“I wonder if I ever knew him really.”
As much as we hate to admit it, life can become monotonous. You get a job, settle down, and all of a sudden, every day starts to meld together as part of this one, repetitive routine. The people you saw yesterday at work or at home are going to be the same people you see today and tomorrow for who knows how long. But those who are happy don’t see it that way. For them, every day seems like a a blessing. They love who they are, those around them, and what they do. What’s the difference between them and us? Why are we always looking outside of ourselves? Ghost Tree is a book that explores the impulse to move away from those problems; the impulse to seek comfort in escape. It chooses to lean into uncomfortable feelings of frustration and regret, emphasizing that the past is in the past, and tries to discover a way to move forward.
The issue opens with a scene much different from the quaint little home and the forest we’re used to. The calm and peaceful green foliage is replaced with a gorgeous blue-gray night sky over a river on a cloudless night. The cozy cottage is replaced with a bold red bridge where Arami and Brandt share their fist romantic moment. Curnow, Gane, Herring, Kinzie, and Mowry do everything they can to let you know that this was a much happier time for Brandt. The sky and river are smooth and undisturbed. There is a remarkable sense of calm emanating from the panels. You feel as though you are in this moment with them, yet you know it’s in the past because of the slightly faded look. The scene’s texture is incredibly different, but the level of peaceful introspection we are used to is still as pervasive as ever. This book is sure to invoke a trip down memory lane and may jog a few happy memories, but the goal is not to make you miss what is now gone. Instead, if you are unhappy, the book asks you to think about what you can do now to evoke how you felt then.
Love is at the root of all things. Brandt ran away from his problems and back to his childhood home because he didn’t feel loved. He felt trapped in his marriage and career, and he didn’t know what to do about it. It’s easy to turn to the past to try and fill some sort of void. Reminiscing what once was, nostalgia often overwhelms reason and leads to thoughts of regret. Maybe you should have stayed with this person or picked this path instead. Obviously when reading an issue like this, you can just flip back to an earlier scene and play out what could have been. You can create your own narrative because comics allow you to see multiple points in time. Unfortunately, our lives don’t work like that. We don’t have a do-over. We can’t flip back to page 10.
Ghost Tree #2 explored themes surrounding connection. Brandt finds more comfort around the dead than the living, and he finds solace in something we can’t understand. This issue is meant to provide focus and bring him back to reality. Finding comfort among the dead is dangerous, because life and those still in it are just passing him by. If Brandt stays near the ghost tree and talks to them for the rest of his life, then sooner or later he’ll become one of them as he regrets the life he didn’t live. It’s a matter of getting lost in this ethereal nature of one location and struggling to find his way back to reality. But seriously, what’s so good about reality anyway? If that’s what makes Brandt happy, why can’t he stay at the Ghost Tree? Can he create these feelings in the land of the living? Are there lessons Brandt can take with him from ghosts who linger so that he doesn’t become one of them?
The answer is to stop focusing on people and places in the past, and start focusing on the emotions. People and places may never return to be part of your life, but the joy, love, happiness, or wonder you felt while with them can be felt again and anew. This is conveyed well through the use of perspective and two memories in the issue. Brandt remembers the night on the bridge a bit differently from Arami. Where Brandt remembers a romantic, relatively perfect night, Arami remembers a relatively awkward experience filled with an exciting uncertainty. It was still romantic and fun, but Arami hasn’t idealized the moment. She knows they were just two young kids stumbling through their feelings together. A similar sentiment is shared between Obaa-chan and Ojii-chan. Before he died, Ojii-chan spent his life content with talking to the ghosts near his home. He had a wife he loved who he always returned to, but his mind was always with his company at the Ghost Tree. Little did he realize that Obaa-chan only saw a man she never knew. A man who could never focus on the love that was right in front of him. It’s an extremely heartbreaking moment as Curnow, Gane, Herring, Kinzie, and Mowry try to rekindle our appreciation for something we take for granted: life itself. That’s why Ojii-chan only now realizes that telling Brandt to come back to the Ghost Tree was a mistake. Sometimes we only learn the most valuable lessons after it’s too late. Sometimes we have to try and use our shortcomings to improve the lives of others.
If this book shows one thing, it’s that taking care of each other is essential in this world. Whether it’s ghosts helping ghosts, ghosts helping humans, humans helping ghosts, or humans helping humans, we are only as strong as the people around us help us to be. That’s what’s so powerful about this story. Not the novelty of talking to the dead or the fun conversations with people from history, but the idea that the dead can still teach us. Beyond all else, Ghost Tree is asking you to learn something from this book. Maybe it’s about yourself, or life, or a loved one who passed. That’s Ghost Tree’s significance.
This book may seem boring, uneventful, or depressing to some, but, ultimately, it inspires gratitude. It recognizes how a medium like comics can slow down and make us think and enjoy life even after we put down the issue. It doesn’t fixate on death and use a primarily conversational narrative for no reason. It uses these themes to slow down the pace and encourage readers to think as their reading. The reader can then intertwine their own narrative with Brandt’s. Your engagement with the world depends on you. You can’t recreate the past, but you can recreate the feelings and ascend even higher. All you have to do is believe and move forward. Does a message like that sound depressing to you?
Curnow knows how to make these longer conversations feel important through every line, while Gane makes every emotion on the page shine through. A lot of pain, sorrow, loss, confusion, and joy are conveyed through wrinkles and facial expressions. Herring and Kinzie’s colors display a distinct serenity that invokes beauty, invites pause, and makes you smile softly while thinking meaningfully. You feel Brandt’s happiness, but you know this can’t last. Ultimately, by the end of the issue, you’re greatest hope is for Brandt to find happiness among the living. The demon may present danger, but Brandt’s fate is what’s most concerning. Mowry’s balloon placement helps balance the beautiful art and hard-hitting dialogue perfectly.
Ghost Tree is an exceptionally unique miniseries. It evokes feelings through a handful of characters that other comics simply don’t and encourages a level of thinking beyond what you would get in your standard single issue.