“A life full of ghosts is no life at all.”
Ghost Tree is a tale surrounding ideas of family, home, and the past and how they effect us every day. The issue is set in a very rich environment surrounded by flora, natural spirits, and an atmosphere that encourages reflection. It is applying new elements to the very simple premise of a man at a crossroads in his life and how the past, people, and world around him can help Brandt make a decision. Bobby Curnow, Simon Gane, Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie, and Chris Mowry are working with a familiar concept that has limitless potential in a new environment
One of the elements that stands out about this book is how small it feels. We see so many books these days with huge, expansive worlds and universes. There are entire cities, regions, and planets that have every tiny element detailed for the reader, but we rarely encounter in books that revel in the small things. With Ghost Tree all we see is a plane landing in Japan and a small home out in the country, and yet that is all we need to enjoy such a powerful read. It’s refreshing to see a book that doesn’t need to impress you with its vast and expansive setting because its small, isolated one is still powerful detailed enough to captivate you. It’s a setting that fits well with the themes of home, family, and spirituality that Brandt must face throughout the issue.
Ghost Tree immediately gives a heavy and powerful first impression that stays with you in ways that few comics today can manage. Every line of dialogue written by Curnow hangs in the air and feels timeless. It slows the reader down and forces them to feel the weight of everything that’s being said. The book has remarkably slow pacing but in the best of ways. It’s not slow, rather thoughtful and reflective. It’s an impressive feat to create a narrative that forces the reader to slow down and think about what’s being said and really digest the meaning of the words rather than simply get through the issue and move onto the next item on their pull list. Brandt is and full-fledged adult questioning many of the choices he’s made in his life. He has a wife who, for reasons unknown, he feels distant from. For all intents and purposes, Brandt is alone. Despite the fact that the dialogue takes place between a a few family members, there is a thick air between characters in the issue. They are all comfortable enough to be honest with each other, but none are at ease with how the others live. There is an uneasiness to everyone’s demeanor and something that is said in the issue will feel familiar enough to touch readers personally, which is an immensely powerful attribute for a comic book to have.
Curnow and Gane’s characters drive the story here because they have to. There is no action, intense suspense, or violence, only deep and heartfelt emotion that drives the story. Brandt is a remarkably normal human being for a comic book character, despite having the ability to see these spirits. He had the innocence and wonder that only comes with being a child and has since lost it. He has marital problems and struggles to find happiness in his life as he’s approaching middle-age. He comes to Japan not just to fulfill his grandfather’s promise, in fact he claims to have forgotten it, but rather to run away from his problems. He is some we could all become or perhaps already are in some way. Mariko is the person we could all become, someone who is content with their life the way it is, or at lease appears that way. Ojii-chan and Baa-chan are characters with gravitas. They have knowledge that can only be obtained from living, and they want to pass it on to those younger. Arami is something the could have been or perhaps a missed opportunity, a chance not taken, or a reminder of a mistake. We have only seen a few panels of her, but she looks to be a trial for Brandt in future issues. What all these characters have in common is a sense of familiarity. Many of us have people in our lives that fill these roles or that we perceive to have similar traits to the characters in this book. These characters are able to hold their own through simple conversation, curiosity, and contemplation, and that is a rare sight to behold.
The setting helps build and support these characters further. The majority of the book takes place in an old rural home. It promotes being alone with your thoughts and wandering through nature. Gane moves the reader along through subtle uses of light and the appearance of nature. Ian Herring and Becka Kinzie’s phenomenal shading and color work allow the reader to feel as though they are surrounded by the same vegetation as Brandt. There’s an intense level of detail to all of the nature present in this issue that will leave the reader stricken with amazement. After all, the story does revolve around a tree. The blue-green hues and shades of green with the vegetation make you feel the grass beneath your feet and allow you to hear the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. For those who can’t easily immerse themselves in nature, they can close their eyes while reading this book and be transported to that forest thanks to the colors that bring it to life so vividly. Chris Mowry’s lettering also must not be overlooked. There is but one small sound effect made by a tree kami, but Mowry shows off impeccable word balloon placement throughout the entirety of the issue. There’s not a single moment when a balloon gets in the way, and you can marvel at the art in every panel without even noticing any balloons that may also occupy that space. It’s difficult to how skilled and important a letterer is, even for issues without sound effects or complicated style flourishes, but Mowry is able to show that throughout the issue.
Ultimately, however, the reason everyone should read Ghost Tree #1 and the reason it has already been ordered for a second printing is because of its thematic work. There are so many themes that are sure to hit home with readers. Most generally, there is the idea of the past vs the present and how things can change over the course of a decade or two. Brandt’s childhood innocence and imagination has since faded. At some point Brandt stopped looking forward to wonder about the future and started looking backwards to wonder about past decisions. It’s something we’ve all been guilty of and can’t help doing, but looking backward doesn’t encapsulate true wonder, just regret. There are themes of home and belonging. Brandt runs away from his wife and feels a sense of discomfort when talking about family matters with Mariko and Baa-chan yet feels at home amongst the dead. Is the feeling of home a result of something Brandt’s running away from or running towards? It’s a question we don’t know yet. Finally, there are themes of death and spirituality. Whether the reader is spiritual or not, they cannot ignore the presence of spirits in this book. Whether it be tree Kami that appear to wander throughout the forest or the dead ancestors that gather under the ghost tree. They’re all reminders of something that’s lost and has returned to the Earth, and the fact that Brandt feels at home among them carries a certain beauty while also being a bit concerning and depressing. These themes are sure to bring any curious reader into the story for the full four issues.
Ghost Tree #1 promises a meaningful series that effectively circles a small world and cast of characters, focusing instead on powerful themes and profound dialogue. Given how full of meaning each issue is sure to be when dealing with themes of loss, home, and the past, it’s sure to be one to pick up if you’re in the mood for something that’ll make you think and reflect.