Art & Story: Various Artists & Writers
Cover: Patrick Scherberger & Mike Maihack
Editor: Nate Cosby
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
In 1988 Jim Henson Studios created a new television series called The Storyteller. The programme featured re-imagined fairy tales that used a combination of live action and puppetry, and employed a simple framing device for each of the stories: an old man – the Storyteller (played by John Hurt in the first series) – narrating a story to his dog by a fireplace.
The series was developed by British playwright, screenwriter and director Anthony Minghella, and consisted of nine episodes in the first season and another four in the second season.
Fast forward to December 2011 and Archaia Entertainment releases a lush graphic novel anthology that borrows the original framing device of the loquacious storyteller and his grouchy dog to tell folk stories from around the world to a new generation.
The style of the art in each of the stories is directly influenced by the nature of the tale. Thus the first story, ‘Old Nick and the Peddler’, (adapted by Roger Langridge & coloured by Jordie Bellaire), is a robust, cheerful cartoon that matches the broad humour of the tale.
One of the most stylised stories is the classic ‘Momotaro the Peachboy’, which was adapted by Ron Marz and Craig Rousseau. It directly evokes the Japanese characters in what appear to be chalk drawings on pages of different colours. I particularly like this story since underneath its simple quest adventure it’s also saying a lot about the importance of teamwork.
‘Puss in Boots’ (written by Marjorie Liu with art by Jennifer L. Meyer) is a romantic love story at its heart, and Meyer successfully evokes the sumptuous settings and courtly world with her flowing lines and dreamy artwork.
Chris Eliopoulos and Mike Maihack retain a strong simplicity for their ’An Agreement Between Friends’, allowing the story to be foregrounded: which explains the distrust between cats and dogs, and contains a terribly poignant last frame.
I was somewhat dissatisfied with ‘Old Fire Dragaman’, written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Tom Fowler and lettered by Rus Wooton. Not because of the art, which is a wonderful fusion of gorgeous illustration with comic book action and layout, but because the cheeky chappy at its centre, Jack, is the kind of fellow that ambles in and out of trouble without much hardship.
One of the most joyful stories of them all, and possibly my favourite, is ‘The Milkmaid and her Pail’, an adaptation of an Aesop’s Fable by Colleen Coover. This is a story with a clear moral about expectations, but which is also an utter celebration of the power and daft genius of imagination and daydreaming. Coover’s humorous narrative and delightful drawings are a winning combination. It brought a smile to my face every time I read the piece, and all I can say is: Pirates!
‘The Frog Who Became an Emperor’ is adapted by Paul Tobin & Evan Shaner, and lettered by Rus Wooton. It’s a ‘special child’ story, in which a frog saves an Empire but is still not accepted because of his difference (not that it stops him). It has a number of dynamic battle scenes, with the frog spitting fire on an army at one point.
Katie Cook handles the story and art for ‘The Crane Wife’, with lettering by Rus Wooton, and uses a delicate pencil and watercolour effect to tell the story of the man who comes to take his wife for granted.
The last story in the anthology is ‘The Witch Baby’, which was based on an unproduced Storyteller teleplay written by Anthony Minghella, Susan Kodieck & Anne Mountfield. Nate Crosby adapted it to the comic book form, with art by Ronan Cliquet, colour by Adam Street and lettering by Rus Wooton.
This is the longest, most ambitious story in the anthology, and also contains some of the darkest elements – and quite right because most fairy tales are meant to warn us of the dangers in the world. This one is about how a silent, passive Prince learns to come into his power and face his demons – in this case his younger sister, a ravenous, cannibal Princess with iron teeth. There are some nice touches here about dealing with sibling envy and critical, uncaring parents, and the witch baby sister is simply dreadful.
I loved how it opens with Tarot cards symbols, and throughout the story utilises art that matches the typical Rider-Wait Tarot imagery. The story suffers a little from the problem of a passive character that’s prompted into action by others around him rather than by taking direct action. I liked the symbol of deflating the illusion of a bully’s power, though how the Prince comes by the weapon is a little too easy. Still, this is a powerful story with excellent dialogue.
As a bonus there are lovely illustrations of the Storyteller and his companion in between the stories by several artists in the book, including some extra by Janet K. Lee, Dennis Calero, Mitch Gerads and David Petersen.
Overall this is an enjoyable, engrossing anthology of folk tales from around the world that offer a range of stories from upbeat to quite dark indeed, and holds up to repeat reading. It’s a fine book for children, or for adults who still appreciate the power of a well-told fairy tale.