In a time far ago when you and I were just kids, we paid rapt attention to whimsical stories told to us by our parents, our family members and storytellers like Jacob, Wilhelm, Hans and a genial man named Walt. They taught us about morals, imagination and the dangers of eating candy houses that kept our minds spinning, and in some cases, our feet tapping to the rhythm of catchy songs the accompanied it. And in an upcoming graphic novel anthology, these fairy tales and childhood fantasies are being mined for the humorous and farcical fodder for kids of all ages.
These anthology graphic novels have been a growing trend in comics for almost ten years now, and California-based publisher Image Comics has emerged as the leading publisher for that. It’s fostered the birth of such anthologies as Popgun, 24Seven, Tori Amos’ Comic Book Tattoo and even Flight, and now Image co-founder Jim Valentino and his kid-friendly Silverline imprint at Image take the format into the very fairy world of fantasy and give an eclectic and award-winning line-up of comics creators a chance to take them in new directions. The deluxe graphic novel is scheduled to come out on July 14th, and Image & Silverline are putting out a sampler on Free Comic Book Day this Friday May 1st to give people a free preview.
But how did this all come about?
“A little over a year ago Jim and I were brainstorming ways to bring more attention to our younger reader line,” said Kristen Simon, editor of Silverline,” and an obvious way to do that would be to release some books that were done by higher profile professionals in the comics industry. However, asking people to take time out of their schedules to do entire books was out of the question, so I suggested the idea of an anthology book with a Fairy Tale theme. Jim was resistant as he’s not fond of anthologies, but I persuaded him to make up a wish list of people he would want in the book, just for fun. As we did that, it became more and more apparent that there was no reason we couldn’t ask these pro’s to do a couple pages each. The worst they could say was no, right? And we definitely wanted the book to have a stellar lineup, which I think we accomplished.”
Their rolodex – or in this case, contact list – housed some of the great talents in comics today, accumulated over years of Silverline and Valentino’s comic career. After sending out feelers to their friends and colleagues, the responses pushed Silverline to commit to the book. And just who did they get?
Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise, Echo) goes to the Frog Prince’s court in “The Toad Prince”.
Ben Templesmith (Fell, 30 Days Of Night) takes on Jack & The Beanstalk in “Fee Fi Fo Fum”.
Bryan Talbot (Adventures of Luther Arkwright) an Camilla d’Errico (Nightmares & Fairy Tales) follow “Little Red Riding Hood”.
Peter David (X-Factor, She-Hulk) and Juan Ferreyra (Rex Mundi) go under the sea for “The Little Mermaid”.
Joining them are other creators such as Jill Thompson, Doug Tenapel, Ted McKeever and others – including Valentino himself.
“The line-up turned out much better than we could have hoped for,” said Jim Valentino, Silverline’s publisher. Everyone gave it their all and every story shines.”
As it turns out, the idea of taking licenses with the public domain fairy tales that most Western children have grew up on was a tempting project that many couldn’t say no to.
“Well, it was one of those strange situations where Jim sent me an email describing the project and asking me if I would like to be one of the contributors! I said yes,” said Jill Thompson. “Sorry, it’s nothing more exciting than that. I like it when people call me up and offer me cool things to illustrate – ‘specially cuz this is how I make my living.”
For this anthology, the Scary Godmother cartoonist will be taking on one of the Brothers Grimm’s lesser known tales, entitled ‘the Strange Feast’. Described as something that could’ve been created out of “12 hours of having fever-induced dreams” by Thompson, she’s faithfully adapting the story without any adjustments. “It's a literal adaptation as well. It's only about three paragraphs long, and everything they say is a direct quote from the story. I tweaked nothing for comic effect,” explained the cartoonist. ” I found it in The Complete Book of Grimm's Fairy Tales in the 'Omitted Tales' section. Now, i don't know if it was omitted because the Bros. Grimm had an editor that said "what were you smoking when you came up with this crazy sausages story? Or they looked at it the next morning and said- "yikes! That was some party! Did we write down all that crazy junk we were coming up with to impress those girls? Let me take a look at it...oh sh---put that on the slush pile, we can't publish that!!" But, in any case, it made me laugh and everyone needs a good laugh every now and then, right?”
Humor is key to the entire Fractured Fables line-up, and joining Thompson to up the funny quotient on this one is Simpsons alum Bill Morrison. Morrison’s choice was on the rhyming classic ditty “On Top of Spaghetti”, and when he put pen to paper he branched out to not only tell the story seen in the lyrics but the story of his own love for it.
“Kids can't resist singing traditional tunes with goofy new lyrics,” said Morrison. “’On Top of Spaghetti’ is one of my favorites from my childhood. I also used to enjoy singing a slightly naughty version of "Popeye the Sailor," the "Batman smells" version of "Jingle Bells," and the "teacher hit me with a ruler" version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I've always wanted to do a comic strip that illustrates a song, and "Spaghetti" seemed like it would be super-fun. However, I quickly realized that there really isn't much of a story in the lyrics. So I decided to capture the enthusiasm I had as a kid when I would sing the song, and coupled that with my ravenous appetite for my mom's spaghetti. The result is a story about a kid who can't help but go crazy and act out the song whenever he hears the words ‘spaghetti’.”
