There’s a thrill to certain first issues, every comic reader knows it because it’s the thing that guarantees you’ll read more comics. When you pick up the right issue, whether it’s a dusty copy of some superhero title from a discount bin or a gleaming new trade displayed at the front of a bookstore, there’s a recognition that what’s on the page is magic. It’s a story that draws you in and encourages you to revel in multiple readings, all while sensing the formations of anxiety about when more will arrive. Reading The White Trees #1 delivered that feeling for me, and I’m left grateful.
The White Trees is a two-part miniseries from Image Comics, potentially the first of many installments under the label of “A Blacksands Tale.” It’s a fantasy tale set on a small continent with multiple nations currently at peace, albeit a tense form of peace, and populated by various sorts of sentient creatures (e.g. elves, cat-people). Three former brothers-in-arms are drawn back together to rescue their children in a typical fantasy quest. That adventure provides a compelling enough plot, but the magic of The White Trees comes in the how of its telling, not simply the twists, mysteries, and action of its plot.
Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Kris Anka are already familiar and well-regarded quantities in comics today. Their reputations are well earned as storytellers possessing great skill, consistency, and ample range. Even as a fan of their work, each possesses traits that sometimes lead to critique. Zdarsky sometimes indulges in blunt exposition; Anka’s characters are sometimes too stiff. While observing some of these traits in The White Trees #1, the combined work on the page reduced them to a stylistic flair rather than a detriment to the issue itself. This collaboration presents work where the best in all creators is brought forth. Many pages are left entirely silent, trusting entirely in Anka’s crisp lines to perfectly portray the relationships between a few carefully selected panels. These pages are enhanced by sound effects that transform sound into a visual form beautifully, almost making the wisp of an arrow emerge from the art. Zdarsky’s longest sequences of dialogue are constructed in a fashion where readers are capable of following at least two narratives simultaneously. The issue crafted to tell a visual story that both enhances and adds to what is being spoken. Zdarsky and Anka bring forth the absolute best in one another.
Colorist Matt Wilson should not go without mention either. His backgrounds are crafted with gradients and textures that imply even more detail than Anka’s already rich linework delivers. When readers look across a pasture or at a rising metropolis or several other grand locales, they are provided an immersive experience that suggest they could walk into the panel and discover more. The palette choices are essential to much of the story as well, helping Krylos, the central protagonist, say so much in his silence.
That sense of immersion extends beyond the splashes and backgrounds. Every part of The White Trees #1 is constructed to expand on what can be seen or read. History, both personal and national, is regularly referenced providing a rich sense of relationships and past wars. A map before the first page helps to frame multiple locales, each one representing a different biosphere. As a story that immediately embeds readers in a complex, character-based story within a much more complex and thoroughly considered reality, it draws a favorable comparison to Saga.
None of this touches on the actual nature of these characters, their relationships, and how their story builds to essential themes surrounding grief, the cost of violence, and generational passage. All of that is best discovered in the pages of The White Trees #1 though, because the story is greatly enhanced by its telling. Every collaborator is functioning at their best within these pages and enhancing the work of their colleagues. There are not out of place panels or clunky word balloons, only brilliant moments of juxtaposition and maturely conceived interactions. It’s rare to find a series that brings so much power with its debut. The White Trees has reminded at least one reader how reading comics can feel like pure magic.
Published by Image Comics
On August 14, 2019
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Kris Anka0comments
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters by Aditya Bidikar