Fairy Tale Comics
By Graham Annable, Emily Carroll, Gigi D.G., Vanessa Davis, Chris Duffy, Ramona Fradon, Charise Mericle Harper, Brett Helquist, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Karl Kerschl, Joseph Lambert, Bobby London, David Mazzucchelli, Luke Pearson, Jillian Tamaki, Raina Telgemeier, and Craig Thompson
Edited by Chris Duffy
One of the wonderful things about fairy tales is the way they can be retold and reinterpreted from generation to generation. In fact, it’s not so much that they can go through that process; it’s that they have to. Since fairy tales were originally passed along orally, there are no definitive versions. People talk about the “original” Brothers Grimm stories, but even those were pieced together from various sources and not always the most authentic ones. There were already revisions of the Grimms’ written collection within the brothers’ lifetimes as they reconsidered who their audience was. These stories belong to all of us and seeing how they change over time is a fascinating way to study the cultures in which they’re retold.
To that end, Fairy Tale Comics features classic fantasy stories reinterpreted by some of the best cartoonists today. Some of them include elements from early, darker versions of the stories. The end of Jamie Hernandez’ “Snow White” is much more Grimm than Disney, for example. Others are more or less straightforward accounts of the traditional versions, like Vanessa Davis’ “Puss in Boots” or Gilbert Hernandez’ “Hansel and Gretel.”
That’s not to say that these familiar versions are uninteresting. The visual interpretations of the characters and seeing what story elements each cartoonist chooses to highlight are always worthwhile, even when the tales themselves are well known. One of my favorite stories in the collection is Graham Annable’s silent and visually quirky, but otherwise extremely faithful version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” so I’m certainly not knocking this approach.
The ones that I found most interesting though are the stories that have been updated to reflect modern ideas about people and culture. In Gigi D.G.’s “Little Red Riding Hood,” the woodsman has become a tough, female lumberjack. Continuing the theme of feminist interpretations, the heroine in Charise Mericle Harper’s take on the “Beauty and the Beast”-like story, “The Small Tooth,” has a surprising level of awareness about her situation and her father who put her in it. And Raina Telgemeier lets Rapunzel turn around and rescue her would-be savior in the most awesome way imaginable.
These revisions not only comment on their own stories, but also cast new light on some of the traditionally told ones. Brett Helquist’s “Rumpelstiltskin” follows the established version closely, but pulls no punches in portraying the abusive, horrible king who enslaves and terrorizes a young girl for his own, financial benefit. However, the atrociousness of the king is seen even more clearly against the feminist updates in the other stories.
In a different kind of revision, Joseph Lambert modernizes the Bre’r Rabbit tales in “Rabbit Will Not Help” by having the animals drop their “Bre’r” titles and eliminating the infamous name of Fox’s tar creation. The tar-creature sequence is still there; it’s just the racial slur that’s absent.
Those who enjoy lamenting the political correction of stuff like this will find plenty to complain about, but it should be clear that these cartoonists aren’t simply taking away from these stories without adding something back that’s even more valuable. Lambert’s story is a perfect example. It’s hilarious in many ways, starting with the intentionally childish dialogue and extending to his substitution of the briar patch with something much funnier.
Karl Kerschl’s “Bremen Town” is also worth mentioning for adding to the original story, not in a politically correct way, but just by making the talking animals sound like hip, young, modern musicians. And really, commenting and improving is what all of these stories do, regardless of how much or little they change the source material. Ramona Fradon offers some great visuals to her and Chris Duffy’s humorous adaptation of the One Thousand and One Nights tale, “The Prince and the Tortoise.” And the young, focused hero in Luke Pearson’s “The Boy Who Drew Cats” is similarly comical in his single-mindedness.
Fairy Tale Comics is a fascinating look at modern culture through the lens of classic stories, but that’s what grown-ups are going to get out of it. For children, it’s simply an exciting, funny, beautifully drawn collection of unique versions of their favorite tales.