Family Tree #1 is one of those stories that opens up with the punchline, then tracks all the way back to the beginning to show how we ended up where we are. Specifically, all the way back to 14 March 1997. I remember 1997. My kids don’t believe me, but that was way back before cell phones were readily available, and the internet still sucked. That’s probably going to play a role in this story.
Way, way back in 1997, a struggling single mom in a rural community runs up against some problems that are a little more intense than usual. Her eldest is smoking pot, sure, but the little one? She appears to be turning into an actual tree. That seems bad.
Jeff Lemire’s character work is something else. Loretta (mama) is immediately recognizable. We all know a Loretta. She’s doing her level best to keep her little family afloat, barely succeeding, but succeeding nonetheless. She’s almost reached her breaking point, but she isn’t quite there yet. That scene in the principal’s office? So good.
With all the balls Loretta has in the air, it’s really easy to dismiss a little thing like a child’s rash. Until that rash starts growing legit branches out of it. We’ve all been there. Minus the branches, mostly.
Artwork by Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur, and Ryan Cody is deceptively simple, which fits the tone of the script beautifully. Thick, angular lines. Muted, depressed palette. Very rural, mundane stuff. Until that little girl starts growing a tree.