The White Trees #1 From Zdarsky & Anka: Perfection Across 30 Pages

by Richard Bruton

Kris Anka’s absolutely gorgeous artwork was the driving factor for picking this 2-part series up, as I’m not always that big a fan of this sort of pure, epic fantasy. I certainly hadn’t expected to be so entranced by The White Trees as I was. Simply put, this is a comic masterclass in efficiency and wonderfully impressive storytelling from writer and artist, as Chip Zdarsky and Kris Anka do more in this 30 page first half of this story-arc than many could accomplish in double the length.
[**Spoilers for The White Trees #1 below!!]

The tale appears simple, as Sir Krylos the bold, Sir Scotiar of Blacksand, and Sir Dahvlan the swift are called to the seat of power to be told that the children of Sir Krylos and Sir Dahvlan have been abducted.  The resulting story follows their quest.
Such a simple thing, a classic fantasy tale, with Anka creating such wonderful imagery for the three main players…

But what makes The White Trees so good is what Zdarsky and Anka do within the confines of both the stereotype story and the limited page count of two 30 page issues.
With this first issue, there’s a three-act structure broken down into roughly 12-pages, 8 pages, 10 pages, with act one the gathering of the heroes, act two the first part of the quest and a meeting with a dragon, and act three being the (very) mature part of the mature readers aspect of this comic, as the three are magically seduced.
In those first 12 pages, Zdarsky and Anka deliver a masterclass of storytelling for what is, essentially, just the gathering of the three warriors. But everything here, whether it’s in the brief conversations, the facial expressions, or the body language is pure perfection in the craft of storytelling and worldbuilding. Hell, I’ve read 200-page graphic novels that don’t do as much as the first 10 pages here.
For example, this page, silent but perfect…

The story driver here in the opening is simple, of the quest for the abducted children, albeit with the added emotional twist of a Romeo and Juliet type secret tryst. But in addition, we get the idea of a long-simmering feud, allegations of cowardice, great loss, a past of three magnificent warriors, relationships and friendships, complex sexuality, a war threatening the land, and so much more. 12 pages. That’s all they need to set this up so perfectly. That really is class comic making.
Once we’ve established, so wonderfully, who these characters are and the complex relationships between them, they go in search of the children, and instead of tight exposition done perfectly, we then get treated to some beautifully constructed Kris Anka storytelling through a spectacularly done showdown with a dragon… page after page of true fantasy spectacle, amazing storytelling from the artist, thrilling, clever, a delight of pacing…

And finally, in the last act, we get to the very mature part of this mature readers tale, as magic comes to play and the three are individually seduced by spirits. It’s another beautifully done thing, but definitely takes the comic through to the top part of mature readers territory.
Initially, I saw this was just a two-part series and was disappointed, but I was so wrong, and it’s all thanks to the perfection that both Zdarsky and Anka show in their craft, storytelling is so concise and precise, exposition just not necessary, this is laser precision comics-making, getting over everything required in minimal panels and pages and doing it quite beautifully. I’m desperate to see how this ends but also excited to see how the series continues.
From a comic that I was initially a little bit hmmm about the idea of The White Trees. Now, just halfway through the first story-arc, it may be one of my favourite comics of 2019.

The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale – Part One: This Is Death – Issue 1 (of 2) – script by Chip Zdarsky, line art by Kris Anka, color art by Matt Wilson, letter art by Aditya Bidikar, published by Image Comics

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