Comic Vine Roundtable - Fairy Tales


 The topic of this discussion will be fairy tales.  Fairy tales have been a fairly consistent part of comic books since the inception of the medium, but in recent years it has become a lot more popular with such series as Grimm Fairy Tales and Fables.  So to help us along on a discussion today we have the our resident expert-on-everything Aztek the Lost (ATL), the man in need of no abbreviation SC,  and our very own fairy tale princess Rogue Mar1e (RM). 

 Just so that people know what Aztek the Lost is talking about.  

RM:  Hello everyone, i'm rogue_mar1e, but you can just call me Marie. 

 ATL:  I'm Aztek...but you can just call me Lrrr, Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8!

SC:  I wander the Land of Ooo, as SC, I like to ride Giant Goldfish and run with Wolves, with Wolves. Hello everyone. 

As usual I should start by asking what you have been reading recently?  (Editor’s note: their answers were made a while ago.)

RM:  I haven't picked up any recent comics, but plan to soon when Gambit's new series comes out in August.

ATL:  I keep a list of the comics I read over on my alternate account...looking at it now, it seems in April I've been reading primarily Hellboy and Vertigo stuff (essentially all the new material, as well as a few from the early 90's that I hadn't read before and have been piling up on my floor). Also, the newest issues of The Boys, Conan the Barbarian and SAGA!

SC:  I have been reading an eclectic selection of comics, Adventure Time comics, back issues of the Boys, and Journey Into Mystery of most notability.

So to get us started into the discussion, tell us which is your favourite fairy tale?

RM:  Choosing my favourite fairy tale is one of the hardest things anyone could ask me to do ... Disney being a huge part of my childhood, I adored the stories and especially the movies. If I had to pick one ... it would probably be ... argh I can't. It's a tie between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. 

 ATL:  I don't think I have a favorite fairy tale, they get changed and re-told so much that it's hard to pick a favorite because I like different aspects from different versions of various tales. And then there's the question of what qualifies as a fairy tale (I'm sure there's an official answer but I mean some things get grouped with fairy tales despite not being them), for example in Fables there's characters from mythology and some random places. If various myths or the stuff surrounding King Arthur qualified, those might be my favorites. Otherwise, Snow White has elements of badassery to it, The Little Mermaid can be awesome and I loved Aladdin. There are also fairy tales that I feel like I would love if I read them but I've never actually read the full story (such as The Snow Queen). Also, anything Mignola uses in Hellboy, that stuff all seems so amazing although it's usually obscure stuff I'd never know of otherwise.

SC:  Picking a favorite fairy tale is hard for me, is also hard for me as well to copy Rogue Marie and to copy Aztek I am not sure if I really have one, but I do like The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, it has Princes, and Princesses, Giants, Wolves, Ducks Eggs, Castles, getting Stoned and gratuitous violence and heroism. Great stuff! So either that or The Wise Girl - or variation of it. The fairy tale has a few variations, but involves a rich smart mean man, and a poor slightly dumb, nice man, and a little girl. They are given riddles as questions and there is some reward for answers. The questions are like What Is the Fastest Thing in the World? What is the Heaviest Thing in the World, Which Republican presidential nomination is Craziest, What is Most Important Thing in the World etc little girl would feed answers to the poor man, then he would win - insert prize here - and so on. I like a lot of the quirky traditional fairy tales that don't seem too traditional.  

Do you like the versions of the fairy tales which are very similar to the original source material or do you prefer something with a different edge to it (whether that edge be like a Disney version or horror based)?

RM:  Personally, my favourite versions of fairy tales are the Disney ones. However, I find it very intriguing that most fairy tale stories had originated from a more dark and gruesome previous version. 

 ATL:  I think I like the idea of twisting a fairy tale as its part of their nature, but how its twisted doesn't really bother me as long as the end result is worth the effort of reading it. Whether that be twisted into some fun porno, some horror story you might find in a Gaiman collection or a Disney version, I can love any of them and have no real preference in that regard.

SC:  Knowing the source material is enough for me, so I would like stories that subvert or add edge to the original fairy tales. Plus so many Fairy Tales evolved and spun off from each other, adding new bits and pieces over time, and retelling, its good to see modern day reinterpretations to add to the zeitgeist. So anything that just brings about more diversity, whether be dark twist, cute, poetic, so on. Edge.         

When mentioning fairy tales, none of you mentioned morals or morality.  Is that an important part for you, or do you prefer other elements more like the fantasy or romance?

SC:  Acknowledging their past as amusing fables that usually have moral overtones, I like many broader stories I read now that cover moral and ethical ground for subject matter that delves into morals and ethics, but I do not hold fairy tales to any higher standard than its cousins in literature. I do enjoy and appreciate and almost expect to find in such stories with fairy tales, or forms of story with a heavy fairy tale connection or association, but its not a prerequisite for me personally. Then again, so many forms of stories now days are heavy with tales of morality and ethics (like Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series for example), so as far as simply staying competitive and looking for extra ways to attract fans. I mean fairy tales have perpetuated for centuries after all, so I think its important they keep some things the consistent.       

