I thought I’d share here my thoughts on three graphic novels I’ve read recently. Why together, you ask? Well, because there is a common theme to them: myths.
So first off was Fables 9 – Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham and his team of artists. After the niceties and happy endings of vol. 8, this one is bleak and apocalyptic. In the last few volumes the story has moved from society-focused small episodes to a wider and bigger scheme of things, and the Fables are heading towards war. I think I already mentioned that I don’t really enjoy this shift too much, and never did it make me as sad as in this volume. But there’s good: vol. 9 also includes 15 short stories (which were a great concept, but I didn’t like the style of many of the guest artists who drew them), Santa Claus (and Willingham’s own take on how it is possible for him to visit all the children in the world during one night), and Mr. North again (whom I like, despite every bad thing other characters think of him).
Bill Willingham with his crew is also the author of Fables 10 – The Good Prince, about which I’ll say almost the opposite of what I said about vol. 9. This one is extremely sweet (even while talking about war) and really goes against the general concept of the series, by taking (for most of the time, at least), fables and myths at their face value, without meddling too much with the way people perceive them. A march of the ghosts (Aragorn-style), an appearance by Excalibur, and the most beautiful frame art of the series possibly make this the best volume so far. For me, at least.
The third graphic novel I read was Matt Dembicki’s (ed.) Trickster, which I bought based exclusively on Shanra’s raving review. It’s a collection of 21 Native American trickster stories, as told by 21 Native American storytellers with the help of as many different artists (some of them Native American, too). And for me it’s the first time I truly appreciate an anthology of short stories through and through. (OK, if you don’t count the 15 stories in Fables 9, that is.) As you can expect from such a wide range of authors, the collection is very diverse, both in terms of art (with techniques ranging from cartoon-like to extremely realistic to surrealist) and in terms of content: you have sweet stories, sad stories, funny stories, touching stories, and some don’t-get-down-too-well-with-our-way-of-thinking stories. Because of the latter, I was glad I read the after word before the stories, and in the after word Dembicki states:
The point wasn’t to westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with Western vernacular.
Somebody stated the art turned a bit too childish at times, but for me, I liked all of the different styles, if some more than others (and I am not easy to please in terms of art in graphic novels, I need it to be all spelled out for me, so maybe that’s why I liked the more childish art as well). The story I liked best was the first one, sweet and touching “Coyote and the Pebbles”, which I noticed is a general favorite. One last thing: check out an interview with Dembicki and one of the storytellers here.
… and a call for suggestions
So do you like fairy-tale retellings? I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and among my reading plans for next year I want to take a closer look at myths and fables. For example, after reading The Drawing of the Dark (as after American Gods) I realized I need to know more about Norse mythology and Arthuriana. And I want to put fairy-tale retellings in the same lot too.
I’ve been looking around, and here’s a potential list I’ve come up with (feel free to comment, whether you think these titles good or bad):
- Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson
- Bulfinch’s Mythology, by Thomas Bulfinch
- Beauty, by Robin McKinley
- Sun & Moon, Ice & Snow, by Jessica Day George
- Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire
- Mirror, Mirror, by Gregory Maguire
- Beastly, by Alex Flinn
In my view, what’s missing here are mainly two things: a non-fiction fairy-tale-related read (I’m looking for an anthropological take, but every title I came up with seemed to be psychologically oriented), and something about Arthuriana (both fiction and non-fiction. Oh, by the way, what’s the best from the original, Middle Age sources?). If you have any good titles to suggest, please chime in.
(Also, I think I know my classic mythology — Greek and Roman — but if you have any good suggestion in that sense, or regarding myths from any other culture, I’d like to hear that too!)