What if a fairy tale heroine went to space? Or what if the protagonists were zombies? These scenarios and more play out in the Far Out Fairy Tales series, in which artists and authors take fairy tales and give them new settings and storylines. This review will focus on the series’ newest books, Jak and the Magic Nano-Beans and Hansel & Gretel & Zombies. Both stories place the classic tales in a different setting and shake up aspects of the story, but the creators have mixed success in creating satisfactory stories that are strong in their own right.
In Jak and the Magic Nano-Beans, Earth has been abandoned and those remaining eke out on a now desolate Earth. To save her robot friend Cow, Jak makes a deal with the Scrap Man: in exchange for repairing Cow, she will go to the Cloud Kingdom at the top of the ladder and bring back nano-bots in order to provide a better life to those left behind on Earth.
I was impressed with the set-up of the world in Jak and the Magic Nano-Beans and think certain changes—such as making Jak into a girl—were great decisions. The story has gorgeous strong visuals that bring the world to life and grabbed my attention; little visual details such as the junkyard and the contrast between Jak’s mother’s real, sedentary body and her communicator avatar’s idealized form helped to bring me into the world. I was invested in Jak’s plight, and I liked that she was an active heroine. However, despite its wonderful coloring and great character and setting designs in the early parts of the book, Jak and the Magic Nano-Beans’ suffers from confusing action and overall readability in the last few pages. I also was frustrated with the story’s lack of a satisfactory ending. The ending does not show her return to Earth nor anything about how certain aspects of the plot—such as Jak’s deal and her life afterwards—play out. After being invested because of the initial set-up and visuals, the unsatisfactory ending, as well as some of the confusing sequences toward the end of the book, left me disappointed.
In contrast, Hansel & Gretel & Zombies succeeds in creating a fun story from the roots of the original fairy tale. Hansel, Gretel, and their parents are zombies in a graveyard. Because it has been a long time since they have had any fresh brains, their parents send Hansel and Gretel to find brains for everyone. Their plans go awry when they meet the witch, who wishes to eat them! Hansel & Gretel & Zombies’ art meshes well with the words and adds satisfactory details to move the story along. Hansel and Gretel are drawn in a classic style, reminiscent of early Disney; granted, they are ravenous zombies with attitude rather than sweet children, but the style suits the lightheartedness of the work.
The tweaks to the original story, such as the parents’ caring attitude toward their children (despite their questionable decision to send them out alone), give the story a lighthearted tone, and the plot merrily skips to its sweet and funny conclusion. The nods to zombie tropes are more humorous than scary and further contribute to the story’s light-heartedness. I enjoyed Hansel & Gretel & Zombies because the plot resolved in a satisfactory way that remained in tune with the rest of the amusing sequence; I also liked that even though elements of the original tale were recognizable, the authors succeeded in creating a fun, unique tale.
I definitely appreciate the concept behind the Far Out Fairy Tale series. While the classical fairy tales can be enjoyable to read in their own right, it is always a pleasure to see adaptations that go where these stories have not gone previously. Both books’ creators have great ideas for remixing these stories, and one perk of both books is that the creators include notes on the original story as well as notes on the artistic and storytelling decisions. These notes would be fascinating for budding comic creators.
Stone Arch Books rate these at a grade 3-8 interest level. Given the stories’ relative simplicity, the older children in this range will likely not find these as compelling as younger individuals. Because the strength of the work seems to differ from book to book, it would be prudent to evaluate individual books in the Far Out Fairy Tales series before making any purchases.
Far Out Fairy Tales: Hansel & Gretel & Zombies
by Benjamin Harper
Art by Fernando Cano
Jak and the Magic Nano-Beans
by Carl Bowen
Art by Omar Loano
Stone Arch Books, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 3-8