Fairy Tale Comics: classic tales retold by extraordinary cartoonists

fairy-tale-comicsSeventeen folk and fairy tales are reimagined, although frequently truncated, in this new collection from First Second, the companion to their 2011 title, Nursery Rhyme Comics. Editor Duffy was responsible for choosing the tales and matching them to individual artists. The stories range from six to eight pages, which may be responsible for the truncated state in which the folk tradition of three repetitions is often ignored. Some “private” nitpicking from your reviewer: while the title of the collection suggests that all the stories are fairy tales, several of them do not include any sign of the wee folk that would make that designation correct.

The anthology has an abundance of well-known Grimms’ tales filling the pages beginning with “Sweet Porridge,” also known as “The Magic Porridge Pot.” The other Grimm Brother tales are “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” “ Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White,” “ Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel,” “The Bremen Town Musicians,” and “Give Me Shudders,” or “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear.” The eclectic creators of these stories are Bobby London, Emily Carroll, Gilbert Hernandez, Gigi D.G., Jaime Hernandez, Brett Helquist, Raina Telgemeier, Karl Kerschl, and David Mazzucchelli. Two tales from the English folk tradition are also included: “The Small-tooth Dog,” a little known story originally collected by Sidney Oldall Addy, illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper, and the ubiquitous and, in this case, wordless “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” with art by Graham Annable.

The remaining tales, with the exception of Charles Perrault’s “Puss in Boots,” adapted by Vanessa Davis, may not be readily recognized by the general public. However, they happen to embody my favourite tales in the collection. “The Prince and the Tortoise,” adapted from Jean-Charles Mardus’ translation of Arabian Nights (1001 Nights), is highly reminiscent of the original Classics Illustrated comic books in style, execution, colours and the division of labour indicated on the splash page of the tale. I particularly enjoy the personality of the Tortoise and the humour of the script by Chris Duffy and illustrations by Ramona Fradon. Luke Pearson, author and illustrator of the delightful Hilda series, is responsible for the effective adaption of Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese tale “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” The tale of the boy, his obsession, and the resultant adventures flows effortlessly through the illustrations and the expressive but simple features of the boy. Also effective, although rendered in a totally different style from Pearson, is Joseph Lambert’s visioning of Dora Lee Newman’s Bre’r Rabbit tale “Rabbit will not help.” Lambert’s animal characters vibrate with distinct personalities and the entire tale sings with colour, lush starkness, and humour.

My two favourite tales revolve indirectly, in the first example, and directly in the second, around the art of oral storytelling. Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations and colour palate, evocative of Russian picture books in her tale of the infamous Russian witch, “Baba Yaga,” has much of the tale narrated by an offstage storyteller. In “The King and His Storyteller,” adapted by Craig Thompson from Petrus Alphonsi’s medieval collection of tales, the storyteller is front and centre in the telling. This tale is the absolutely appropriate ending for the superb collection. How can a storyteller control the insatiable appetite for his or her tales but with an endless story? Several print and electronic resources for the tales are briefly mentioned in the “Editor’s Note,” followed by several pages of concise biographies of the contributors to the volume complete the package.

I highly recommend this title for public, school, and home library collections. A visual feast, it works as an introduction to a wide variety of artistic styles and use of comic book elements while introducing, or re-introducing seventeen folk and fairy tales to an all-ages and contemporary audience.

Fairy Tale Comics: classic tales retold by extraordinary cartoonists
by Chris Duffy, Bobby London, Emily Carroll, Gilbert Hernandez, Gigi D.G., Jaime Hernandez, Brett Helquist, Raina Telgemeier, Karl Kerschl, and David Mazzucchelli, Charise Mericle Harper, Graham Annable, Vanessa Davis,Ramona Fradon, Luke Pearson, Joseph Lambert, Jillian Tamaki, and Craig Thompson.
ISBN: 978-1-59643-8
First Second, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 6+

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