by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson, best known for his blockbuster graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, has returned with a serialized comic book called Ginseng Roots, which is about his childhood growing up in Marathon Wisconsin, the one-time centre of American ginseng production.
As a kid, Craig and his brother Phil worked through the summers alongside their mother, picking weeds and caring for ginseng plants on large farms that specialized in the delicate and lucrative root. As we learn about how this labor shaped him, we also learn a great deal about the root itself, its needs, and some of the folklore and history that surrounds it. We also see how the Thompson boys’ love of comic books helped motivate them to work in difficult conditions (they calculate their wages in number of comics they can buy per hour).
This is a very solid piece of work, beautifully illustrated and coloured in grey tones with red highlights. The book itself is printed on newsprint, giving it a real old-school feel, but is also beautifully drawn.
This series is expected to last for twelve issues, which is interesting to me because this first one feels so complete. I’m not sure where Thompson intends to go with this from here, but I can see a wealth of potential, considering how unique the ginseng industry was (and probably still is), with its difficult manual labour, its great potential to create millionaire farmers, and the intricacies of interacting with a largely Asian market in 1980s middle America.
I like that this book is going to be serialized, and while that is going to make it more expensive than a one-off graphic novel would be (despite what the photo says, this issue’s cover price is $5), it will make the individual issues something to be treasured.
by Hartley Lin
Pope Hats is one of those books that I most associate with TCAF, the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, as I think I’ve bought every issue so far at the festival. Much of Pope Hats’s previous issues were recently collected in the graphic novel Young Frances, and the book’s creator, recently did away with his pen name, Ethan Rilly, and embraced his own name, Hartley Lin.
This latest issue is a departure from previous ones. This issue is much more autobiographical, as Lin muses on becoming a father, moving, finding his relationships with old friends changing, and generally moving into a new stage of his life.
Lin is Canada’s Adrian Tomine, and his stories share a similar insight into humanity. This issue’s shorter strips don’t allow the space to really dig into and explore any one topic, but the overall effect of reading this issue forms a gestalt image of where Lin is in life.
This was another solid issue in this series.
More Free Comic Book Day Offerings:
Animosity Tales #1 – I’ve heard good things about Animosity, the series about what happens to the world after all animals develop human-level reasoning and communication skills. This issue, about a college student who decides to save a pet store full of fish by taking them all to a swamp lacks some much-needed internal logic, but is entertaining. I’m not sure it’s convinced me to check out the regular title though.
Captain Canuck – I think that Chapterhouse might win the award for the most confusing offering of the year. The first half of this comic has a pretty typically bland Captain Canuck story (or at least the beginning of one) after a recap of his entire modern history, but then it’s followed by a bunch of one or two-page strips showcasing a bunch of heroes who aren’t named, by various creative teams that are credited, but because the pages aren’t numbered, are hard to identify. I’m not even sure that Chapterhouse is publishing anymore (it’s been ages since we’ve seen any new Pitiful Human-Lizard, the only book I’ve been buying from them).
Star Wars Adventures – This is an acceptable all-ages story about Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s fine, but I’ll stick with the Marvel Star Wars stuff, thanks.
Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale – I think it’s cool that DC is producing more young adult graphic novels. The notion of Selina Kyle being an unhappy kid who is kind of friends with Bruce Wayne in high school is weird, but if you read this as a standalone project, it’s not bad, and Isaac Goodhart’s art is very nice.
Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:
Batman and the Outsiders #1
Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #6
Detective Comics #1003
War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1
Wonder Woman #70
Infinity Wars #6 & Infinity Wars: ∞ #1 – At the end of it all, I really don’t see what the Infinity Wars event, and the massive Countdown to it, was supposed to accomplish. The stakes never seemed very high (even when the universe got Infinity Warped), and even the main character death didn’t seem very special. I think I’m done with Gerry Duggan at Marvel; past his initial run on Deadpool, where he had a co-writer, I haven’t enjoyed his work. I figured that reading these last couple of issues would help me understand why everyone is so down on Rocket in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series, but either that’s a story that hasn’t been revealed yet, or it happened in the Fallen Guardian one-off that came out of this, in which case I have to revisit this nonsense one last time.
The Wild Storm #16-20 – It’s still really cool to see how Warren Ellis has redesigned many of the characters that helped make his career, but at the same time, with only four issues remaining in this series, he’s still introducing new elements and making it seem like the story is just getting underway. Jon Davis-Hunt’s art is spectacular, and the book is a smooth read, but it’s not gone too far from its first issues, and that kind of bothers me.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Dry County: A Lou Rossi Novel – I was intrigued by the first Rich Tommaso comic I ever read – Dark Corridor – and was pleased to find that Image has reprinted some of his earlier work. Dry County starts off pretty interestingly. A cartoonist in Florida meets a new girl, and is interested in her, but then she gets kidnapped and he feels compelled to be the one that finds her. Along the way, the story sprawls a little too much, and it’s never really clear why Lou views himself as the type of person who can handle events like this, instead of going against the kidnapper’s wishes and getting the police involved. What I like about this book is Tommaso’s clean art, and the strong sense of place he gives the story.
Harrow County Vol. 5: Abandoned – I enjoy this series, but wish that the trades were a little longer and meatier. Half of this one is drawn by Carla Speed McNeil, and the other half by Tyler Crook, and I’m not sure which half I prefer. Both are masterful artists. We learn the story of the creature that’s been haunting the woods around Harrow County, the truth about Emmy’s origins, and see what happens when hunters from outside come to the area. It’s all good, but over in a hurry.