Sunday, May 12, 2019

Ginseng Roots #1

by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson, best known for his blockbuster graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, has returned with a serialized comic book called Ginseng Roots, which is about his childhood growing up in Marathon Wisconsin, the one-time centre of American ginseng production.

As a kid, Craig and his brother Phil worked through the summers alongside their mother, picking weeds and caring for ginseng plants on large farms that specialized in the delicate and lucrative root.  As we learn about how this labor shaped him, we also learn a great deal about the root itself, its needs, and some of the folklore and history that surrounds it.  We also see how the Thompson boys' love of comic books helped motivate them to work in difficult conditions (they calculate their wages in number of comics they can buy per hour).

This is a very solid piece of work, beautifully illustrated and coloured in grey tones with red highlights.  The book itself is printed on newsprint, giving it a real old-school feel, but is also beautifully drawn.

This series is expected to last for twelve issues, which is interesting to me because this first one feels so complete.  I'm not sure where Thompson intends to go with this from here, but I can see a wealth of potential, considering how unique the ginseng industry was (and probably still is), with its difficult manual labour, its great potential to create millionaire farmers, and the intricacies of interacting with a largely Asian market in 1980s middle America.

I like that this book is going to be serialized, and while that is going to make it more expensive than a one-off graphic novel would be (despite what the photo says, this issue's cover price is $5), it will make the individual issues something to be treasured.

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