After five years of writing “Palmer’s Picks” for Wizard, I began to notice a pattern to the way most of these columns would come together. If I was going to cover a self-published comic, for example, an enterprising cartoonist would reach out to me with an advance preview of their new venture a few months before it was set to premiere. I would call them up for an interview, write my column, and voilà, there would be a nice piece of free promotion for said cartoonist in a nationally-distributed magazine. That’s pretty much how things went down when Linda Medley launched her fairy tale-inspired series Castle Waiting. But that’s where things stopped being simple for this comic.
To say that Castle Waiting has had a convoluted publishing history would be an understatement. Let’s see if I can summarize things. Bear with me, this is going to take a little bit of explaining:
- Castle Waiting: The Curse of Brambly Hedge, the debut graphic novel, was self-published by Medley in 1996 with an assist from a grant from the Xeric Foundation. (A revised second edition was released in 1999, and a third edition in 2002.)
- This was followed by the first seven-issue Castle Waiting series, again self-published by Medley’s Olio in 1997-98.
- In place of issue 8, Medley published Castle Waiting: The Hiatus Issue to announce that she was putting the series on hold due to low sales. The comic included sketches and various background material from the series but did not contain any part of the continuing story.
- Jeff Smith‘s Cartoon Books swooped in and relaunched Castle Waiting in the summer of 2000 with a brand new issue #1 and Castle Waiting: The Lucky Road, a trade paperback collecting the previous self-published comics. The series lasted four issues.
- Medley returned to self-publishing in 2001 with issue #12. Confused? The Cartoon Books issues added to the original run made for 11 issues. The comic continued until issue 16 in 2003. (A second trade paperback collection was announced but never published, but Medley did publish an Olio edition of The Lucky Road.)
- Castle Waiting returned once again in 2006, this time courtesy of Fantagraphics. They published a graphic novel that included Brambly Hedge and the first 14 issues in a hardcover edition tailored for the burgeoning bookstore market.
- Fantagraphics also launched a new Castle Waiting comic, the first issue of which reprinted the final two issues of the previous series along with new material. This series ran for 15 issues before going on hiatus in 2009 right in the middle of a story arc.
- A hardcover collection, Castle Waiting Volume 2, was published in 2010 to meet the demand another bookstore-ready graphic novel but as the comic series was unfinished, the book didn’t really have an ending. (Interestingly, Medley’s name did not appear on the cover, only on a small sticker on the back cover and in the copyright notice inside the book.)
- Medley returned to the Castle Waiting comic series in 2012 for three more issues to finish out the incomplete story. Fantagraphics reissued Volume 2 as the “Definitive Edition” in 2013 with the entire story and a proper ending.
Whew! So why recount all of this in such excruciating detail? Well, I think it illustrates a few interesting points. First, the comic book business was completely broken in the mid- to late-’90s when Medley was self-publishing Castle Waiting. I’m not privy to all of the behind-the-scenes explanations for Medley’s publishing difficulties, but it’s clear that the market conditions at the beginning of the decade that helped support comics that shared qualities with Castle Waiting—like Bone and Strangers in Paradise—were completely gone.
But the second, and I think more important, point is that in this post-2000 comic book “promised land” that we are currently enjoying, it really doesn’t matter how a serialized comic story is published as long as it makes for a decent graphic novel. As you can plainly see from the rocky road outlined above, Castle Waiting took a particularly tangled path to finally enter the bookstore market, but that all fades away once you crack the cover of one of the collections and find a well-crafted comic story inside. Thanks to the graphic novel collections, Castle Waiting has found new fans and critical acclaim.
If you’re inclined to keep up with Medley’s current work, you’ll be pleased to know that she’s working away at Castle Waiting Volume 3, which will be the first in the series to be published in full color. You can see what she’s up to and support her work by visiting her Patreon.
Storming the Castle
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Wanna hear a good fairy tale? Once upon a time, a self-publishing comic creator concocted a title that departed from superheroes, abandoned complex artwork and confusing storytelling techniques, and was just plain fun and accessible to new readers. Sound like a bedtime story? It could be. Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, a humorous fantasy story in the vein of the cult-favorite film “The Princess Bride” and the musical “Into the Woods,” is a dream come true: a new member in the very exclusive club of “reader-friendly” comics. And its no myth that Castle Waiting might have what it takes for mass appeal.
Medley, a 32-year-old California resident, has worked in mainstream comics as both penciller and inker (DC Comics’ Justice League America and Doom Patrol), painter (Vertigo’s Endless Gallery and TSR’s Dragon magazine), and colorist (Green Lantern and Batman and Robin Adventures), before self-publishing the introductory graphic novel Castle Waiting: The Curse of Brambly Hedge last October. With such a varied career, it’s surprising to hear that Castle Waiting marks Medley’s first plunge into comic book writing. “I had actually thought that when I first started, I’d have to hire a writer, but this is so much my own thing that it’s impossible to give it to someone else,” Medley claims as she prepares for the February launch of a regular Castle Waiting series. “But I couldn’t write anything else. If DC were to call up and say, ‘Hey, would you like to write Green Lantern?’ or something, I don’t think I could do that! I know the Castle story and characters so well that it writes itself. I’m not really a writer. I’m an artist—and I just happen to have a story to tell.”
