Saved From The Music

Saved From The Music

Saved from the Music

A review of Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg’s Piper (Penguin Random House, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Fairy tales have frequently invoked disability, often using the disabled body as a motivating point for stories of change and transformation. Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg’s graphic novel Piper explores the question of what would happen if the Pied Piper of Hamelin encountered a young woman who is Deaf and therefore couldn’t hear the allure of his magical pipe. Maggie, a young Deaf woman who has been ostracised by her village, becomes a foil for the Pied Piper, a person who has a strength that counters that of the Pied Piper. She has the ability to resist control because of being Deaf.

Maggie became Deaf when children put her in a barrel when she was a child and throughout her life she experienced ostracism and violence from the rest of her community. When the Piper arrives in her town, the first thing he notices is the prevalence of violence and oppression in the community and the power that those in positions of authority or wealth exert over the rest of the community. He notices that the town has a rat infestation, which is has the ability to counter with his ability to summon rats with his pipe, but he also reads the imbalance of power in the town and wants vengeance for those who are attacked by the community. His own father died as a result of violence from a community that ostracized him and this has left the Piper aware of the violence that ostracism can visit on those who don’t conform.

Asher and Freeburg give us a modified version of the tale, giving further context to why the Piper eventually lures all of the children away from the village beyond the fact that the town doesn’t pay him for removing all of the rats.

The tale evokes disability again when the kidnapping of the village’s children is discovered after a disabled child is unable to keep up with the rest of the children and therefore escapes the Piper’s abduction, therefore situating this tale as one that uses disability and Deafness as symbolic media within the context of the tale, associating bodily difference as a way to demonstrate the town of Hamelin’s abuse toward disempowered groups.

This is also a fairy tale within a fairy tale since Maggie creates stories about those who have been violent toward her. She shifts the narratives that are imposed on her and remakes herself into a position of power by retelling her experiences as fairy tales. Ultimately, she shifts the tale of the Piper of Hamelin, her own tale, in order to modify it, remaking the story into the one that is familiar from legend and obscuring the reality of the tale.

To find out more about Piper, visit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/539282/piper-by-jay-asher-and-jessica-freeburg-illustrated-by-jeff-stokely/9780448493664/

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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 

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/