Veteran comics creator Linda Medley is a veritable jack of all trades: Her many and varied titles in the world of comics have included writer, penciller, colorist and story editor. She’s also no stranger to San Diego’s Comic-Con International. She first made the pilgrimage in 1980 as nothing more than a fan. And the “Spotlight on Linda Medley” panel at this year’s Comic-Con was as much a retrospective on everything she’s accomplished to date in the medium as it was a celebration of her triumphant return to comics.
Perhaps best known for the fan-favorite “Castle Waiting,” Medley discontinued the series in 2002 after issue 16. She explained that going through a rash of publishers, and failing twice as a self-publisher, compelled her to quit the industry. She had also developed a crippling tendonitis, which made it nigh impossible for her to produce artwork. But in the gap between ’02 and her return to comics towards the end of last year, Medley has triumphed over her tendonitis, and sunk her teeth into a new writing project which helped her get over the frustrating experience that was “Castle Waiting.”
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Medley summed up “Castle Waiting” in just a few words: “What happens after happily ever after?” In short, it is a reconstruction of classic fairy tales. When asked why she felt the need to reconstruct the stories, Medley explained that these types of fables were designed to “educate and entertain the culture of the time.” It is her hope that by updating the stories so that they apply to the culture of today, they won’t be relegated to mere nostalgia.
And after getting some distance from the series, Medley has enthusiastically picked up where she left off. In addition to a new hardcover edition of “Castle Waiting,” collecting the first three story arcs, the new issue of the series, continuing the “Interiors” story arc begun in issues 15 and 16, it debuted at Comic-Con this past Friday.
The project that reinvigorated Medley during her hiatus is a new comic series based on underused characters in L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” stories (not the HBO prison drama, as the moderator suggested in jest). Ozma (the queen of Oz), Ev (the land beyond the deadly desert) and the Gnome King are just of few of the parts of Baum’s mythology that she hopes to expand upon.
Friend, colleague and self-ascribed protégé Jim Ottaviani moderated the panel (in Gary Groth’s stead). Ottaviani has been lucky enough to see some of the 300 odd pages of as yet unpublished “Oz” material that Medley has produced. He notes that her newer work boasts a marked change in page layouts and panel construction, and he asked Medley to expound on the form and function of the new storytelling method. Linda explained that she’d started using fewer panels per page, making the work more friendly for the collected editions. Ottaviani also recalled that Medley had once recommended a book called “The Five Scenes of Cinematography.” But on this subject, Medley was quick to add the caveat that “the rules of film are not always going to apply to the printed page.” She does, however, believe that since the modern audience has been brought up on film and television, static comic panels are forced to find a way to convey motion to keep pace with what people are accustomed to seeing. That being said, Medley admitted that, as an audience, it takes more effort to interpret the narrative in comics than it does in film. And as far as she is concerned, making the reader do the work makes the experience all the more engaging.
Medley has an interesting take on the writer/artist relationship. “As an artist,” she explained, “it is your job to do what the writer wants.” She encourages writers to ask more of their artists, and to “never, ever waste the pictures.” She cited Alan Moore as an extreme example, who has been known to devote an entire page of a comic manuscript to the description of a single panel.
On the other hand, an accomplished artist herself, Medley also recounted a dark era of her career working as the penciller on an unnamed Vertigo title with a writer (who also remained nameless) whose work she did not hold in the highest regard. To make the experience bearable, she endeavored to infuse as much characterization as she could into the drawings themselves. Years later, in telling this story to a contemporary Vertigo editor, the editor recalled the artistic flourishes clear as day. And he was shocked to learn that Medley was the brainchild, because, in his words, “we thought that was the only thing the writer was doing right.” She took this as an affirmation that people really do notice the little details.
“I see drawing comics as a performance art,” Medley said. And her approach to creating them, both as a writer and an artist, is decidedly nonlinear. She’ll break an entire project into its component scenes and pick and choose which one she’s in the mood to work on at any given moment. “It’s actually acting. I can play a 90 year old man. Angelina Jolie can’t do that.”
Medley’s entire family was in attendance at the panel, and took a few moments out of the Q&A to weigh in on Linda’s career. They too recalled her journey from convention attendee to honored guest. And they couldn’t be prouder of what she has accomplished.
Fantagraphics is currently publishing Medley’s new run on “Castle Waiting,” and her “Oz” stories are still looking for a home.