Isabel Greenberg’s work is just the sort of comics to set your mood on the right track. I’m so glad to see her continue with what she set in motion in her first collected book, “Encyclopedia of Early Earth,” published by Little Brown & Co. (review here). She is following her muse and creating more delightful comics based on fairy tales, myth, and legend. The series is called, “Tall Tales and Outrageous Adventures” and you can find the first installment, “The Snow Queen and Other Stories,” at comiXology right here.
Greenberg’s take on folklore is casual and breezy and it feels like the characters are making up stories as they go along. There’s a feeling that everything is a bit jumbled, the artwork, the lettering, the narrative, and yet it all comes together really well. Cartooning can be like knitting. You have all this yarn and simple tools and tedious methods. It could result in immaculate baby booties or a horrid Christmas sweater. It’s all up to the cartoonist to channel his or her skills and passions, remain true to the mission, and deliver the goods.
At the rate Greenberg is going, she may well end up laying claim to a huge chunk of territory, at least for now. Much in the way that Kate Beaton has her own niche, Isabel Greenberg has staked out hers. Certainly, there’s room for more cartoonists that play with history or fairy tales. Personally, I don’t think cartooning as a competitive sport is very pretty. Nor do I advocate everyone holding hands and acting as if we’re all just here to draw and have fun. We are but we also want to step it up. What I hope to see is Greenberg’s work energizing more cartoonists to explore a great deal of still uncharted lands and waters, much in the way that Greenberg has her own characters out there on adventures.
For this comic, Greenberg is riffing on a couple of classics by the Danish master storyteller, Hans Christian Anderson: “The Snow Queen” (1845) and “The Emperor’s New Suit” (1837). Both of these are widely known from their numerous adaptations in various children’s books, animation, and movies. For instance, Disney’s “Frozen” is the latest Snow Queen to grace the big screen. The story of the Snow Queen is already pretty wild and wooly to begin with so it’s up to Greenberg to give it her unique stamp. We lose some wonderful exchanges between all sort of marvelous creatures but she manages to retain the story’s essential charm and give it a proper treatment as a comic. When you read the original, you’re taken by the uninhibited creepy quality and Greenberg evokes that too.
This also seems to be a nod to her Early Earth book, as it again finds us on a whirlwind adventure between a boy and a girl. Well, a story involving a boy and a girl is pretty basic stuff but it feels especially appropriate to see Greenberg work with a similar dynamic for this new project she’s working on. In this case, the boy and girl are not star-crossed lovers but essentially brother and sister. Much like Hansel and Gretel, these two will embark on a journey in the wider world. Their lives are in danger and, just as important in its own way, their innocence is in danger.
It’s a nice touch that Greenberg pairs up The Snow Queen with The Emperor’s New Suit as both stories deal with distorted views of reality. In the case of the Emperor, he’s stuck with his regal position and can’t quite see beyond it. His weakness is keeping up with high fashion. But there’s more going on. A popular moral taken away from this tale is to beware of vanity as it can lead even a king to act foolishly. But the deeper moral is that eventually the truth will come out. Once the king put on his magical frock, which actually left him naked, no one was brave enough to contradict his majesty, all except for one innocent child. And, here too, Greenberg does a great job of bringing out what matters most.
“Tall Tales and Outrageous Adventures” is a new series by Isabel Greenberg, the acclaimed author of “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.” In this series she’ll be appropriating a number of well loved myths, legends and fairy tales. You can pick up your own digital copy at comiXology here.
And you can also go to the publisher, Great Beast Comics, and pick up a print copy here.