 ATL:  Personally I don't think it's too important that there be an obvious moral at the end of the story but at the same time, what is a story without delving into the gray areas of morality? I think the fantasy is probably my favorite part of any story, I like my stories grand and magical whether it be genies or mermaids or demons or what have you, I like it. Also, the villains, fairy tale villains are always awesome because they are so absolute in their evil, eating children, abusing step-daughters, and murdering wives? Classic stuff really.

RM:  I think the most important aspect of any fairy tale is the way an individual is able to associate with the story and doing so especially through characters. In this way it creates a unique feeling, one I believe can only exclusively be created and felt via fairy tales. By including certain elements - morality, fantasy, romance - it helps to evoke a magical yet at the same time realistic and relatable experience.

How do you feel about the modern artistic depiction of fairy tales?  I will give a couple of examples to consider, many judge the series Grimm Fairy Tales based on the exploitative poses of female fairy tale characters on its covers.  Alternately at times the Disney characters are created to be endearingly cute, which occasionally betrays their darker past.  

 Swimsuit edition of Grimm Fairy Tales

ATL:  I enjoy the variance between the modern artistic impressions of fairy tales, I think the fact that you can get them on both extreme ends of the spectrum is a wondrous thing. Like as a kid you can be bombarded with the animated Disney features and that's how you always imagine the character's but when you grow up, and look back on your childhood (which was probably crappy) you nostalgically remember those Disney fairy-tales as being a highlight of your youth and then to see them portrayed as harlots and swimsuit-wearing babes in things like Grimm Fairy Tales. Needless to say I'm sure it's a perfectly reasonable fetish. I do think though that it's a fun aspect of these characters of the public domain though that you will always be able to find a version that appeals to you because no stone gets left unturned. Also, not to talk about comics here, but on the idea of art meeting fairy tales, I love that Mark Buckingham always adds those fancy little borders in Fables, they always make me feel more like I'm in a fairy tale for some reason. 

 SC:  I think its in a good place, currently, its got a lot of competition, but has also evolved and adapted and spread out to other mediums and formats to stay relevant in modern times and to continue on its tradition of applying its formula in new ways that resonate with newer generations. The best thing for me about modern depictions being the sheer variety available. So many fairy tales and folk stories from so many cultures, countries, stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years, but as far as the mainstream fairy tales that are recited and reused most due to popularity and recognizability its only a handful. Which is okay, because that breeds success, and personally I can be a bit critical of Disney and their ventures into fairy tales, but with success comes deconstruction, parody, evolution and reinterpretation. So we get fairy tales that play it straight, much like the Disney movies (albeit repackaged to appeal to younger audiences), and we can get fractured fairy tales, which relies on its audience knowing the cliches and tropes of the straight played fairy tales, and messing around with them, trying to create 'unexpected' twists. The Fables comic would be a good example of this as many of the characters from traditional fairy tales, Prince Charming, The Big Bad Wolf, roles are very different from tradition. Monty Python's Little Red Riding Hood would be a good example for just playing for laughs and absurdity. Red Riding Hood is a huge guy and the Wolf is a cute small dog and Grandma is an astronaut. Grimm Fairy Tales is 

another interesting modern day twist, as it plays most of the stories straight from what I have read, and is 'surprisingly' deep with its presentation and depiction of fairy tales. It gives us the original fairy tale and a parallel modern day equivalent of sorts. It also uses fairly provocative art for its covers and isn't shy about letting the darker sides of fairy tales traced back to their roots assert themselves. Throw in just the quantity of output of material - you have at least two comic series with mini-series and one shots branching off devoted into delving into fairy tale lore, you have Shrek movies,  Little Red Riding Hood movie, movies like Tangled, Brothers Grimm movie, Snow White & the Huntsman movie all very recent material (as opposed to say Princess Bride and the more traditional Disney movies)  

To add on as I mentioned before that’s still really a small fraction of popular and icon base stories. So there is nearly and inexhaustible supply of fairy tales to us (and even potentially abuse, but in the good way) So it’s a trend I see continuing, as far as fairy tales and their modern day application. Diversity in tone, diversity with stories and diversity with mediums.   

 RM:  Modern representation of fairy tales, particularly in art give me mixed feelings. There are some which I enjoy and others I am not so fond of. My favourite version of fairy tales is the Disney version. They do a fantastic job of capturing exactly how I like to visualize my fairy tales - the art style is perfect to me in the sense that it depicts the beauty, magical elements and somewhat innocence I expect in a fairy tale.

