Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.

I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.

The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.

I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories 
By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald
Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al
ISBN: 9781945820342
Iron Circus, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Browse for more like this title
Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

American involvement in the Middle East has been going on for over a decade, and stereotypes and conceptions about those involved are quite common. But what are the stories of those living there? In Rolling Blackouts, cartoonist Sarah Glidden explores the experiences of citizens and refugees by chronicling the trip she took through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with her journalist friends, Sarah and Alex, and a military veteran, Dan. Among the individuals and groups they meet are a man accused of terrorism and deported from the United States; Iraqi refugees living in Syria; and refugees living in former prisons. The result is a thoughtful, nuanced narrative that examines these experiences and the role of journalism.

Early on in the story, Glidden claims Rolling Blackout’s focus is on the process of journalism and its ethics. However, as a reader, I found the stories of those interviewed more compelling and more immediately visible. Glidden weaves Sarah and Alex’s struggles of finding and developing a good story into the narrative, and these elements help contribute to the reflective nature of the story as well as to humanize the journalists, who, according to Sarah, are frequently viewed with suspicion and disgust.

The meat of the story lies in the experiences of the people the group interviews. Glidden does not force individuals’ words to fit a particular narrative. As a result, Rolling Blackouts reveals the wide variety of opinions and experiences among those directly affected by the conflict as well as the messy nature of the lives affected. Glidden’s simple, clean artwork allows readers to focus on the individuals’ experiences as they describe them. Glidden excels at demonstrating characters’ personalities through gestures and expressions, and the soft colors evoke a thoughtful mood. The artwork fits well with the slower pacing of the story: Rolling Blackouts is not a book to be read in one sitting, but rather requires one to pause to reflect on the stories being told.

Rolling Blackouts will appeal to teenage and adult readers seeking a nuanced story about the impact of the conflicts in the Middle East. The book also would provide a great opportunity to discuss journalistic ethics and the methods of constructing a story. Because this book does not provide much historical context, readers seeking background information will want to look elsewhere. That being said, Rolling Blackouts’ thoughtful portrayal of the experiences of those in the Middle East will give it a place in most library collections.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq
by Sarah Glidden
ISBN: 9781770462557

Drawn and Quarterly, 2016