Fairy tale Noir

A review of Bill Wittingham’s Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile (Vertigo, 2003)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Fables volume 1 begins with the words “Once upon a time in a fictional land called New York City” and with that, the graphic novel opens up the complications between ideas of reality and fiction, fairy tale and memory. It is a tale that questions and complicates the easy separation between the real and the fairy tale. This is a tale of fairy tale characters who have been exiled from their homeland and had to cross over to the mundane world, concealing their fairy tale nature and living “in the closet”. These characters are stretched between two different homes – their original home in the realm of fairy tales and their new settlement in what they call “The Mundy”.

As part of their movement into the mundane world, characters were required to forgive each other and stop referring to the past in order that hero and villain of fairy tales could get along together. But, things become complicated when Rose Red disappears under suspicious circumstances leaving her apartment splattered in blood.

Wittingham blends together elements of detective noir with elements of fairy tale in order to examine ideas of truth and fiction and the way that narratives explore these. Detective novels are about discovering an essential truth that is obfuscated by the people who have something to gain by keeping secrets – they are about sorting through the gossip and misleading stories in order to find the truth. Fairy Tales are about the power of stories to get at truths of humanity, using fiction to find essential truths that transcend stories. By combining these two narratives that play with fiction and truth, Wittingham invites readers to question ideas of truth and fiction and pay attention to the power that narratives have to shape our understanding of the world. He invites us to look at the world as a series of stories, asking us to view our own lives as a “once upon a time”

To discover more about Fables, visit Vertigo’s website at http://www.vertigocomics.com/graphic-novels/fables-vol-1-legends-in-exile

 

Orwellian Uprising

Orwellian Uprising
A review of Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha’s “Fables: Animal Farm” (Vertigo, 2003)
By Derek Newman-Stille


The second volume in in the “Fables” comic book series, “Fables: Animal Farm” introduces us to the fairy tale characters that can’t pass in the human world. Whether giants, talking pigs, Puss in Boots, flying monkeys, or trolls, the fairy tale characters who passed into the human world and are unable to pass as human are confined to a small village away from human civilization, deprived of common rights of movement, and limited in the activities they can participate in. 

Feeling treated as second class citizens, many of the residents of The Farm want to challenge a system that divides characters by appearance. But, these beings from fairy tales of the past are integrated into a tale of the present as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” becomes a modern text that weaves into this tale of exploitation and class difference. Like in Orwell’s tale, certain residents of The Farm decide that they can exploit the anger that the residents all have over being treated as second class citizens in order to take over their society. 

“Fables: Animal Farm” explores ideas of class conflict, but it also interrogates ideas of segregation of certain populations, and the residents of The Farm remind the reader (and the human-looking fairy tale characters) that no matter how good the buildings are in a segregated community, it is still a prison when you are unable to leave. There is a commentary here on other institutions that segregate disabled populations or aged populations from an able-bodied population that consistently expresses a desire not to see people with disabilities or the aged. The residents of The Farm are similarly hidden from sight, removed from social interaction, and isolated. Indeed, they represent their isolation by playing on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by slaughtering one of the Three Little Pigs and placing his head on a pike. The characters use this symbolism to illustrate that their isolation, rather than their bodies, have transformed them into animals and monsters. 

In “Fables: Animal Farm” Willingham, Buckingham, and Leialoha illustrate that texts have power, and, particularly, that they ask social questions. Mixing fairy tales with some of the social commentary from Orwell and Golding’s tales, “Fables: Animal Farm” reminds readers that fairy tales and other stories that we tell ourselves are our way to understand our place in the world and that tales should be revisited because every time we revisit them, we observe something new and relevant.

To find out more about the Fables series, visit Vertigo at http://www.vertigocomics.com/graphic-novels/fables-vol-2-animal-farm