I have a confession to make. Back when I owned a comic shop, I used to recommend Castle Waiting to my customers, telling them it was a charming fantasy series they would really enjoy. But in truth, I had never read it. I was just repeating what I had heard other enthusiastic customers say about the series. But I had always wanted to read Castle Waiting. I had always intended to. Now — a good decade later and thanks to Fantagraphics — I finally did.
And you know what? I found it is a charming fantasy series that I really enjoyed.
Castle Waiting is a seriously good comic book. It is whimsical, unexpected, packed with a deep knowledge of folklore and fairytales, irreverent, interesting and a whole lot of other adjectives that add up to something great. And once you pick it up, you just can't put it down. I would rank it up there with Bone in terms of just being a sheer delight to read.
The series starts out ostensibly as a sort of fairy tale riff on the B-characters of fairy tales. The titular Castle Waiting is the home of Sleeping Beauty. All good and well that the fairy tale princess got to run off with her handsome prince, but what about all of the villagers and random folk forced to join her in her hundred-year snooze? But as quickly as that plotline is developed, it is tossed aside in favor of exploring the unique world of Castle Waiting, a place where humans a magical animals freely interact, and there is an entire order of bearded lady nuns.
If you are a fairy tale fan, Linda Medley leaves all sorts of breadcrumbs for you to follow. The leader of Castle Waiting is a stork-headed man named Rackham (yes, yes…), a plague doctor called Dr. Fell (I do not love thee, Doctor Fell!) and a kind-hearted, simple man-child named Simon (yes, yes…). Medley has a scholarly background in fairy tales, and she liberally sprinkles the pages of Castle Waiting with famous characters, although usually hidden in the crowd scenes for you to pick out. It's a lot of fun.
Much of the praise (including the back cover quote) refers to Castle Waiting as being feminist, but I don't know. Maybe? Maybe it was when it first came out, and comics staring female protagonist done in this style were rare. But I honestly don't see that as its appeal. I'm a 40-year old guy, and I don't really see gender issues coming into play here — Castle Waiting is just a great comic, with interesting characters and an addictive story for everyone who likes charm and wit and fantasy.
The only real criticism I have about Castle Waiting is that it is sporadic. Medley self-published the series, and poor sales forced her to cancel the series a couple of times, although she returned to it. This left a disjointed storyline. In this first collection, we spend half of the time with Lady Jain, the Countess of Carabas (Yes, yes…) and her green-skinned, bat-faced baby, father unknown. Then suddenly, at about the midway point, the story veers off into Sister Peace and her Order the Soliciines that consists entirely of bearded ladies. They are both great stories, but I think Medley lost site of who's story she was trying to tell. The sidebar is a bit overlong.
I will definitely pick up the second volume of Castle Waiting when it is released. Fantagraphics not only gave the series a new lease on life, but also cooked up some new issues. I am hoping for some conclusion in Volume 2, but either way I know I won't be able to put it down once I pick it up. Just like Volume 1.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.