The Wayside by Julie Morstad
Writer/Artist: Julie Morstad
Publisher: Drawn + Quarterly
Somewhere between Emily Winfield Martin’s sweet vintage illustrations for The Black Apple and Hideo Nakata’s visions of avenging nature spirits lies Julie Morstad’s work, which has the genuine creepiness of non-bowdlerized fairytales. The Wayside is more a collection of drawings than a comic proper, but it does have moments of sequential storytelling, mostly in its first few pages. Whether there’s an overarching narrative hidden throughout the book is indeterminate, especially without words to help, but it seems likely that any links among the individual vignettes are more thematic than plot-based.
Morstad’s characters, mostly female, are constructed of thin, simple lines, overlaid with washes and occasional collage elements. Although the hatching evokes the work of Edward Gorey, Morstad’s tongue is in her mouth where it belongs, not her cheek. It’s not that The Wayside is humorless. Instead, it originates in the deep earnestness of childhood, which is what makes this hardcover fit so well alongside her illustrations in children’s books like The Swing and Singing Away the Dark. There is play here, but it’s serious stuff. The gymnasts who create a pyramid in one drawing aren’t dour, but focused; their simplified faces intent on the task at hand while their limbs go every which way.
Calling to mind Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, many of the images evoke stories: a woman sits at a table with her back to her family, knitting, as her Rapunzel-esque hair cascades into a child’s arms; one man in a suit trims the large, gorgeous butterfly wings of a compatriot, the panels of color fallen to the floor like fingernail pairings; a girl, fearful and curious, lifts the white sheet off a seated figure to peak underneath. The Wayside is a tough book to pin down, existing in the realm of the half-awake, but drives hope that Morstad will do a longer story soon.