Publisher: Image Comics
Story: Chip Zdarsky
Line Art: Kris Anka
Colours: Matt Wilson
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Release Date: 14th August 2019
Opening in a quiet field of fantastical white and blue flowers, we are introduced to the first of the three main companions in this new Image Comics series. Other than the front cover and a relatively sparse map of Blacksand the Fourth Realm (our story’s setting) on the opening pages, I had no idea what to expect from this book. That it’s a fantasy in the epic style is instantly clear from the pointed-eared humanoid (there’s no mention of the word ‘elf’) and hulking cat warrior. But yes, back to the intro.
The art direction is really striking. Other than the creaking and squeaking of a wooden wheelbarrow, there are no words to narrate what’s unfolding. That being said, there’s a depth here into which it’s easy to sink. From the build and scars, we know the man is more than a simple farmer. The lack of expression as he plucks a flower only to stare blankly before casting it aside. A grim resolve in the lowering of the brow being the only change or acknowledgement of the approaching soldiers. I like good storytelling, but good storytelling without words is something I really like.
White Trees can be summed up as a story of three men on a mission to find two lost children. To do so though misses the entire point of what’s here. There’s standard fantasy fare of old companions coming together again after years at the behest of the King. There’s an enemy at the border and past grievances both hidden and very clearly at the fore. It’s a story of dragons, swords and sorcery. What I didn’t expect, however, was such wonderful exploration of the characters and their motivations.
The relationships between the three companions, Kylor the war weary farmer, Scotiar the dashing archer, and Dahvlan the cat-man, are genuinely engaging. This isn’t some gang of merry men but a complex web of history and deep emotion that is deftly displayed with humble normalcy. This is a fantastical world, and for me it enables the team to shine a light on themes and ideas that may have felt forced in a different setting.
I’ll be honest that I missed that this was a book intended for mature readers. I’m not adverse to mature graphic content but I was thrown a curve-ball in the later stages of the book when the three encounter strange creatures in the magical eponymous white trees. Demonic sirens attempt to lure the protagonists with lust and desire which ends with a disturbing flashback, giving greater clarity on how and why we see Kylos the Bold as we do.
White Trees is a comic I could quite easily have missed, and I’m very glad I didn’t. From the character design to the sprawling scenery, the combination of lines and colours are well chosen in every panel. Even when there is a lack of detail, it merely serves to draw the eye and always feels intentional. When you combine this with such well-crafted and emotive narrative you get yourself a book that you really need to consider picking up.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster