Gutter Space #4 by Leslie Salas
Worldbuilding in Megan Kelso’s Artichoke Tales
Worldbuilding—whether in graphic novels or prose novels—is the long and arduous task of creating and enriching social, cultural, and economic setting of a narrative. Worldbuilding is done best when it is invisible to the reader. When an author establishes a foreign setting through the storytelling itself (and not in awkward, stilted dialogue or blatant, uncrafted listing), a reader’s growing understanding of how the world functions becomes a natural element of the reading experience.
Graphic novels are uniquely suited to establishing a great deal of this kind of detail in the span of a few panels thanks to the power of visual literacy. One of the best examples of worldbuilding done well in the medium of sequential art is Megan Kelso’s Artichoke Tales.
This graphic novel, which took Kelso six years to complete, follows the coming-of-age story of Brigitte Quicksand, an apothecary girl from the South who has fallen in love with a soldier boy from the North. Because she and the boy are from opposite ends of the continent and have very different backgrounds and cultures, they are forced to part ways and say goodbye.
Frustrated by her lack of understanding about why people from the North and South—both of whom have artichoke-looking hair—don’t get along, Brigitte asks her grandmother to tell her about the history of the continent.
Brigitte’s quest for understanding and her desire to reconnect with the boy from the North serves as the vehicle that propels a comprehensive account of this history of the Artichoke people and the consequences of a civil war.
Although the reader goes into Artichoke Tales knowing nothing about the world the Artichoke people live in, by the end of this epic tale, one has a comprehensive understanding of their world—and how it mimics our own.
As a side note, one of my favorite things about Megan Kelso as a cartoonist is that she is unafraid to draw provocative or embarrassing scenes.
Throughout Artichoke Tales, there are illustrations of urination, birth, plenty of sexual encounters, and even of a certain member of royalty experiencing gastric distress.
This inclusion of characters in nude and/or vulnerable positions adds to the realistic effect of good worldbuilding (and good fiction in general). We see these characters in their natural environments, at their best, and at their worst. We get to know them, we recognize ourselves in them, and this is what touches us as readers of good writing.
Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.