Friday, June 1, 2012

Castle Waiting and Beasts of Burden: Comics Don’t Have to Be Dark to Be Good

Sometimes I feel like books and comics have to be filled with unhappy characters with depressing problems in order to be considered serious adult literature by whoever decides these things. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Yes, friends, it is possible for comics to have a buoyant tone, a happy ending, and cute animals and still be excellent works of art and literature. And two books I recently read, Castle Waiting by Linda Medley and Beasts of Burden written by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson, are excellent examples.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

What it’s about:
First published in comic form in 1997, Castle Waiting is a collection of alternate fairy tales that is sly, original, and wonderfully feminist. The book opens with the Sleeping Beauty story, but in this version, Beauty takes off with her prince as soon as he wakes her, leaving the inhabitants of the castle and its surrounding town, and the three fairies who blessed her at birth, at a loss as to what to do with the rest of their lives. They end up founding Castle Waiting, a refuge for anyone in need. The stories of the people (and animals) who live there, and how they came to Castle Waiting, form the meat of the comic. The art, which is on the cartoony side of the spectrum, is impeccable, with incredible characterization and expression. And the light tone makes it a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

A little darkness can be fun too:
If you like Castle Waiting and you want to try something a little more adult, definitely check out Fables created by Bill Willingham, a long-running series (still going!) about fairy tale characters living in Manhattan.

Beasts of Burden written by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson

What it’s about:
A group of dogs (including a pug, a beagle, and a husky), and one cat, patrol their town, Burden Hill, protecting it from supernatural forces. The first comic opens with three members of the team howling to summon a wise dog—a sheepdog trained in magic—to help their friend, whose doghouse is haunted. As the supernatural forces in Burden Hill grow more dangerous, the pack must work together and be brave to defend their home from witches, zombie dogs, and evil rats. The art is warm and painterly, adding to the general impression that these dogs are wonderful and would be your best friends if only they were real (and you could talk to dogs).

A little darkness can be fun too:
If you like Beasts of Burden but you want to try something about animals that is REALLY SAD (but also with stupendous art and writing), check out WE3 written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely, and Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines.

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