*Castle Waiting — Best of 2006

This handsome hardcover collects (if I’ve gotten this right), The Curse of Brambly Hedge, issues #1-14 of the mostly self-published series (as well as those put out by Cartoon Books), and short stories from Scatterbrain #1 and the second Trilogy Tour special.

Regardless, now that it’s all under one cover, the original appearances are irrelevant. This is the format that suits the material. The book’s old-fashioned look acknowledges the tradition behind the story’s setting — all those fairy tales, especially the ones about princesses locked away in castles. The off-white paper, the sewn-in ribbon book marker, the delicately patterned endpapers, and the deckled edges are all lovely touches in this homage to the past with present-day attitude.

Castle Waiting cover
Castle Waiting
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This is a thoroughly modern take on traditional stories. Author Linda Medley takes those left behind by the protagonists we’re more familiar with and spins the tales of their lives. The opening three chapters tell of Sleeping Beauty, focused on the women who try to help her, first the wise women (witches) who make her birth possible and then her handmaidens. In this version, it’s narrated by the princess’ ladies-in-waiting, who hung around the castle after the ungrateful girl woke up and bailed with the prince she’d just met. They convert their residence into a refuge.

That leads into the next major story, in which Lady Jain comes to them to have her baby. As she meets many of the castle’s inhabitants, including Dinah (the cook), her son Simon (who’s half-giant and a bit simple), the creepy Dr. Fell, and Rackham Adjutant (the steward; his appearance is inspired by illustrator Arthur Rackham, who drew himself into his work as little bird-like men), so do we. There’s also Sister Peace, whose story makes up the last major piece of the book.

She’s a Solicitine, a particularly special kind of nun. Their patron saint is Wilgforte, dedicated to unhappily married and independent women. During a rainy day at the castle, Peace tells Jain about her stints as a barmaid, her time at the circus, and how she found her sisterhood.

Women are central to these stories, but all the characters are fascinating, each with their own background. (One of the inspirations of the series was to consider what happened to some of the incidental background characters after “happily ever after” for the princes and princesses.) Sister Peace is one of my favorites. She’s intelligent, compassionate, canny, inspiring, free-thinking… and it’s refreshing to see good have more fun than evil.

Medley’s confident style beautifully portrays all kinds of characters — royalty, demons, animal-headed people, fairy creatures — plausibly and in coordination with each other. She is an incredibly skilled draftsperson, and this series is built on expert cartooning in the classic sense. She can draw a horse as a regular beast or an anthropomorphic character, and no matter the treatment, it all looks natural.

Their attitudes are clear, making these previously far-away two-dimensional characters realistic people you want to meet. Her approach is straightforward, bringing practicality to these fantasy stories, with charm and skill. And Medley puts in plenty of humor, as when the prince finds his bride:

“I love you! Marry me!”


(In unison) “What’s your name?”

There’s also adventure, exploration, and plenty of good fellowship. (I love the baby fairy, protecting his little charge.) Like her source material, Medley doesn’t shy away from the sometimes dark and disturbing aspects of some of these tales, like children in danger or killer thorn hedges, but the overall feeling is much more homey. Medley’s exploring a self-created community, one where everyone contributes and cares about each other, centered on home and hearth.

Castle Waiting is fantasy for everyone, with a refreshing everyday take on what medieval folktale life would be like. It’s a lovely portrayal, optimistic and inspiring. The cast are such rich characters that the reader wants to know more, all of their secrets, quickly, but as we get to know more about their backgrounds, there promises to be much more of this terrific story yet to come in future years.

Linda Medley won the 1998 Eisner for Talent Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, and Castle Waiting won 1998 Eisner for Best New Series.

16 Responses to “*Castle Waiting — Best of 2006”

  1. Happy Holidays! Best of 2006 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Castle Waiting Linda Medley’s fairy tales are gorgeous and funny, populated with characters you want to visit a tavern with. […]

  2. Michael Rawdon Says:

    This was the book which taught me to read carefully when a hardcover volume was solicited in previews, as the dimensions of this book are considerably smaller than normal comic book size, which makes the book harder to read, and squashes the artwork so it’s a lot harder to appreciate. I’m going to sell my copy of this volume and instead hold on to the full-size trade paperback of the earlier issues, and the individual comic book issues of the rest.

    I agree this is terrific material, but I’d recommend to potential readers that they skip the undersized hardcover volume and instead seek out the individual issues, which I think offers a better reading experience overall.