Regardless of whether Medley considers herself a writer or not, Castle Waiting is quite an enjoyable comic. She has created a delightful cast based on background characters from various fairy tales (such as “Rumpelstiltskin” or “Sleeping Beauty”) that live and breathe well past their appearances on the comic book page. There’s also just the right amount of humor in Castle Waiting. It’s enough to keep you entertained, but it never gets in the way of the story by being outrageous or overpowering. And the whole package is held together by Medley’s bold and precise cartooning.
Perhaps the boldness of Medley’s artwork is due in part to her preference to draw at the small page size of 8″ x 10.” “I’ve always been uncomfortable working on big 10″ x 15″ comic book pages [the industry standard]. Smaller is easier for me. When I was a kid, I always drew on typing paper or binder paper, and I just got used to it. I went to art school, where they want you to draw on these big newsprint pads, and I just couldn’t do it. Now, I do all my roughs on binder paper.”
The illustration of Castle Waiting isn’t the only aspect that’s unconventional. Medley, who has illustrated many children’s books and has a sizable collection of her own, spent a great deal of time researching book design and publishing to create a graphic novel that would appeal to non-comic book readers. One of the lessons she learned is that many people are turned off by hand-lettered comics and prefer to read type. “I thought it looked funny to typeset [Castle Waiting], but I went ahead and did it, and people said it’s very easy to read now. The whole deal, with the graphic novel especially, was to have something that was a tool that could be used to appeal to ‘civilians.’ If you want people to pick up your book, then you’ve got to make it easy for them to read.”
Medley envisions a long story for Castle Waiting, so it’s important that the series is not only easy to read, but accessible at just about any point. She has centered the series around the castle itself, which leaves her free to explore many different characters and situations throughout the course of her comic without losing readers. The series starts with the Brambly Hedge graphic novel, which can also be picked up by new readers at any point in the series to get a feel for the comic. The regular series is also easy to follow because it begins with a story that does not directly tie into the graphic novel and is centered around one character, Lady Jain, and her decision to visit the castle. The initial issues of the comic will reveal who Lady Jain is and why she left home to look for the castle, before the story changes to an ensemble cast.
Here’s hoping that Castle Waiting quickly finds a receptive audience, be it within the comic industry or somewhere outside. Medley is already bubbling over with ideas for her comic—and for a few more comics as well. “A lot of people told me how much they liked the witch characters in the graphic novel, so I’ve been working on Twelve Witches, a spinoff series based on them,” says Medley. “It would be a children’s comic, since Castle is really aimed at an older audience. It’s in a planning state right now. With the market so depressed, the idea of starting a spinoff series when I’ve barely started the original is kind of scary.”
Tom Palmer Jr., who will definitely, regret not writing a writer’s bio this month, likes to be called “Little Bo Peep” by his sheep pals.
FYI: The ongoing Castle Waiting series begins in February, so go bug your local comic shop now. If you can’t find it anywhere, drop a line to Olio,
P.O. Box 1012, Petaluma, CA 94953-1012. Copies of the introductory graphic novel, The Curse of Brambly Hedge, are also still available for $5.95 (plus $1 for postage) from the same address.
Linda Medley’s Recommended Reading
“I got a lot of comics in San Diego last summer, and my favorite was Innocent Bystander from Gary Sassaman and Ollie Ollie! Oxen Free Press. It’s a collection of slice-of-life vignettes, many of them told in a ‘ViewMaster’ style, a la Rick Geary [whose credits include The Mask children’s books Night Before Christmask, Summer Vacation and School Spirits]. Innocent Bystander is funny, sappy and perfect for anyone over 30 who thinks too much. It’s available from Gary at
1212 Academy Ave. #2, Pittsburgh, PA 15228. For just $5, he’ll send you both #1 and #2. Such a deal!”
I Had a Dream: If there’s one drawback to the self-publishing explosion of the last few years, it’s that it’s become almost impossible to keep track of all of the new comics that regularly start up. Case in point Steven Gilbert‘s I Had a Dream, which began publication in the summer of ’95. The sixth and final issue of this dream-inspired series was released this past October, and I’m only getting around to mentioning it now! But just because I’m slow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out this conic. Gilbert delineates some very strange dreams through a dense black-and-white style in the almost wordless main story of every issue, and frequently backs these up with short autobiographical strips (“Drugs I Took at Lollapalooza 1994” and “Denizens of the Comic Shop,” for example) that show off his dark humor. You can still get all six issues direct from the publisher for $2.95 each (plus $1 postage) by writing to King Ink,
262 Patterson St., Newmarket, Ontario, Canada L3V 3L8. Gilbert also plans to continue publishing a series of one-shots, the first of which, titled Gardenback, will be released in March.
Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller: Tired of crappy comics that don’t give you enough bang for your buck? Then why not pick up Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller? Windsor-Smith is at the peak of his form with the three ongoing stories, “The Paradoxman,” “The Freebooters” and “Young Gods,” he’s created for this oversized full-color comic. Once you open this book, it’s impossible not to get lost in the beautiful art and entertaining (and sometimes hilarious) stories. Storyteller will take you back to when comics were fun to read. You should be able to find Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller at any comic store, but you can contact Dark Horse Comics at 10956 SE Main St., Milwaukie, OR 97222 or call
(800) 862-0052 for more info.