Ginseng Roots (2019) #6

Ginseng Roots 6

It’s such a dark issue. How is it such a dark issue. I mean, it’s clear why it’s a dark issue—creator Craig Thompson juxtaposes the seed process of ginseng with he and his siblings going into high school, getting baptized, and suffering serious abuse, so there’s simultaneous this literal expansive life thing for the seed (and the kids) along with accompanying traumas.

Very dark. But bright and full of amusing moments. Also petrifying ones (Thompson says a lot about being raised by religious parents without saying much about religion).

The art is stunning from the first page, with these intricately composed pages, the “narrative” flowing from page to page as he describes the complicated, years long process of getting from ginseng seed to ginseng plant. In addition to the growing process, there’s also the accompanying work the farmer has to do to plant the seeds, which of course gets covered. There are also some nice textual asides, but it’s mostly a lesson on the seeds.

The issue’s also a lot more lyrical in structure than usual. Even with the long cycle for the seeds, Thompson doesn’t stick too much to the set timeline, sort of easing in and out of it, skipping ahead nine months in as many panels then slowing down to a halt and zooming in to inspect something going on either with the seed or he and his siblings. His parents get to be active (fretting over evil secularism or worse) in a few panels and it’s always part of the flow.

The sister gets a lot more to do than usual (though usually she’s not even present); here, she’s a full sidekick, complete with her own observational asides. But Thompson even distances himself (as a teen), zooming out to look at himself in comparison to his siblings. It’s not until after the home schooling decision Thompson really zooms back in on himself, but it’ll be a story for another issue (or maybe not). Because the story of the seed, and therefore the issue, is coming to a close. It’s incredibly successful and I guess not too bold a move given Ginseng Roots knows its audience; the end comes abruptly but the issue doesn’t feel abrupt. I keep waiting for some zinger as I read the last few pages, fingertips feeling the end near with every page turn, but no. Thompson just does the issue and ends it.

It’s maybe the best way to finish a heavy chapter in a serial.

So good.

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