Maybe half the issue is the fascinating world history of the ginseng trade—it was actually an American export to China hundreds of years ago too—while the other half is a more colloquial info dump on how pesticides affect ginseng crops. At one point I remembered something I’d learned about ginseng growing from the previous issues and paused to appreciate how incredible creator Craig Thompson is with the exposition. Ginseng Roots never feels like a lecture, never feels like a TED Talk, always feels like… well… Ginseng Roots.
We get to meet some more of the neighbors as Thompson and his brother continue visiting people and talking Shang. There’s a bit about the brother getting into guns as the first hobby he had to himself (creator Thompson wasn’t interested) and then there’s an incredible moment when the sister pops up for a panel and comments on it. I can’t wait to read the comic in a sitting someday and seeing how that subplot perturbs.
Just because there’s so much history—the discovery of American ginseng in the 1700s came from a Jesuit priest who read an article written by another Jesuit priest in China who thought maybe there’d be some there if the climate was similar. It’s nimbly executed but Thompson manages to convey the worldwide scope of it, not to mention how tied the ginseng would end up being in relations between China and the eventual United States.
The only part where Thompson loses some ground is when China goes Communist. All the understanding Thompson’s had for the inevitable Wisconsin Trumpers he’s been lionizing goes out the window and the text all of a sudden feels like it’s out of a CIA fact book.
He never really has to recover since the history’s almost done, but it’s almost pointless. And is a missed opportunity to look at how ginseng production and consumption changed.
But a small (though not insignificant) gripe.