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Review: Telling Tales

Over the last ten years, Sweatdrop Studios has been one of the most visible and successful collectives of manga artists working outside Japan: their members have won awards, designed toys, and given Shakespeare the comic book treatment. Though many Sweatdrop artists have published solo projects, themed anthologies are a staple of the Sweatdrop catalog. The twin anthologies Pink Is For Girls and Blue Is For Blues (2006) examine shojo and shonen manga tropes, for example, while Drop Dead Monstrous (2008) dabbles in horror.

Telling Tales
Illustrated by Svetlana Chmakova, Emma Vieceli, Joanna Zhou, Irina Richards, Rebecca Burgess, Marubelle Sinclaire, Sonia Leong, Faye Young; With contributions by Nana Li and Fehed Said
Ages 12 and up
2010, Sweatdrop Studios, ISBN: 978-1905038232
200 pp., $13.99

Sweatdrop Studios’ latest collection, Telling Tales, expounds on the theme of “once upon a time,” offering a mixture of familiar and not-so-familiar stories. Standouts include guest contributor Svetlana Chmakova’s “Alenushka and Ivanushka,” an adaptation of a Russian fairy tale; Faye Yong, Nana Li, and Fehed Said’s “The Three Feathers,” a pointed comedy about a simpleton who outwits his vain older brothers; Emma Vieceli’s “The Three Sisters and Their Glass Hearts,” another Slavic folktale; and Rebecca Burgess’ “The Prince and The Pauper,” a highly compressed — though very entertaining — adaptation of the Mark Twain novel.

Some of the pieces are quite polished and wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese manga magazine. “The Three Feathers,” in particular, wears its manga influences gracefully, with attractive character designs, fluid layouts, and nicely executed moments of physical comedy. Other contributions look more amateurish: Sonia Leong’s “The Snow Queen” resembles a good rough draft more than a finished story, while the characters in Marubelle Sinclaire’s “Little Red Riding Hood” are drawn in a stiff, awkward fashion with oddly exaggerated facial features.

The sheer variety of approaches helps smooth over the rough spots, however. Chmakova, Leong, and Vieceli play the material straight, in the manner of Hans Christian Andersen, while Joanna Zhou (“The Mouse, The Bird, and The Sausage”) and Marubelle Sinclaire break the fourth wall to infuse their stories with humor. (In a nice touch, Little Red Riding Hood’s savior is a shirtless, hunky bishonen who seems to have been waiting in the woods for the opportunity to rescue someone.) The net effect is like a good chocolate sampler: yes, there are a few odd flavors, but on the whole, the anthology offers a pleasing assortment of styles and sensibilities.

If Dramacon and Nightschool have performed well in your library, Telling Tales is a no-brainer for your collection; Chmakova’s crisply illustrated story is the very first entry and is immediately recognizable as her handiwork. The strength of “Alenushka and Ivanushka” should inspire readers to read the entire book. Though boys will find plenty to like about Telling Tales, the anthology is more likely to appeal to tween and teen girls, as imperiled princesses, clever maidens, and virtuous young ladies factor prominently into most of the stories.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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