Review: The Magic Hedge by Marian Runk

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Magic Moments, the first issue of The Magic Hedge and Other Stories comic series by Marian Runk and a 2011 Ignatz Award nominee for Outstanding Comic, is a sweet and subtly humorous collection of five autobiographic short stories that weaves together tales of birdwatching, Catholic school girls, and Project Runway. Although these topics may not seem to fit together, Runk manages to create an intriguingly cohesive whole that has a little something in it for everyone.

The first story, Introduction to the Magic Hedge, is told through a part comic, part traditional text format. Here, Runk describes the title of her series as a quaint spot of greenery along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s northside where she often seeks refuge from the urban environment surrounding it. We learn of her birder father and the intimate bond the two have over birdwatching. We also learn of the migratory warbler and the other bird species at the hedgea. Runk enthralls us with the magic of her special place, inviting us in further through her charming handwritten text and effortlessly drawn sketches.

The Magic Hedge: Magic Moments by Marian Runk
The Magic Hedge: Magic Moments by Marian Runk

Introduction to the Magic Hedge is followed by Life Birds, excerpts of a sketchbook that spans over a year’s worth of birds spotted at the hedge. Here, text and images are minimal, creating a quiet tone that cleverly mimics the birdwatching atmosphere. At times, Runk also adds some unexpected comic flare to the sketchbook format, a subtle element of surprise that keeps us wanting to read further.

The third story of the collection, Catholic School Girls, deviates quite a bit from the birdwatching tales, entering into the realm of queer culture, the subject of many of Runk’s previous comics. The shift here is a bit jarring, but creates a new sort of contemplation within us that brings us back to the gender symbols Runk used to denote male and female birds as well as the brief appearance of Runk’s girlfriend in the previous stories. Catholic School Girls is a short, humorous comic where two lesbians bond over the nostalgic reminiscing of their high school days as the Notre Dykes and Rezzie Lezzies. It is the kind of funny you cannot help but snort with laughter about. And it is presented on ruled notebook paper, encouraging us all to think back on our high school days. Through the energy and wit of this story, Runk gives us space to breathe and transitions us into the next tale.

Bathed in Light is a reflection of queer culture as seen through the eyes of pop culture and everyday social interactions. Runk uses the approachable and relatable television series Project Runway to gently ease us into her rather serious reflection of the HIV/AIDS epidemic within the gay community and how it is perceived by the outside world. (It must be noted that as an avid Project Runway watcher, I find the recreated screen shots to be amazingly spot on.) Runk then eases us out of the more somber moments back into the happy world of the Magic Hedge. The collection ends joyfully with a one-page comic, Halloween Birding, that nicely ties everything together.

The Magic Hedge and Other Stories began about five years ago as Runk’s first comic as a graduate student at Columbia College’s Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts M.F.A. program. After putting it away for a few years and graduating, she later returned to it and spent about five months working sporadically to create the first issue, Magic Moments, which she printed and bound herself. She took it to the Small Press Expo in Washington, D.C. as well as to the Chicago Zine Fest, which was held a couple weekends ago. She will be debuting the second issue of the series, which she worked on while an artist-in-residence at Ragdale, at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. You can purchase The Magic Hedge #1 for $10 at her Etsy Shop, Quimby’s, and Chicago Comics.

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