With the news that IDW is spiriting issue #1 of Ghost Tree back to the printers reminded me that I had yet to post a review of this promising first issue. And, I’m glad I finally got round to picking up a copy, as it’s a magical comic book from Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane, Ian Herring and Bekka Kinzie. A magical book full of exotic, lush flora, forestry and family.
It’s story of a promise made by a young boy at the aged of six to his grandfather in Japan, and his return in adulthood. Or, is it a journey made by our prime protagonists, Brandt, as an excuse to run away from his problems back in the States, where he moved in his earlier years and eventually married? A marriage that is heavily hinted at being on the rocks?
This may be a book that is supernaturally flavoured, but at its heart is the story of family – even if members of this particular Japanese family can see ghosts – and reconnecting with the past! The skill of perceiving spirits is something the adult Brandt realises he too shares with his now-deceased Ojii-Chan (Japanese for ‘grandpa’) in adulthood. Tonally, this book is gentle, beautiful, and when you see the first sightings of a ghost, it’s more haunting than frightening; as many Japanese ghost stories tend to be. So, on that front, this is a book that truly evokes this particular genre which many readers will only be familiar with through film such as The Ring, I imagine, like myself, I admit.
Curnow’s script offers up a slow paced slice-of-life that many of us can react to, while deftly introducing Brandt’s other family members too. Whether our families live in another country or even in another street, sometimes we don’t see them as often as we once did. It’s only now that Brandt has problems he would rather put on hold that he chooses to return home, because the promise he made to his Ojii-Chan as a kid, he no longer remembers, suggesting there is a rarer powerful pull to the ghost tree that sits in a forest that, while dark and dense, does not frighten as forests often do when a backdrop to any supernatural story. Gane’s art is just a joy to behold, alongside the complimentary colours that Herring adds. It’s a lush green landscape made up of hues of natural, earthy colours with the use of cooler blues to illuminate the spirit world Brandt finds in the heart of this forest. A more subdued book in tone and look that helps set the overall mood of the story and the comic book.
It has something of Akira Kurosawa about it all; a film director well known for his sweeping and symbolic landscapes, such as the creepy forest of his Macbeth inspired film Throne of Blood; another forest infused with supernatural agents, but agents with a more nefarious agenda. An evocative, haunting, dream-like book that offers up not so much a cliffhanger, but rather a promise of even more connections with the past. Can anyone really return home? I suspect we’ll find out in the subsequent issues. But, for now, my interest is well and truly caught up with Brandt and his charming family, still living a rural, gentle, secluded life in the countryside of Japan. You couldn’t get a book more removed from the usual comic book fare.
I can see why such a spellbinding book has achieved such critical acclaim already and why it’s sold out at the distributor level. Who knew, even now you might get lucky and find a copy still haunting the shelves of your LCBS, if you’re lucky like I was. But, with a second printing on the way and a promise, at the end of the first issue, of further family drama and supernatural shenanigans, you won’t have to miss out either way.
Ghost Tree #1 is available now from IDW.