Come with me on a trip to the Unknown and see what may appear in our path. Mild spoilers ahead.
Written by Jonathan Case, Gris Grimly, and Samantha Glow Knapp
Penciled by Hannah Christenson, Gris Grimly, and Cole Closser
Colored by Juan Useche, Gris Grimly, and Cole Closser
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Wirt and Greg try to take a shortcut in the Unknown with some unexpected consequences.
Over the Garden Wall is special. The only TV miniseries that Cartoon Network has ever produced, the show took us into a soft, strange, Fall-themed world and allowed us to get lost along with its characters. There’s a certain indefinable charm to the show, a combination of atmosphere, art design, characters, and quirk. When the ongoing “Over the Garden Wall” comic focuses on Wirt and Greg, it tends to stick pretty closely to the style of the show. For this 2017 Special, though, all three stories tap into different aspects of the show’s charm and combine with it distinct storytelling styles. This special is an exploration of how versatile a concept this is and what aspects endure throughout all interpretations.
The first story here, “Mineral Springs,” is closest to the tone of the show and the ongoing comic. Writer Jonathan Case perfectly captures each of the characters’ voices, particularly the way Wirt’s logic interacts with Greg’s non-sequiturs. Contrasting well against those voices are those of the supporting characters unique to this tale, be that the singsong old-timey voice of the hot air balloon operator or the sophisticated speech of the snow monkeys. Case also makes use of the odd story logic of the show, comedically throwing us from strange situation to strange situation while always giving us room to fully take in the scene.
Christenson and Useche’s art in “Mineral Springs” is also the closest to the style of existing Over the Garden Wall media. Christenson’s figures tend to be simply drawn, with outlines and minimal detail inside those. This isn’t a negative: it’s a style that works well for Over the Garden Wall, forcing the strange characters and situations to be inherently unique from concept to design. When a character is more detailed, that only serves to throw suspicion on them and up the creep factor. Useche’s colors go a long way towards setting the mood, giving each environment its own palette. In each of these, the colors, like the washed-out beiges, greens, and oranges when in the hot air balloon or the contrasting light blues and peaches in the snow monkey area, concretely set us up in one place so we can feel the scenes out more thoroughly. All this goes a long way towards capturing the charm of the show.
The second story in the issue, “Odin’s Bargain,” is a sharp departure from the first. Writer/artist Gris Grimly uses narration and highly stylized watercolors to tell his tale. He doesn’t quite get the voices of Wirt and Greg in the way Case did, and his art style looks like a completely different book. But the story understands the tone of Over the Garden Wall, and through that, its core charm.
Essentially, “Odin’s Bargain” presents a seamless combination of Over the Garden Wall and Grimly’s own work, such that things that shouldn’t seem to work on the surface end up working perfectly once you actually read the story. For example, the narration is completely out of place for an “Over the Garden Wall” story, yet Grimly uses the pacing of the narration to reflect the pacing and tone of the show. Likewise, his figures are all bent at odd angles, a far cry from the rounded style of the show. But he uses those figures to convey emotions that fit right in with Over the Garden Wall canon. Then there are some aspects of his story that are perfectly in line with the show, like the autumn oranges and browns in the watercolors, or the idea of a scarecrow who creates living models of dead writers out of corn husks.
Grimly understands what makes the show work. He also understands what makes his own material work, and the type of story he wants to tell. As such, his ten-page story ends up being a shining example of what a creator can do with a licensed property, taking the pros of both their own work and the property’s and meshing them together without losing sight of what makes each great.Continued below
The third and final story in the book, “Fiddlesprung and the Deadly Cold,” is a bit more conventional, albeit with an odd choice for artwork. Artist Cole Closser seems to be taking after the simple style of Gold Key Saturday morning cartoon adaptations from the 60s, where few lines stay perfectly straight and most parts of the image are represented by blobs of contrasting colors. Backgrounds are nearly non-existent in most panels, the actual colors used are straight out of the 60s, and the entire story is designed to look like it was printed using equipment, ink, and paper from that era. Some pages even look as if ink on the adjacent page smudged some of its ink on it, as if this is a scan of a real cartoon adaptation published 50 years ago.
I’m not sure why this style was chosen for this story, since Knapp’s writing is just as classic Over the Garden Wall material as this special’s lead story, with strange occurrences and humor and enduring charm. It could easily have been illustrated in a style closer to the show and not lost anything. But as a ten-page exploration of the types of styles that could be used with these characters and this world, it worked well enough.
Overall, the selection of stories in this special shows how a wide variety of talent can make use of the Over the Garden Wall concept. Each story has different levels of faithfulness to the original show, but even when less faithful, the core charm is always there. As a special issue outside of the ongoing, this offered some idiosyncratic creators a chance to make the concept work for them. This one comes recommended if you like other Over the Garden Wall material, and if you’ve never seen or read any of it, this is a great place to see why so many adore it.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A strong set of diverse stories and diverse art styles by diverse storytellers that faithfully capture the heart of “Over the Garden Wall” while bringing their own styles to the table.