But as I've gotten older, I have taken a keen interest in comic books. Not so much the standard Marvel/DC superhero stuff, but the more obscure, indie stuff. Whenever I go to my local comic book store, I head straight for the indie graphic novel section. I love comics like Ghost World, American Splendor, Maus, Stitches, Persepolis. I guess I have particular aesthetic tastes when it comes to comics, and the cool thing about comics is that you can totally judge a book by its cover. If I like the cover art, and the design of the book, and I'm not completely broke, I'm gonna buy it.
Such was the case recently when I picked up an awesome-looking hardcover graphic novel called Castle Waiting. I don't typically go for the fantasy stuff (I prefer comics about real life), but this one just looked amazingly strange. When I saw Castle Waiting, I vaguely remembered an artist acquaintance recommending it, describing it as a "feminist fairy tale." I had to have it. So I bought it. And today, I finished reading it.
Reading a graphic novel is a totally different experience than reading a regular novel. Aside from the obvious (there are pictures), I think it affects your brain differently. While old-fashioned novels allow you to create the images with your imagination, graphic novels give you a very specific vision of what the world of the book looks like. Literary purists may find fault with this, but as an artist myself, I find this visual component fascinating. The way a graphic novelist represents the characters gives you (the reader) a visual/emotional vocabulary which can be quite amazing, even moving. And there is something about the simplicity of comic-style art that speaks to my sensibilities as a writer and artist. It is straightforward, direct, and accessible, but contains the potential of saying very meaningful things. Castle Waiting certainly succeeds on this level.
I think Castle Waiting is about the idea of sanctuary, of creating a safe space where people can be together and be fully themselves. There are two main sanctuaries in the book. One is basically Sleeping Beauty's abandoned castle, after Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming have left. The real story picks up after "happily ever after" and it's about a group of strange misfits who come together to form a new kind of community. Some of them are outcasts from society. The main character is a young woman named Jain, who has run away from her abusive husband, and takes refuge in the castle, which they call "Castle Waiting." Jain's story is about redemption through community, which is also a main theme of the second story, about another kind of sanctuary.
The second half of the book centers around an Abbey full of bearded nuns, called Solicitines. Some of these nuns have run away from the circus (where they were freaks), and found refuge in a community that is a safe place. Again, the focus is on community. There isn't a lot of action in Castle Waiting. Though it is set in a fantasy/fairytale place, it mainly focuses on characters and relationships, specifically relationships between women. In the Abbey, as in Castle Waiting, women are able to find refuge, safety, and empowerment in a very male-dominated world. In their own communities, the women have power and friendship. There are some men, but the main heroes are women.
Castle Waiting is funny, strange, moving, and thought-provoking. I related to it in a very specific way because I am part of a growing art colony in my community, The Magoski Arts Colony, and we are a rag-tag bunch. On more than one occasion, I have talked with my friends about how the colony is a kind of sanctuary, a safe place where people who are a little stranger than mass culture permits, can find a home, a community. To me, as a member of a small but lively art community, I felt like Castle Waiting spoke to me about the importance of this kind of community.