Hello, dear readers. Welcome back to another installment! Going to be fewer recommendations today just because my schedule has been chaotic. If you’re wondering just how much so, here’s a current photo of me.
Anyway, today I’ve got two comics that both fall into the fantasy genre, but in distinctively unique ways as you shall see!
Root & Branch
This high fantasy series comes from webcomic creator Pink Pitcher about a young elf named Ariana on a quest to find the Tree of Life, all while exploring unfamiliar lands and learning about human culture. The webcomic itself is about four books in, but I started reading Root & Branch via printed collections of Book One and Two, which I would like to thank Pink Pitcher for sending me.
Now, I went into Root & Branch fully expecting all that is atypical of the high fantasy genre. Castles, taverns, knights, dragons, swords & sorcery. You know, the works. Maybe with a side of fries, too. While Root & Branch certainly has the look and feel of high fantasy, it takes a refreshing approach. Yes, Ariana is a badass protagonist on a quest to seek a very important McGuffin, but it’s not as urgent as, say, returning the One Ring to Mordor. Instead, there are a lot of sideways taken on her journey that focus on more slice-of-life moments.
Most of these involve meeting humans. The humans of this world aren’t used to Fae folk, not that they don’t believe in these mystical beings. It’s just so rare for one to venture out into human lands. As a result, Ariana’s social encounters are, shall we say, a mixed bag. Sometimes, they turn into lighthearted affairs like when she meets a group of loggers led by moustache connoisseur and all-around good guy Douglas. She sticks around and even helps with a few problems they have using her magic. Yes, there are those in the group that fear her, but Douglas keeps them in line. More importantly, it’s through this interaction that Ariana begins to learn more about humans. She learns to speak their language (although in a hilariously broken way), their customs and believes, and how they perform daily tasks. In return, the loggers learn a little about elves and come to realize that there is nothing to fear about them. Boy, what a heart-warming case of learning to look pass differences!
Unfortunately, there are also bad interactions. One of those being when Ariana shows up in a town and immediately draws hostility when a simple trick is perceived as witchcraft. This soon erupts into a chase, and Ariana barely gets away unscathed. At it’s heart, Roots & Branch is a coming of age story, and with that comes the hardest lesson of all: The world is full of danger. In Book One, Ariana isn’t really phased because nothing bad happens to her. By Book Two though, she goes through enough to leave a negative impact. How that affects both her personality and worldview is yet to be seen, but one can only assume that her journey will grow harder and harder.
Now, this doesn’t make Root & Branch a gloomy, death-of-innocence narrative. Far from it! Ariana is a highly likeable character and has many lighthearted moments with other characters, from sharing stories in a mess hall to playing music around a campfire. My favorite scenes are comedic ones, such as a running joke where Ariana, nature-loving hippy elf that she is, walks around in the nude which creates awkward moments for the stuffy humans. When something awful does occur, Ariana strives to learn from or, at the very least, persevere through it. Granted, that tactic isn’t always going to work for her, but it does show how strong and persistent of a protagonist she is.
If you go into reading Root & Branch expecting detailed world-building with lots of epic battles, you’ll probably be disappointed. Like I said, the series reads more like a coming-of-age story. There are battles, but, for the most part, consist of small-scale brawls. The focus is on relatable, slice-of-life moments. Going on a trip, seeing new places, meeting new people, and making new memories. I mean, there is a larger narrative about how humanity’s encroachment on nature is having a negative impact on the world and finding the Tree of Life might be the only solution to fix things. Right now, it’s a rather nebulous plot point. I will admit that there is a point where the free-flowing narrative starts getting mundane. Fortunately, by the end of Book Two, the stakes in Ariana’s journey are raised by a great plot twist, so it looks like more is going to be happening soon.
So, I just wrote an essay’s worth about the plot, but what about the art? Simply put, I really like it! The coloring is done with watercolors as opposed to digital. I’m a huge fan of watercolors because, quite frankly, I think it leads to more interesting possibilities for comics. I can’t say that Pink Pitcher is on the same experimental level as Dustin Nguyen or Niina Eveliina , but she does create a crisp, naturalistic aesthetic that fits well with the setting.
In large part, this is accomplished by Pitcher’s panel layouts. There are no signs of any nine-panel grids, and even five panels rarity. Instead. Most of the panels are extremely wide and give you a full scale of the environment and characters’ placement in it, which makes the reading experience much more immersive. The artwork isn’t perfect. Both anatomy and facial expressions can be stiff at times. However, each character is very distinct and recognizable thanks to Pitcher’s detailed fashion design which are highly accurate to the time period, far as I know.
All in all, Roots & Branch is a breezy, enjoyable comic with some great watercolor art. If you’re looking for a fantasy story that takes a more character-focused approach, then I think you’ll find what you’re looking for here!
I’ve been a fan of Isabel Greenberg ever since I read her graphic novel The One Hundred Nights of Hero, a wonderful feminist retelling of Arabian Nights. I love the engaging story, lovable characters, and unique mythology at the foundation of it all. Making this fantastic story come to life is her equally wonderful art, a woodcut style that invokes a mystical. These outstanding qualities Greenberg brings equally, if not better, to her newest project, Glass Town.
Glass Town is a meta historical fiction comic about the literary titans, the Bronte Sisters, and the imaginary world they created together with their brother, Branwell. We follow the sisters from childhood to adulthood. What follows is a story about siblings creating a fantasy world of their own to escape their sad, mundane lives but soon reflects it. Charlotte Bronte serves as the narrator and accommpanied by one of the fictional characters from Glass Town, a sly and silver-tongued noble man named Charles Wellesley.
Now, keep in mind that while the narrative is heavily inspired by the facts concerning the Bronte sisters’ lives, Greenberg takes a lot of liberties to blur the lines between reality and fiction. Half of the scenes take place in the real world, the other half in Glass Town, and the two universes eventually collide. I don’t want to give anything away, but Glass Town, but let’s just call it a wardrobe scenario.
Again, the graphic novel is not a straightforward biopic. If anything, it’s more of a commentary on the nature between reality and fiction. If you’re worried that Glass Town is less of a story and more of a tedious diatribe, fear not! The focus is on the characters. Whatever commentary there is to be had, that’s for you the reader to think about. The story remains a magical journey through the wonder of childhood, the disillusionment of adulthood, and the eventual peace made at the end.
Greenberg’s art style fits perfectly here. While in The One Hundred Nights of Hero, it captured the mythical qualities of the setting, for Glass Town it invokes ethereal nature of childhood fantasy. You’ll probably find a lot of comparisons to picture books. It’s an apt given that there are no boundaries concerning probability, proportion, consistency, etc. Imagination rolls freely, events that occur are accepted without doubt. The most important thing is that you feel the magic.
Did I just type “feel the magic”. Eh, well at least it’s not the Magic Mike kind of feeling.
When it comes to fantasy, the most important elements for me are not realism. Absorb me into the world, let me experience a sense of wonder above all else! Both Root & Branch and Glass Town are excellent at this task, in their own unique ways. I would highly recommend both to anyone interested in unique fantasy comics.
Read Root & Branch
Read Glass Town