Fairytales have always been a big part of our world for as far back as we can remember but, sometimes, they are more a part of our world than we realise. This is certainly the case with White Ash Vol. 1 by Charlie Stickney, Conor Hughes and Fin Cramb, a series about forbidden romance blossoming between two people in a town filled with incredible, fairytale-esque secrets. But can Scout Comics’ fantasy series give us a ‘happy ever after’ or will it turn out to be the stuff of nightmares?
Publisher: Scout Comics
Writer: Charlie Stickney
Artist: Conor Hughes (art/letters), Fin Cramb (colours)
Price: $19.99 from Scout Comics Online Store
White Ash is a small smudge of a town in Western Pennsylvania and a place Aleck Zwerg can’t wait to escape as packs his car to head off to college. However, that all changes when he encounters Lillian Alden, the enigmatic daughter of local businessman and mine owner Thane. With this meeting comes the revelation that Aleck comes from a world that is more fantastical than he could ever have imagined. Unfortunately, learning of his lineage and legacy may have to wait as a mysterious stranger has arrived in his hometown, one who is far more dangerous than anyone could have believed.
From the moment I picked White Ash up until the moment I finished it (all within 24 hours) I was riveted, such is the quality of Charlie Stickney’s story. This title is seriously compelling throughout as it tells a story very much reminiscent in its vibe to Locke and Key. However, unlike Locke and Key, White Ash also has this essence of Romeo and Juliet to it as Aleck and Lillian’s subtly blossoming relationship runs concurrently as a primary focus of the plot against the more horror/action based narrative of ‘who is trying to destroy the town’.
Fortunately, Stickney expertly juggles both narrative threads, making them equally interesting and captivating while also interesting them at moments. He also builds a tremendous world which, while on the surface looks mundane, becomes more intriguing with each revelation thanks to its flesh out society and complex characters. As a result of both of these I was left with many questions in regards to character’s pasts and future plans along with the importance of seemingly ‘normal’ background pieces of the environments (like, is there something special about cats?).
As for the art, Conor Hughes and Fin Cramb more than match Stickney’s tremendous story with some fantastic visuals. Hughes pencils are reminiscent of Robert Ahmad’s (and by extension, Darwyn Cooke, because I’ve also praised Ahmad’s work for being so reflective of Cooke’s) work while also having a faint essence of the classic Archie comics. As a result, this series has a look that feels very walking the line between classic and grounded as well as heightened and fantastical expertly, never falling one side or the other. This is greatly enhanced by Cramb’s colours, which really add to that otherworldly look while still keeping the aesthetic grounded. As a result of both these creators’ collaborative efforts, White Ash has a very Locke and Key vibe to it due to a similar look to the work of the amazing Gabriel Rodriguez.
While the love between Aleck and Lillian may be up for debate, my love for White Ash after this first volume is, without doubt, unconditional! The team of Stickney, Hughes and Cramb have given us an addictive and fun story presented within some ethereally gorgeous art. This is most definitely a worthy successor for fans of the wonderful Locke and Key, but anyone who has even a passing interest in fantasy, monsters, slice of life or all of the above need to be checking out this tremendous essential read (and hope more is to come VERY soon).