Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fairy Tale Comics

Following up the success of Nursery Rhyme Comics, First Second is aiming another book at younger readers. The formula, once again was to include a mixture of cartoonists and illustrators to adapt classic fairy tales. The results were mixed, and I found that the less successful comics were by the illustrators or cartoonists with whom I was not familiar. While the possibility of being previously biased toward cartoonists whose work I admire is certainly in play, I like to read anthologies precisely because it gives me an opportunity to discover new artists.




Editor Chris Duffy was quite smart about choosing the alt-comics cartoonists for this volume. Nearly all of them had at least some experience with doing all-ages stuff. Both Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez had experienced doing this, especially Gilbert, and it shows in their stories here. Beto's "Hansel and Gretel" is appropriately grisly and weird for a cartoonist who's currently exploring pulp/exploitation comics. Jaime's "Snow White" is appropriate because he's so good at drawing women, though it does inadvertently point out the problem that this story has an astoundingly passive heroine. Stuff just happens to her and she happens to get lucky in the end.
Vanessa Davis' "Puss In Boots" was one of the best stories in the whole book. Her painterly style combined with her strong cartooning fundamentals makes this a perfect hybrid piece for children, as it combines elements of comics and traditional children's illustration.  I can't imagine an artist more suited to do an original Toon Book than Davis, and I hope she gets a crack at that in the future. Luke Pearson's "The Boy Who Drew Cats" is done very much in his Hilda style, down to the muted color palette, thin lines and simple but solid character design. It's a story that's at once cute, funny and frightening. "Rabbit Will Not Help" (based on "Bre'r Rabbit") by Joe Lambert is another story perfectly suited for the artist, as he's great at drawing anthropomorphic animals. Using pages packed with as many fifteen panels on them in rows of three, Lambert crams a lot of detail into a small space, establishing a particular kind of rhythm as the story sets up and repeats a certain kind of gag again and again. Breaking that rhythm and establishing the final punchline (slightly altered from the original story but still the same basic idea of saying, "Oh no, please don't make me do something I really want you to do!") allows Lambert to unpack his panels just a bit.

Other highlights include Graham Annable's "Goldilocks", which is told without words and with a deadpan character that heightens its humor, as well as Jillian Tamaki's "Baba Yaga", which eschews the grid entirely to create an open page with two or three images slowly transitioning into each other. Craig Thompson's story about a young king demanding constant storytelling plays to his strengths as an artist who loves to add a lot of detail and decorative elements to his comics. David Mazzucchelli's story about a boy who couldn't shudder was clever but looked a bit on the dull and flat side. Raina Telgemeier's "Rapunzel" was solid as per usual but lacked the distinctive energy and pacing of her own comics. Most of the other stories didn't really make much of an impact on me as a reader one way or another, but Gigi D.G.'s version of "Little Red Riding Hood" was the only story that I thought went out of its way to look twee, like it was trying too hard to look like a story for children. Overall, I thought giving the cartoonists space to really flesh stories out made for a lot of successful results, and even most of the more uneven or forgettable stories were at the very least pleasant. I'll be curious to see if First Second tries to continue to market books to younger readers in the same vein.

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