    (If the collection is ever reissued full-size, I’d happily snap up a copy, though.)

  3. Johanna Says:

    I think you’re greatly overstating the case. The smaller size is much more comfortable to hold and read, since it’s an almost 500-page book, and I found absolutely no problems with the art. It didn’t seem squashed at all, and it wasn’t harder to read.

    Recommending readers try to track down 14 issues and a special from two different publishers (plus, don’t forget the two short stories from other sources) instead of this one attractive book is ludicrous, I think. Although then you would see the short stories in color. I guess that might be a concern for some.

  4. JennyN Says:

    I second Joanna’s comment about the difficulty of tracking down the original issues (none of which came from a large publisher). It so happens that I do have them, and love the beautiful covers – those for the first seven are particularly subtle – and the interesting and thoughtful letters pages. BUT sourcing them required crafty tracking on eBay plus the willingness to spend a fair amount on the comics themselves, postage etc. I really don’t feel that the collected volume is problematic in any way – and you can order colour plates from Ms Medley’s website to tip in on the blank pages! IMO, it’s an elegant solution to the problem of having all-issues-but-one and other collecting heartaches

  5. Paul Worthington Says:

    I have all the original issues — and I love the hardback volume. While another artist’s work might suffer due to the slightly smaller size, Medley’s clear linework looks wonderful.
    This book is an excellent value, and a great read.

  6. John Says:

    Hello Johanna,

    I thought it worth pointing out that Castle Waiting is still being published as a comicbook series, by Fantagraphics. This series is up to issue number 11 now. Back copies can bought through the Fantagraphics website.

  7. Johanna Says:

    True, true. I’m hoping that a new collection will be out later this year, too, since that’s my favorite way to read it.

  8. Eric Reynolds Says:

    No new collection this year, Johanna — Linda still has a few issues to go to finish up this storyline. Probably late-2009….

  9. Johanna Says:

    Bummer… but I’m sure it will be worth the wait! Maybe I will track down some of those issues in the meantime. Such good stuff! And thanks for the update.

  10. Vid Says:

    I was surprised my local library had the hardcover version of Castle Waiting. I like fantasy and was looking forward to reading stories of the peripheral characters of some of the more popular fairy tales.

    It certainly started out that way. I appreciated the clean, well defined art, style and interesting cast of characters. It kind of reminded me a bit of Bone another fantasy book I liked but not cartoony and more mature.

    However, I thought there were way too many pages that were focused on tales of the bearded women flashbacks. I think this takes up at least the last 1/3 of the hardcover. The first few stories were fine but then it dragged on and on at the expense of the present-day characters. It felt more like a Castle Waiting spinoff.

    I would still recommend at least the first half of the hardcover as well worth reading. I hope to see the continued publication of the comics.

  11. Coming Up: Graphic Novels Due November 2010 (or Later) » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] about time! I adore Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting, and after four years, I’m especially eager to read Volume 2 (Fantagraphics, SEP10 1022, […]

  12. Good Comics Out November 17 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] as my book of this week, Castle Waiting Volume 2 (Fantagraphics, $30). The first Castle Waiting book was one of my Best of 2006, and I anticipate similarly great things from the followup. Linda Medley […]

  13. Slush Pile: Unemployed Man, Shadrach Stone, Forget Sorrow, Athena Voltaire, Screamland, Return of the Dapper Men, Sixsmiths, Francis Sharp, I See the Promised Land » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] story follows a classic plot, the art is outstanding, well-cartooned and dynamic. I was reminded of Castle Waiting, although Sabo’s style is more like Craig Thompson’s. There’s an online preview […]

  14. *Castle Waiting Volume 2 — Best of 2010 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] had high expectations for Castle Waiting, given that the first volume was outstanding, and I wasn’t disappointed. I found Volume 2 so strong, in fact, that it was […]

  15. Comics I Read Recently: X-Factor 237, Bad Medicine 1-2, Castle Waiting 16, Back Issue 57 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] noble Jain and her baby’s move into new quarters. It’s also a callback to the original Castle Waiting story, The Curse of Brambly Hedge, as the original ladies-in-waiting to Sleeping Beauty go overboard with […]

  16. Good Comics Out January 2 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] from the hardcover except for Jane Yolen’s introduction (and the ribbon book marker). The original hardcover was one of my best of 2006; it’s a gorgeous twist on fairy tales, concentrating on daily life […]




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