The Lettuce Girl
If you’re belatedly looking for a sweet, Valentine’s Day appropriate story, I do not recommend Rapunzel. I recently cracked open my collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to reread the tale, and realized that Rapunzel’s meeting with the prince is far from romantic. When he proposes, she gives him the once over and thinks, “‘Anyone may have me, rather than the old woman.” The prince just isn’t that important. He’s a plot device, an open door through which Rapunzel can exit her imprisonment into the trying world of adulthood. It’s Rapunzel’s far more interesting coming-of-age that Sophia Wiedeman examines in her four-part story The Lettuce Girl.
The Lettuce Girl is a meditative retelling of Rapunzel that focuses on Nell, a lonely witch, and Hazel, her adoptive daughter who she has locked up in a tower. The two women have a deeply dysfunctional mother/child relationship. Nell does not know how to love without asserting control; she takes pity on cold, suffering birds by stunning them with magic and caging them in her home. When Hazel coaxes an Ula, or sea serpent, into the tower, the two forge a bond that gives Hazel the strength to plan her escape. However, things do not go as planned, and Hazel quickly learns that her upbringing has left her largely unequipped to survive alone.
It’s clear that Wiedeman feels real empathy for her characters, especially Nell. Nell’s penchant for imprisoning her loved ones stems from a potent fear of abandonment, and when it becomes clear that Hazel wants freedom, the witch responds by attempting to grow a brand new child that will never leave her. Wiedeman does not excuse Nell’s behavior; in several abusive interactions, Nell blatantly reveals the isolation and fear tactics she uses to keep Hazel in the tower. However, the sadness of her situation is palpable, and I could not view her as a villain.
Wiedeman’s control over the pacing of the story is beautifully tyrannical; it is impossible to flip quickly through the comic. She is especially creative with the gutters, slicing pages into neat squares to replicate the imagery of a cage, nudging birds out of panels to create a sense of freedom and connection, and using the gutters as tools to mark movement to a new place, or the passage of time.
A gorgeous example of the latter appears in part two, which begins with the story of how Hazel’s parents lost her to Nell. As the flashback piece of the story ends, Wiedeman cuts an image of a gnarled tree into three tall columns, and slowly lightens the inks to draw the eye across. The next page is a full, bright image of trees, and upon turning that page the reader discovers an uncut two-page spread that shows a now sixteen-year-old Hazel gazing out of the tower. Even without the caption revealing that it is, “spring, some sixteen years later,” it is perfectly clear that time has very slowly been passing.
Wiedeman initially published each part of The Lettuce Girl as individual zines, but has also released the complete collection as a bound book. The book offers slicker pages, extra illustrations of the characters, and uses all-black pages between each piece of the story to maintain the genius pacing. Ultimately, I was glad to have purchased the individual issues, because it’s hard to crack the book’s spine to fully view the gorgeous two-page spreads. However, it’s also quite satisfying to be able to sit and read the entire tale without having to pause and pick up the next zine.
Whichever way you prefer to collect the story, you will not be disappointed. Using only black inks, Wiedeman has created a comic that is beautiful and brilliantly crafted. In fact, you’re wasting time reading this–you need this book! Purchase it online at her Storenvy or Etsy shops, or catch her at SPX later this year. Keep an eye on her website to follow her work.