She Has No Head! - Linda Medley's Castle Waiting Volume II

Castle Waiting Volume II.  Linda Medley (writer/artist). Fantagraphics. Black & White. Hardcover.  375 pages. $29.99

The true star of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, and it should be obvious from the title, is the Castle.  It’s as large if not a larger a presence than any of the other wonderful characters in Medley’s ensemble piece, and it’s really the heart and soul that draws them all together.  In fact, the characters really have nothing binding them together except the castle and the community that it creates.  And so it’s fitting that Castle Waiting Volume II continues to and I would say expands upon the Castle as one of the primary characters, exploring it not just figuratively and metaphorically, but quite literally.  In Volume II, in addition most of the same wonderful characters from Volume I we also get two new characters - Dayne and Tolly - who are Hammerlings (dwarves) and brothers of Henry/Loki.  Additionally in this volume we get a much awaited peek into Jain's past - though don't expect everything to be revealed as Medley continues to play much of Jain's story close to the vest.

Henry/Loki, Dayne, and Tolly's world is explored in an interesting way in that it is never really outright explained, but just alluded to - which further expands Medley’s world in a fascinating way - very matter of factly, as if we will never fully explore all the corners of her world - hinting at just how much is out there still that will never even make it to the page.  Of course given the mystery and minor controversy surrounding this collection of her Castle Waiting from Fantagraphics (i.e. that her name has been removed from the volume, apparently by choice) one has to wonder how much more of that world we WILL actually get to see.  Medley is hard to find - well, if you’re as crappy and free time deficient a detective as I am – i.e. I couldn’t find a working email address for her, and all websites I found relating to her were defunct or under construction and articles were slim as well.  But if history is any indication (she also seems to have had a professional falling out at some point with Cartoon Books) regardless of fallouts and hiatuses Medley will rise up phoenix-like and eventually return to Castle Waiting, which will be good news for everyone.  I know for me personally, Castle Waiting has been one of the most joyous comics discoveries for me of the last couple years.

As an outsider (and ignoring rumors of romantic entanglements) the only guess I can hazard at deterioration between Medley and Fantagraphics (because this volume is just as beautiful and deserving of a spot on your bookshelf as volume 1) is that the story here does end rather abruptly…it doesn’t even necessarily feel like the end of an issue, let alone a hardcover volume.  I don’t understand why they would do that…too many pages for a reasonable sized volume?  Costs rising too much to bundle together?  Delays in getting out a more "satisfying" ending?  Medley wasn’t finished and they had a hard publication date?  Could be anything.  I just hope it’s something that doesn’t mean the end of Castle Waiting for Medley (or more selfishly for me).

I hesitated in writing about Castle Waiting (as I did when I included Medley on my 20 Favorite Female Comics Creators of 2010) because I don’t want to promote the work if Medley isn’t on board in some way, but reading it, except for the ending I can’t imagine what she could be displeased with as it is utterly delightful, and I felt I just had to talk about it for those that still might not know what they’re missing.

And if you’re not reading it, you’re missing a lot.

For example, despite this volume clocking in at 375 pages I read the whole thing in one sitting…and enjoyed every freaking second of it.  I laughed repeatedly and more often than not was caught just smiling like an idiot as I read about these beautifully crafted characters and their completely boring but somehow also completely fascinating lives.  It doesn’t hurt that Medley is truly an incredible illustrator.  She’s somehow wildly consistent while at the same time getting better and better with every issue…which I don’t quite understand but it’s obvious in looking at her work.  It looks cohesive and incredibly tight, yet I love it more with every page turn.

Medley’s work, as I discussed in my review of Castle Waiting Volume I last year, is incredibly female friendly in that it portrays a wide variety of both male and female characters, with a wide variety of body types, personalities, and in especially nice fashion for a fairy tale, plenty of characters that aren’t even human.  I feel Medley’s work from a general point of view is naturally interesting for women in that it has a fairy tale quality that is not off-putting the way things like superheroes can be…men and women are both raised on fairy tales fairly equally as children I think, and so it naturally feels inclusive.  For me, eventually fairy tales became frustrating with their happy endings and princesses marrying princes and not doing much else and so I turned to a variety of other things, including superheroes, where sometimes girls and women got to do awesome stuff (and sometimes not) but I think maybe in general girls stay with fairy tales longer (what else do we have as backup for the massive Disney Princess franchise?) while boys move on to a lot of other things – oft times superheroes.  None of this should imply that men won’t love Castle Waiting as much as women – I think there’s something there for everyone regardless of gender, but I think it’s particularly interesting for women - those who do or don’t read comics regularly – as a nice grown up and less restricting way to continue loving fairy tales.  Medley is not hemmed in by any of the restrictions of the fairy tales I read growing up that eventually bored me so much.  She is unrestrained in her exploration of fairy tales and character and her stories have a decidedly feminist bent if only in the fact that everyone is equal and that nobody has to be married off, unless that happens to suit them.

It’s all quite revolutionary really.  How I wish this had been around when I was a teenager…how it might have opened my mind to all the storytelling opportunities that are out there…and how it could have helped reinforce that everything I wanted to be and do, was not so strange after all - because it was right there on the page in Medley’s characters – doing and being whatever they wanted.

Pound for pound I probably prefer Volume I to Volume II, in part due to the abrupt and frustrating ending, and in part due to just preferring some of the larger stories and mysteries of Volume I to those presented in Volume II, but for the most part I’d say they are very equal and consistent works – entertaining and beautiful and a really wonderful fresh take on fairy tales.

Castle Waiting is available in two gorgeous hardcover editions - Volume I, and Volume II from Fantagraphics.  You can find Castle Waiting in bookstores and comic stores, online, and directly through Fantagraphics.

**She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female friendly comics and graphic novels” for future columns on CSBG.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.**

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