As Morrison so expertly explained it, this love of fairy tales and catchy ditties comes from a childhood immersed in it.
“I cannot remember the first fairy tale I knew about,” said Thompson. “ I just remember my grandmother reading me stories out of this book of Grimm's Fairy Tales. And she did all the voices. And when characters whispered, she would whisper. And when they would shout, she would shout. It was very theatrical.”
Theatrics are in no short supply with this anthology, as many of the creators have taken these time-worn classics and kicked them up a notch.
One of the most familiar fairy tales of all time would have to be the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and in the comic rendition here Bryan Talbot and Camilla d’Errico bring something that publisher Jim Valentino likened to a “Tex Avery cartoon” according to Talbot.
“Red Riding Hood is much less of a victim in my version and the wolf is a pretty pathetic character, a little like a seedy aristocrat down on his luck,” explained the British creator. “Having worked in adult or young adult comics for thirty years, I’ve never done anything like this before. It was a real joy to write something so light hearted and humorous - and with such a classic story.”
Talbot went on, describing artist Camilla d’Errico’s take on his script as “a sort of fairy tale nouveau manga” assisted by colorist Edison’s Yan’s “beautiful” work.
The pairing of Talbot and d’Errico is symbolic of the inspired choices for the creative line-up for this book; mainstream creators like Peter David mixing it up with indie talent like Doug Tenapel, European masters like Bryan Talbot, and energetic newcomers like Camilla d’Errico. And as it turns out, the creators are encouraged by the company they’re keeping in the book.
“I work in several different styles myself, so I love the variety,” explained Bill Morrison, who in addition to being a cartoonist is also head of Bongo Publishing. “It's really fun to see what different artists bring to these classic stories, rhymes, and songs. At Bongo, we do an annual Treehouse of Horror comic for Halloween, and we invite different artists and writers to play with the Simpsons characters in their own styles. It's our favorite book to do because it's just such a blast to watch the pages come in and see our iconic characters with wildly different looks.”
For Silverline editors Jim Valentino and Kristen Simon, it was a chance for them to be creative not only in the casting but also in their own stories. Valentino, who is best known for his work on Guardians of the Galaxy and creating Shadowhawk, picked up the pencil to illustrate one of several stories that Simon has in the book. While best known as editor, in recent years Simon has written several stories for comics including Bomb Queen Presents: All Girl Comics and several books for Shadowline’s kids imprint. In this team-up between Valentino and Simon, they took “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a unique ride.
“I was waiting for everyone to select the stories they wanted first, and I had a few choices left over,” explained Simon. “ I was struggling with a Goldilocks story (regretfully, I couldn’t come up with a PG-rated story, I seemed to be stuck on “Goldilocks and the Three Beers”!), but then “Mary Had a Little Spam” came to me very suddenly, and just fell together all at once with the same rhyme and rhythm as Mary Had a Little Lamb. I ran it past Jim, and he loved it.”
For Jim, it was a chance not only to get back to the drawing board but also experiment with his style.
“I tried to alter my cartoony style a bit for it and am generally happy with the results,” explained Valentino. “I love a story where the title is funny and this one didn’t disappoint in terms of the story. I enjoyed drawing it and I think it shows.”
In addition to bringing comics veterans like Talbot, David and himself, Valentino also wanted to make sure he had some new blood in the comics --- and for this, it just happened to be his own. Valentino’s two sons, Aaron and Joel, both contributed work to Fractured Fables with Aaron inking his father’s work and Joel contributing his own story from start to finish.
“Both boys have been involved with comics all their lives, as one would expect. Both are heavily influenced by manga and anime,” said Valentino. “Joel takes art courses in college, Aaron is writing and illustrating his first graphic novel, Longinis and I’ve watched his inking improve by leaps and bounds over the last year or so. I know it’s a bit of nepotism but I really wanted both of them in the book and I think they both did a fine job for their professional debuts…but, then again, I’m their father so I’m biased.”
Biased or not, Fractured Fables and Valentino’s Silverline Books imprint as a whole was established for comic creator’s of today’s generation to reach out to the next generation of readers.
“For many years there we had to convince people that comics weren’t just for social retards, the intellectually embarrassed or pre-pubescent children. We had to convince people that it was a valid medium and art form,” explained Valentino, who started in the industry in the 1970s. “Well, we did that but we went a little too far. Comics, particularly super-hero comics, which garner the most attention from the general public, got darker, grittier and more and more impenetrable with mega cross-overs and anal retentive continuity.”
IT was out of this apparent need that Valentino started his kids book imprint Silverline Books which Fractured Fables heralds from. Taking cues from the classic board-style books of childhood, the books in the Silverline imprint are made to look like storybooks for parents with “safe, family-“friendly comics”. But establishing the line is just the beginning according to Valentino; now he has to make it flourish.
We’re not the only ones that saw this void in our industry. Nearly every publisher now has a kid’s line and that’s a very good thing I think,” said the publisher. “We need to introduce a new generation to this wonderful art form and that’s our goal with Silverline Books.”