“You did all you could with the life you were given. I would take comfort in that.”
Ghost Tree #2 uses themes of death and spirituality to convey gratitude toward the small things in life. Ghost Tree #1 focused on positive qualities of the Ghost Tree, so much so that Brandt almost took solace in death. He enjoyed talking to them and found more comfort with the dead than with the living. Issue #2, however, projects the feelings of loss, regret, and longing of spirits that linger around the Ghost Tree. Jii-Chan may worry about how comfortable Brandt appears among the dead, but Brandt is not oblivious to the regrets of the ghosts he to, and he learns to enjoy the smaller moments around him. A man standing at a crossroads, unable to chose which path to take, has suddenly found a semblance of purpose, and it can’t help but bring a small smile to your face. Bobby Curnow, Simon Gane, Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie, and Chris Mowry may be working with heavy topics, but the end result is a book that makes you enjoy life a little bit more.
Ghost Tree continues to possess a broad thematic scope within a very small setting. The book is able to use simplicity to its advantage by injecting so much raw emotion and spirituality into a very concentrated setting. If an entire city were haunted by spirits, a sense of normalcy or casualness would quickly set in. Ghost Tree, however, only takes place in and around a rural home so it feels special. This isn’t a Ghost Tree, it’s the Ghost Tree, and that chosen, rare quality adds an important heaviness to the story. The Ghost Tree serves as a focal point around which to revolve themes of regret, death, and moving on. The issue thematically stretches far an wide while staying geographically contained within a small radius.
Ghost Tree #2 also continues to have impeccable control over its pacing. In general, the book moves much slower than most comics by using a careful combination of panels with dense word balloons to keep readers hanging on to every word and panels with no word balloons that cause the reader to stop and marvel at the nature before them. There are lines of dialogue that linger in your mind long after you finish the comic such as, “It’s hard for me to understand why anyone would hold onto their hate for so long,” or “I don’t know why I’m still here.” The pacing allows readers to slow down and focus on the parts that resonates with them instead of quickly moving on to the next page, panel, or issue. Brandt is a man filled with uneasiness and a tinge of regret who is now learning to appreciate the life he has around him through talking to ghosts. After his day at the Ghost Tree, Brandt enjoys dinner with his family and feels happy. He even calls his wife for the first time as a small attempt to reconnect. Brandt may feel comfortable around the dead, but he’s not blind to the reasons they linger or the things they didn’t appreciate when they were alive. He learns from their errors even if it only manifests in small behavioral changes. Ghost Tree #2 imparts lessons you can’t get from just any comic. Throughout its pages, the issue asks you if your happy with the life you see around you and, if not, asks you to put the comic down and do something about it before it’s too late.
The issue has a lot of rich and purposeful characters that drive the narrative, but Brandt is the reason Ghost Tree #2 succeeds. Other books have characters that can be describe as relatable or that speak universal truths, but Brandt is us. He is the person who wakes up some mornings and asks, “How did I get here?” He is someone who doesn’t always like what he sees when he looks in the mirror. Now, he’s someone who looks at the life around him and decides to make a few change. We’ve all been Brandt. We have all found comfort in something people don’t necessarily understand, and we’ve all wanted to make a few changes. That’s why this book resonates so strongly. Other characters leave lasting impressions as well. Some make you laugh like the ghosts Brandt is able to give advice to, or Naoki, Mariko’s husband, who is quite docile but seems remarkably content with his life and family. Most characters, however, make you cry. Baa-chan is a woman who always knew there was something her husband never told her, but she could never figure out what it was. Jii-chan is a man who never really took the chance to tell his wife how much he loved her. There’s a reason Jii-chan lingers, even if Brandt hasn’t realized it yet. Then there’s Arami, a girl who tragically died too soon and who never got to live the life she was meant to. We’ve all experienced a special person who left our lives too soon, and Ghost Tree #2 really highlights how special those people are and how their memories will always stick with us.
With so many heavy themes, it would be easy for the story to feel stagnant, but the creative team makes subtle shifts and flourishes to keep the narrative moving forward. Last issue, the entire forest was colored with darker greens and teals. If gave off an eerie atmosphere and caused you to read with caution. Now that Brandt is comfortable around the ghosts, however, the forest has shifted to a much brighter yellow-green while the ghosts remain that haunted blue-green. The most important element, however, is the story’s use of red. As the demon begins to appear, the panels immediately flood with a red gradient that shows signs of imminent danger. Herring and Kinzie do a phenomenal job of mixing the red signs of danger with the green foliage until the story reaches a blood-red climax before gradually descending back to pure green. That sequence alone really makes you think about the other uses of red in the story and whether or not Rasto or Arami are as pure as they seem. There are also great uses of black that make the world feel smaller than it already is. When Brandt is talking to Arami, it feels as though they are the only two that matter. It makes for a beautiful moment. Mowry’s balloon and SFX placements continue to be exceptional in a comic that thrives when readers can get a true sense of the natural and spiritual environment before them. Exciting flourishes and unique fonts are neat, but Mowry is able to pull of some phenomenal lettering work while maintaining simplicity.
Ghost Tree is a series that is powerful and profound. It will leave a mark and be remembered in the always moving stream of comic releases. Don’t be discouraged by some of the heavy themes present in the book. Instead, embrace them and use this book as a chance to learn and reflect.