Linda Medley is a writer, penciler, inker, colorist, and painter of comics. Over the past three decades they have been published by DC Comics, Image, Tundra Press, Fantagraphics and more. They have received two Eisner Awards in their career, one of which was for their originally self published comic series Castle Waiting. I got a chance to talk with Linda Medley about Castle Waiting, the upcoming third volume, and the challenges involved in making it a reality. Our interview is transcribed below.
JC: You're an award winning illustrator with a career spanning over three decades. It wasn't until about 1989 when you got into comics primarily at DC, working on titles like Justice League and Doom Patrol, doing cover and coloring work by 1995. What drew you from other illustration work to comics? What was it like for you to be working on licensed properties at DC?
LM: I was a comics fan long before getting into illustration — but at the time that I went to college, there weren't any schools (on the West coast) that had comics art programs like they do today. As a matter of fact, the Illustration department director at the college I went to — the Academy of Art College in San Francisco — told me that "Comics are GARBAGE!" and that I was never to work on any comics art or cartooning while I was a student there. So I never did much more than doodle around drawing fanart on my own time during those four years, and graduated with a degree in Illustration. It took a few years for me work up the nerve to actually put together sample pages to take to conventions.
I liked drawing superheroes. I still do! And of course it was a thrill to draw characters I'd grown up reading. But I never found the assembly-line system of working to be very satisfying (to say nothing of the institutionalized sexism, cough).
JC: You originally came up with the idea for Castle Waiting in the mid-80s before your comics work started. How did it come about? Did you envision it as a comic at the time?
LM: Castle Waiting was part of my senior-year independent study project. My advisor was Jon Dahlstrom, who basically let me doing anything I wanted. I'd already decided to specialize in Children's Book illustration and my idea was to illustrate some of the weirder, more obscure fairy and folk tales; it morphed into it's own story as I went along. I didn't consider doing it as a comic; I likely would've been kicked out of school if I had!
JC: In the mid-90s you had received a grant to assist in self-publishing Castle Waiting. What was the transition from working on licensed properties to self publishing like? How much had your original concepts for Castle Waiting changed in the years between its conception and execution?
LM: It wasn't a sudden break at all; I still worked as a colorist for Image and DC in the early years, and even drew a mini-series for Vertigo (Books of Faerie — which was doomed before it even started). To move on to complete creative control over my work was a huge relief after that!
The concept for Castle Waiting never really changed — to move the spotlight away from the traditional heroes, and most well-known of fairy tales and onto the obscure tales and supporting characters. What did develop was the storyline.
JC: What was the reception like for Castle Waiting?
LM: In the very beginning — before I put out the introductory graphic novel — I put together a little photocopied ashcan that I took to a few cons to show to people, and oh boy. Everybody told me I was nuts, that nobody would want to read a story like that, drawn in that style. Fairy tales were only acceptable in comics if they'd been twisted into something dark, horrific, and needing a Mature Readers label. I'd had enough of that, though, and I'm stubborn so I didn't listen to them. I kept working on it, and submitted my plans to the Xeric Foundation. Being awarded a grant to self-publish it gave it a bit of a stamp of approval, though, and people didn't grumble so loudly. It's initial sales were terrible, though! The original Diamond PO was for 1300 copies. But I made sure that every outlet I could think of had at least a demo copy on hand, and a lot of people — retailers, librarians, folks at Diamond — -really pushed it, and the first printing sold out in a few months. Somebody once said: writing and publishing a book is like having a baby, and selling your book is raising that baby. In the case of Castle Waiting, it really did take a village, you know? It's success belonged to a lot of people.
JC: In the years since Castle Waiting first premiered, fantasy comics as well as fantasy TV series and movies have seen a resurgence. Have you seen your influence in these stories that have come after your Eisner Award winning work?
LM: Of course I have. But I'm not gonna give them one bit of publicity by mentioning them here
JC: You're currently working on volume 3 of Castle Waiting. Could you tell us a bit about the story and what we can expect to find in it?
LM: Very simply, volume 3 is Jain's backstory. All of the flashbacks to her childhood that appear in volumes 1 and 2 have led up to it; so readers will find out how she got from being a wealthy, sheltered, somewhat spoiled daddy's girl to where she was when we first met her: pregnant, homeless, and on the run. The focus is on just how dysfunctional her family really is, and how they manage — and fail — at coping with that.
Also: it's in full color.
JC: What are some of the challenges you've faced while working on this volume?
LM: Oh wow. Well...to start with, I'd started having trouble drawing — pain and numbness in my neck and hands, loss in motor control — when I was working on volume 2. I finally had to walk away from it and leave it unfinished. I took off for a year or so and things seemed to get better, so I came back to it and finished volume 2. Just as I'd started working on volume 3, my editor (and publisher) Kim Thompson passed away. And that really sent everything into a tailspin. I ended up losing the apartment I'd lived in for 13 years and moving out of state. Soon after moving I got word that volume 3 was still a go, but the problems with my hands had returned. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act had just passed so I got my ass to a doctor this time! I found out that the main problem is arthritis in my spine messing with my nerves. Finding adequate care in the area where I was living was impossible so I moved — AGAIN — to Seattle, where spine doctors are as plentiful as Starbucks.
JC: What can we do to help make Castle Waiting volume 3 a reality?
LM: I'd really love to get a full-body exoskeleton, but they're not covered by Medicaid. Seriously, though, I have a fantastic physical therapist who has helped me find ways to manage my pain and regain the control I was losing. But recuperating has taken me longer than I ever thought it would and my finances are pretty much depleted, so I'm working on raising the money to keep going. I've set up crowdfunding opportunities on both Patreon and GoFundMe, as well as an Etsy shop for selling art. It's been slow going, but every little bit helps! It took a village to get it started, and it may take a small town to keep it going, but it is going. And I have a lot of people to thank for that.