Over the Garden Wall #1
By Pat McHale, Jim Campbell, and Danielle Burgos
In case you aren’t up on your children’s animated programs, Over the Garden Wall was a cartoon network animated mini-series from 2014. The show was created by Patrick McHale, a predominate animator at Cartoon Network who had previously worked on major successes like The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time. Additionally, the series boasted the excellent voice acting talent of both Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd amid a cast of other reliable voice-over actors. Over the Garden Wall was an odd mini-series, but a very impressive one nonetheless. The show revolves around two brothers, Wirt and Greg, who become lost in a bizarre fantasy realm referred to only as being “over the garden wall.” The fantasy realm is a decidedly metaphorical one, representing the trials and dangers of the unknown and growing up. Ultimately the show isn’t as meaningful as Adventure Time or as character driven as Steven Universe, but works well as a sort of exercise in artisanal animation. The visual rendering of the story combined with the excellent scoring, voice acting, and color work create a wondrous experience, best compared to a Western version of a Miyazaki film. Now, BOOM! has made a comic book extension of the show, which falls more than a little short.
The original Over the Garden Wall show was broken up into a collection of generally unconnected episodes. The situation of the boys lost in the fantasy wilderness persisted, but each episode was its own little story. As such, the BOOM! comic is formatted the same way, a brief tale of the bizarre and fantastical that could be slotted into the broader canon of the boys’ adventures. This particular story revolves around Wirt and Greg coming upon a pair of mysterious sisters who keep requesting bizarre tasks of them. It’s a well enough told adventure, keeping with the fairy tale and fable aesthetics of the original show. However, where it falls down is in recapturing the mood or atmosphere of the show.
Over the Garden Wall isn’t a show that succeeds because of its gripping plot or riveting dialogue. It works as a show through the strength of its multimedia experience, the unique confluence of visual design, color, and music. While a comic adaptation never could’ve recaptured the soothing yet surreal nature of the show’s score, it’s a shame the show’s strength of coloring didn’t translate either. The colors, provided by Jim Campbell and Danielle Burgos, all come off a bit too cartoonish. This mainly comes down to blending and palette more than anything else. The forest backdrop has a decidedly washed out feel to it, shrouded in sepia tone mist that never quite captures the otherworldly picturesque nature of the show. This same issue extends to the artwork as well, which features far too much bold and black line work.
The actual designs are still very strong, most likely owing to creator Pat McHale’s involvement in the graphic novel. The central sister creatures work very well and capture a kind of pastoral ease filtered through a decided offness. Their childlike physicality coupled with exaggerated proportions and massive heads is actually thoroughly reminiscent of a Legend of Zelda villain, much like how the original series drew a lot of similarities from Majora’s Mask. However, they don’t really work as far as action goes, especially in their more antagonistic connection to the boys. They’re too explicative of the central aging metaphor that informs the entire fantasy realm. Where other antagonists like the inhabitants of Pottsfield or the Beast represent an aspect of aging without setting forth a hard and fast definition, the malevolent sisters of this installment are a fairly one-to-one translation of a real life challenge that comes with growing up. They’re essentially an embodiment of the anxieties and mistrust we hold for ourselves and the fear that when we think we’re doing well we’ve actually just misunderstanding how badly we’re doing. The level of specificity really robs them of any mystique or sense of mystery; it’s too easy a comparison to understand. Without some level of ambiguity to force the audience to define the weirdness through their own lens the sisters come off distant and impersonal.
Finally, from a character standpoint this issue is fairly inert. The main focus is on Wirt and while he’s a serviceable protagonist it’s a shame Greg is so underused as he really is the more humorous and engaging sibling. Younger readers who liked the show will probably still find something to enjoy in this comic adaptation, though the absence of Greg’s comedy and weirdness will be a big let down. Adult readers who enjoyed the show for its blend of maturity and creativity will only find disappointment however.