Fairy tale Noir

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

fables-vol-1

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

 

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A Visual Wizard of Oz

A review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz graphic novel adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young (Marvel Comics, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an intensely visual tale, evoking the wonders of sights unseen except in the strangest imaginings of the oddest dreams. It makes sense to adapt the tale into a visual medium, and the comic has a history of pushing the boundaries of expected sights. Skottie Young and Eric Shanower were able to construct an adaptation that brings through all of Baum’s wonder, and, yes, all of his terror as well. 

Skottie Young illustrates the comics with a sense of whimsy, creating a Dorothy who wears a dress like a bell, evoking the girl’s role as a person who gets swept up by the winds and dropped off into a strange world. Her dress is mirrored in the clothing of the Witch of the North who similarly resembles a bell flower tossed on the breeze, creating a parallel between these two figures of transformation. 

Young’s Scarecrow evokes a Tim Burton-esque style with deep circles around his eyes and a twisted, turning mouth. He is a figure that is awkward in movement and his body reflects this with a bulbous middle and twiggish arms and legs. His Tin Woodsman resembles a dwarf given metallic form, strong, stout, and possessing an antiquity in his gaze. His Cowardly Lion is a figure who is completely made up of balls of fur, with small, unthreatening, worried eyes, a completely round face, and sheathed claws.

Young’s wicked witches are figures out of horror, contrasting with the bell-shaped figures of the protagonists by being figures of distortion, scribbled together with awkward joints, features hidden by twisted rags, and generally evoking an uncertainty of movement. Their panels tend toward Sepia tones, lending them an antiquity. 

The magic of Young’s illustrations are the ability to make Dorothy appear to be constantly both part of the imagery of the page and somehow distant from it, evoking her role as an outsider who has come to a new place and yet is able to change it. She is both of the world of the comic and outside of it. 
To discover more about the graphic novel version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, visit Marvel Comics at http://marvel.com/comics/series/6314/the_wonderful_wizard_of_oz_2008_-_2009 

Medicalized Mermaids

Medicalized Mermaids
A review of Joe Brusha, Meredith Finch, and Miguel Mendonca’s “Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid” (Zenescope, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

“Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid” was initially a bit off-putting since the art seemed to mirror the comic book exploitation of women’s bodies, but Brusha, Finch, and Mendonca present a Little Mermaid tale that explores the clash of science and fairy tale. Erica, the mermaid, has spent her life uncertain about her background or parentage, but she knows that she is able to take the form of either mermaid or human. Her destiny and identity are taken away from her by scientists who seek to unravel the magic of her body to adapt it for military purposes. Her body ceases to be a vessel of magic and becomes a vessel of war as her biological uniqueness is spread to others.

Erica finds herself caught between worlds as the armies of Atlantis clash with the scientifically constructed creatures of the surface.

Like Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, Zenescope’s comic is a tale of fluidity, of change with a mermaid trapped between worlds and identities, seeking out an understanding of herself and her position in a world that has been torn in two. This is a story of science clashing with magic, medicine colliding with wishes, and above all, it is a story about uncertainty.

The graphic medium of the story allows for an exploration of the physicality of the mermaid, illustrating Erica’s transformation between forms and the horror that runs like a tide through this story of different types of embodiment.

To discover more about “Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid”, visit http://shop.zenescope.com/the-little-mermaid/