Tristan is an average 17th century Finnish boy unfortunate enough to be riding his horse in a storm nearby a witch. When his horse startles, Tristan falls off and dies, but his soul is accidentally trapped in the body of a three-eyed frog by the witch Lumi. Now her new familiar, Tristan helps Lumi with her daily tasks: talking to the giant snail she lives in, going to the market to sell spells, and performing her duty to poison her monstrous husband.
To celebrate being back from my own hiatus, I thought I would review a comic that recently came out of its own hiatus. Hemlock is a fairy tale comic written and drawn by Josceline Fenton. Unlike Rumplestiltskin, which I reviewed earlier, Hemlock isn’t an adaptation of one particular fairy tale, but an amalgamation of many. It pulls mostly from a section of Vasilisa the Brave where Vasilisa encounters Baba Yaga’s three horsemen, but uses it as a springboard for a very different story. It takes the elements of fairytales – monstrous marriages, animal transformations, competing siblings – to make its own fairy tale. It also has Baba Yaga, and I don’t know about you, but adding Baba Yaga makes any story fifteen times better.
Inside the fairy tale, the real emotional core of the story comes from exploring Lumi’s relationship with said monstrous husband. As more and more of Lumi’s backstory is revealed, the audience learns that Lumi was tricked into marrying Baba Yaga’s eldest son, Prince Sindri, after he was overthrown by his brother King Simo for abusing power. Their marriage means Sindri is safe from his brother but also trapped in exile with only Lumi to help him, while Lumi is bound to keep him stuck, but alienated from witch society because of their relationship. Early on, Lumi lists Sindri as one of the three people in her rather isolated life, and the story examines a (literally) poisonous relationship between lonely people. Lumi’s marriage is the beginning of a fairy tale (a marriage trick) but Hemlock checks in on it 800 years later, and how something simple can grow emotionally thorny.
Instead of going for a classic fairy tale style for the art, Hemlock has a very bold and graphic style. The art for Hemlock is some of my favorites in webcomics. The use of black, white, and grey screen tones to create bold, high contrast images, makes each page standout. There’s energy to each page – fabric is very dramatic, characters’ faces push and pull, magic swirls. This boldness is enhanced by Fenton’s choice to not crowd her pages with too many panels, most pages having only four or five. The characters themselves are very well designed, composed of bold shapes, thick outlines, thick sections of black and white, while still being very expressive. Lumi’s big round eyes can really emote. The art speaks to what is great about the story – simple, clean, and full of emotion.
Hemlock is a gorgeous, polished comic that I’m glad is back from the dead. With webcomics there is always a great fear that your favorites will be hiatused to death, (which has happened to me so, so, so, so, so many times) and I am so excited to see Hemlock back and better than ever. For those looking for a solid, emotionally mature fairy tale with lovely art, I highly recommend Hemlock. Updates Thursday.