Ginseng Roots (2019) #9

Gr9

As a series, Ginseng Roots is a litany of successes; some are unimaginable because of the content (who knew Wisconsin ginseng farming trivia could be so engaging), but the overall success is creator Craig Thompson’s ability to present the information. This issue’s all about the current ginseng industry through the perspective of one company—Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises. While the comic’s not exactly an advertisement for the company (though I’m curious what science says about all the health claims), the issue is impossible without the company. Specifically, Thompson’s interviews with the owners about their business and what’s going on with ginseng.

I always wonder how much license Thompson takes with the interviewees’ statements. Are these direct quotes just visualized, or what? Because the flow is terrific. Everyone Thompson—comic Thompson—interviews has just the right personality for presenting the information. They’re likable, even when they don’t seem like they’re going to be (the Hsu guys seem nice, the white guy competitor initially seems like a jerk but turns out to be a-okay too).

The issue also features a cameo from Trump, tied to the Wisconsin Foxconn factory debacle, which has entirely fallen apart since Roots #9 dropped. Thompson didn’t have time for a follow-up in the issue itself, so there are some links and quotes for more current information on the inside back cover. It’s interesting to see some positive perspectives on it—the Foxconn executive is wild about ginseng and its ostensible health potential (this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease)–but since it turned out to be hooey, it’s complicated.

Ditto all the health stuff. Either ginseng really does help with gene regeneration, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, are the ginseng companies knowingly hyping a false product and so on. Presenting the issue like a visualized annual report from Hsu’s Ginseng actually helps with the accuracy responsibility; Thompson’s interviewing and presenting those interviews, not making his own statements.

It’s actually incredible this issue’s so good, given all the caveats.

Though a lot less than usual, Thompson does get in some personality throughout. There’s a great Swamp Thing reference when discussing gene regeneration. Almost every page is a design masterpiece, fitting in all the interview content but visually exciting, even when it’s just fields.

There are a couple things Thompson hurries through (Canadian ginseng), and all the content seems very pre-COVID-19. Still, the issue’s also very concerned with current business conditions, so it’s just another caveat Thompson overcomes.

Thompson would probably make a fortune illustrating company annual reports. Or he should anyway.

It’s not the most exciting Ginseng Roots, other than being a success against the odds, but it’s another excellent one.

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