was one of the coolest discoveries I’ve ever stumbled across in comics. Great article, too! :)

Great review. One of your best, most professional, pieces of writing. I always meant to buy Castle Waiting, whether in comic book form or collected, but talked myself out of it (due to price mostly). I remember when Medley took over the art duties of Justice League in the 90’s. I wasn’t a fan because of my tastes at the time and the fact that I wanted Adam Hughes back. In hindsight, with some actual knowledge of cartooning, those issues are some of the best cartooning the Justice League had during the “funny” years. Ah the folly of youth. She is a great cartoonist. I only wish Castle Waiting was colored like her beautiful covers.

I read that first hardcover in the spring of 2008 (I was substitute teaching at a high school, and I checked it out of their library) and I fell right in love with it. For the first few issues, I was expecting the Sleeping Beauty story to have a twist of some kind. When I realized it was about the castle after she left, I couldn’t wait to see where the story was going. And I enjoyed every page from then on. The characters are just so much fun to hang out with. Thanks for the heads-up about the second volume. I’ll definitely read it once it’s released.

I have been a Castle Waiting fan for many years now, from back in Linda’s first self-publishing days. I absolutely love the Fantagraphics edition, and I keep recommending it. Thanks so much for your viewpoint, which meshes so well with mine.

Love this book. Have ALL the issues and paperbacks AND the HC, which is indeed very nice. How I discovered it? Wizard Magazine had a great article on it way back. Go figure. Best, Luis Jaime

I’ve been a fan of Castle Waiting since it was first self-published, and I like it so much it is one of the few books that I own in every incarnation — individual issues, initial trade paper backs, and the Fantagraphics hard cover. I try not to buy the same story in multiple formats, because I’d rather use that money to try new things. But for stuff I really love — like Castle Waiting — I don’t mind, because I feel I am supporting a creator with such a strong, and wonderful, vision.

A month or two ago, I read the hard cover, and then I went back to The Curse of Brambly Hedge graphic novel and The Lucky Road trade, to compare the presentation, chapter breaks, and the like. While the hard cover is a really nice package, it was a shock to see how much the larger print size of the earlier trades enhanced my enjoyment of the art. It is unfortunate that the newer volumes couldn’t be printed at a larger size. Plus the earlier collections had some really great supporting material, like character sheets, games, discussion guides, and more. It is too bad these couldn’t make it into the Fantagraphics volume, although I guess I can see why that happened.

But that’s just nit-picking. The art and story is absolutely top-notch, and I recommend this package to everyone I can. I had this series on my CBR list of the best series of all time, even though it (of course, alas) didn’t make the top 100 or even an alternate in the next 50.

I’ve never read it, but it looks great. Who doesn’t love fairy tales?

That little girl looks really pissed, doesn’t she?

One particular thing I really love about Castle Waiting: almost all the conflicts in it are solved by wits and compassion, there’s virtually no violence at all. Such an exceptional and lovely comic, can’t wait for vol. 2 to come out!

Am I the only one who thought the story about the convent of bearded nuns went on way too fucking long?

Volume 2 will be coming out?! (happy dance)

I’ve bought the hardback at least 4 times to give as gifts. Gooooood book.

My hardback edition is so tattered and worn from my reading it, my wife reading it, and my loaning it to everybody. I’m probably in need of a replacement copy. I’m already planning on cutting the spine off the paperback version and giving the pages to my daughter for colouring as soon as she gets old enough not to eat the crayons. We’ve been waiting for volume two for ages now. Cannot wait.

Good to know Vol. 2 will be coming out soon.

And yes, Michael, the beared lady story seemed to go on for quite awhile. It could’ve relieved some of the tedium if the audience asked a few questions during the story, but then it would’ve gone on for even LONGER.

Also Kelly, it seems like that you’re not going to get the kind of stories you’d like from “the big two”, since it’s become increasingly obvious that they’re continually pandering to an ever-shinking fan base. There are plenty of other comics out there deserving of a wider audience. One title that comes to mind that I think you’d really enjoy is Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series. The hardcover collection of her first story Sin-Eater came out years ago, and now Dark Horse’s going to (hopefully) publish some omnibus collections of the remainder of her comic.

Some people may complain about the smaller print size of these collections, but I’d argue that the smaller size helps make the books easier to read, since they fit well in the palm of the reader’s hand. Given the popularity of Manga digests, it’d be foolhardy not to publish books that don’t require a crane to lift. Otherwise, we’d be left with Cerebus-style phonebooks, which are intimidating as hell to read.

Castle Waiting is part of a certain… thing for me. :)

Once upon a time, a friend and comic store owner in Calgary named Mike Moynahan convinced me to give a book called Madman a try.

Later, I got to spend some time with Mike and Laura Allred and Mike told me to try a new book (at the time) called Bone.

I later contacted Jeff Smith, told him about this, and he recommended Castle Waiting.

3 for 3 so far.

I think it might be time to contact Linda Medley.

Another comic that’s been on my list for so long that I almost forgot about it. The hardcover collection came out about the same time I got back into comics and I remember folks being super excited about it and I always meant to pick it up. Well, I just ordered it.

Thanks for, yet again, with helping supplying me with new comics goodness.

Holy cow there’s going to be a volume 2 ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Kelly, have you read ‘Amy Unbounded’?

God, i just re-read this book and fell in love with Simon all over again <3 The characters are so sweet and so interesting, even when Ms Medley is describing something boring, she takes it and makes it magical (such as when Jain is trying to sleep and hears the snoring from upstairs).

I will buy the 2nd book immediately after it comes out. I'll probably even import it since things take so long to get to NZ…

And please let Jain and Simon be together… *sigh*

Still making my way through your old posts. :) Thanks for mentioning that Volume 2 is due in December, I just ordered it!

It’s out now! Yay! Go buy!

This is a wonderful work of art, most definitely. I’ve enjoyed the series for years. However, it seems that Fantagraphics managed to muck up their relationship with Medley and ended up taking her name off of the second edition.

I’ve bought all of these as floppies, although I do own the first collected editions of the series (one in softcover by Olio and the first hardback, as indicated above). My eldest daughter devoured it and the second one will be equally likely to upon coming of age.

I’m a little disconcerted that I haven’t seen her work in more than a year and I hope that she recovers to bring us the further adventures of Jain, Peace, Rackham, Chess and the whole gang. We miss you, Linda!!!

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