Dreams Are What You Make Of Them In Over The Garden Wall: Distillatoria

by Rachel Bellwoar

You’ve seen Over the Garden Wall on Cartoon Network. You’ve seen Over the Garden Wall in comics (in fact, Hollow Town’s going on right now with Celia Lowenthal and Jorge Monlongo), but you’ve never seen Over the Garden Wall as a graphic novel, and that’s what Jonathan Case and Jim Campbell set to change with Distillatoria, a new graphic novel set in the Over the Garden Wall universe.

Full disclosure: I’ve never watched the TV show. I caught half an episode once and, as it happens, episode nine is probably the ideal episode to watch before reading Distillatoria because it goes over the events of how brothers Wirt and Greg, ended up in the Unknown. That has direct ties to the events of Distillatoria because, seeing as this is their first graphic novel, they need a story worthy of the occasion (and expanded page count) and what’s bigger than Wirt and Greg finding a way back home!?!
That’s right — Wirt and Greg are back over the garden wall except they weren’t so much trying to get there at the time as they tripped, because it was foggy, and landed in a river on Earth. No time has passed since they left. It’s still Halloween and their friends have been looking for them. Sara still has the tape of poetry Wirt gave her, which gives him no small degree of agita, but they’re home and that’s what matters, or it would if Beatrice (their bluebird friend) hadn’t taken the same tumble. Now she’s stuck in their world and needs Wirt and Greg’s help to return to the Unknown.
Campbell draws the most expressive faces. Every reaction is disarmingly specific yet there’s a through line to his characters, too, like Greg’s eyes, which are the essence of his indomitable spirit. The way he experiences life, open to joy and happiness — it’s all in his eyes and the way they’re always bright, no matter what’s happens to him. His relationship with Wirt – the older, protective brother – is beautiful, especially when Case has Greg tell Wirt how much he means to him. It’s never prompted. He just tells Wirt how he feels and that makes it all the more meaningful.
None of the backgrounds are cluttered but the details Campbell includes make the interiors feel personal (and DO NOT look up the title in advance, unless you were planning to do so, but I realized by the end I still didn’t know what “distillatoria” meant and the answer is a hoot). Distillatoria is divided into three acts and the image break for act two is this giant organ which shouldn’t belong anywhere in Greg’s room, but there’s the area rug from a few pages before, so that must be where it’s located. Until then, Distillatoria gave the impression of being a pretty direct story, so when encountering this image, it’s like you’ve been let in on a secret. Anticipating what’s going to happen next, readers are encouraged to question what they think they know with a narrative that’s constantly being destabilized, so you have to remain vigilant.
Even something as simple as the red lettering Mike Fiorentino uses whenever music plays seems harmless at first (a car playing the 60’s Batman theme) but becomes tenser the more music appears. Sometimes SJ Miller‘s colors can feel on the dark side, not because there’s no light, but because there’s an abundance of shadows, but movie fans should get a kick out of the many film homages (including Over the Garden Wall‘s interpretation of a black & white foreign movie).
I don’t know that Distillatoria needed to spend so much on Beatrice and Wirt and whether or not they have romantic feelings for each other, but Beatrice was the one character I needed to do some research on, so maybe this is a storyline I’ll feel differently about after watching the show. That’s something I’m more determined than ever to do, though, and it’s all thanks to Distillatoria, available now from Boom! Studios.

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