If there is anything that can be classified as a true American fairy tale, it would be The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The whole purpose of a fairy tale is to be a coming-of-age fantasy, which easily applies to Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto suddenly plunged into a world unlike their Midwestern farm life and learning how to grow up during the course of their adventure. Clearly inspired by that classic story, writer Skottie Young and artist Jorge Corona put their own spin on the American Midwestern fable Middlewest.
Living in the small town of Farmington, Abel lives a predictably normal life where he runs the paper route, tries to keep up with schoolwork and aims to stay on the good side of his abusive single father. One day, life goes downfall for Abel as he and his ally — a talking fox — are suddenly chased by an abnormal storm that takes them out of their small town and journey throughout the Middlewest.
Having done comic book adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as well as being the writer and artist of I Hate Fairyland, it’s fair to say that Skottie Young is no stranger to the fantasy genre. From the first issue which opens with a dream sequence that sets up the central confrontation and the upcoming journey, we open with a day in the life of Abel, who whenever he escapes from the harsh responsibilities on his shoulders, he is talking to a fox that can speak back to him. There’s no explanation as to why the fox talks or why it has no name, but as Young proves, when it comes to fairy tales, not everything is going to make sense.
The narrative itself is not as tightly-woven, as you get the sense that the story kind of just wanders from one set-piece to the next. In one issue Abel and Fox suddenly meets a wizard and in the next issue, they are confronted by a huge troll. However, Young is sticking to his guns about applying the sensibilities of a fable into an American setting that is not always kind, as is evident through Abel’s relationship with his father. Young achieves that balance of light and dark, primarily through his young protagonist, who is wrestling with the many emotions that a child of his age would grow, only to be manifested into something supernatural. Through trial and error, he learns to grow and earns a greater understanding of friendship and family that doesn’t have to be about abuse.
Although Young is not drawing this series, Jorge Corona’s artwork fits nicely with the writer’s approach to fairy tales, from presenting a typical American small town at the start of the book, to journeying across the Middlewest where things get more and more fantastic. With his cartoonish art style (as well as Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s coloring), Corona brings so much personality to each of his characters and the distinct locations that you don’t need as many words on the page to get across the sense of scale and emotion.
Some things are still dangling about where the story is going, but its two creators present a fun American fable that achieves what the best fairy tales have to accomplish.