Further using your example Razz, on the other hand and within the comicbook medium itself there is the Zenescope version of the fairy tales, and their depiction of fairy tale characters, prominently the female ones as overly sexualized and not what I like to see from any type of medium depicting fairy tales at all. We will always see sexualization of characters in comic book art, however in the matter of a fairy tale I believe this is unnecessary. First of all because initially, fairy tales were aimed at children, and I also find it hypocritical in that fairy tales are traditionally high morality plays, and that dressing them up in sexualized versions of their outfits undercuts their purpose. I understand that Zenescope isn't marketed at children, however Disney did manage to attract an adult audience without over-sexualising their characters in their art form. 


 Comics are known for incorporating in pretty much every medium that they can think of, from campy space anthologies from the 1950s to martial arts based characters in the 1970s and seemingly every other character type and genre type since then.  When it comes to fairy tales though there has been no uniform application and the popularity of fairy tale characters is inconsistent.  Additionally when fairy tale characters transferred in, it is often along with other characters who appear to be thematically the same but in actuality are not.  For instance in the JLA story arc Queen of Fables, the Queen when coming to Earth enlists Paul Bunyan (who is a folk hero) to her aid.  Or in Zenescope, Alice in Wonderland (who is a figure from literature) is often used.  Alternately Zenescope has used other more tenuous comparisons, depicting its main character as Rosie the Riveter at one point (Rosie was more of a propaganda tool than anything).  So after that preamble, the question is, do you think that fairy tales lose some of their potency when mixed with general fantasy characters of myth and legend?  Or to put that another way, do you think fairy tale characters should stick to themselves?

ATL:  I think maybe I touched on this earlier or maybe I just imagined I did, but I don't think there's anything wrong with mixing fairy tale characters with characters of sorts, it only makes sense if you're bunching a bunch of fictional characters together. I mean once you're mixing fairy tales together, your purpose is rarely to create a modern fairy tale or anything of that sort but just to create a story and why not then pull in things from various type of literature and stories throughout history rather then just confining yourself to fairy tales. I don't see why they would lose their potency...unless doing this has already made them lose their potency for me without me realizing?I do think it does cause confusion sometimes between what is and isn't a fairy tale though, like Alice in Wonderland seems like it should be a fairy tale with how its always sorted with the rest even though it's just a novel.

SC:  I think there is enough room for fairy tales and stories heavily rooted in fairy tales to remain pure and as true to the original incarnations as possible, as well as to branch out in a more dilated manner incorporating and being incorporated into other stories and tales. For me, the end products quality and variety as far as end products go determines my preference and also what I think best takes advantages of what fairy tales can offer and what will resonate with people.  
It reminds me a bit about comics, in one sense, because its a fairy unique medium in that you have so many of these characters who are in a shared universe, and in a way not many other mediums can handle. Certain sacrifices are made regularly when a characters whose foundations are built separately and then put together in a shared environment, but there can be many advantages as well. So there is this invisible scale. It can be (to focus more on the positives than negatives) exciting, convenient, more accessible, more unique, more efficient to have a group of characters (or ideas) interacting with each other similarities or differences either being played up, exaggerated, balanced, or just twisted and reset to provide an overall better story. Then again its not a bad idea to maintain each character (or idea) as a separate entity with its own well defined and accessible tale. After all one of the highlights in recognizing or appreciating many of the examples you have given us is to actually have some knowledge and understanding and appreciation for the sources and individual components that make up the bigger picture. Then there will be a degree of relativity and discretion here because some stories references or examples of mingling themes and characters might not always recognizable to those who do not know the source, (or even worse the execution may just be terrible) but that can provide even more incentive for a person to look into the individual original character (or again idea).   
So I do think its important that people want to create stories and retellings of these tales, without deconstructing them and trying to cram as much ideas and characters into the product as possible. Simple refined stories can be very elegant and masterful and have a purpose and quality that intermingled stories can't capture, but as a fan of fairy tales and say X-Men and Avengers, I love seeing comics which directly portray those Marvel characters as modern day incarnations of Little Red Riding Hood, Momotarō, then even further with stories like Fables, and Brothers Grimm movie, which basically collect as many stories and push them together and twist them.   
Another quick point to cover the angle of a story losing its potency, well that exists too, and I recently a comic where two characters characterization and history were butchered for the novelty of having them interact and fight. I would say they were devalued as a result, but then again both characters have individuals stories which will remain of a high a quality that I have access to, and the same applies to fairy tales and the stories that utilize.   

RM:  Instead of "losing their potency", I'd say instead that by incorporating fantasy characters of myth and legend, it would otherwise be a story lacking the traditional, linear fairy tale storyline. I see no problem with this, as incorporating myth or legend aspects into fairy tales can provide an interesting, exciting element and a new way of mixing up the traditional fairy tale story. One other example besides the given Alice in Wonderland would be Disney's adaptation of Ancient Greek mythology in the movie Hercules; it takes the myth and creates it into something while including a little fairytale aspect and that in my opinion makes the movie fun and interesting. 


 Do you think any fairy tale character could be incorporated into one of the big two comic book universes, sort of like Thor with Marvel?

RM:  I definitely do, I don't see why not. It's kind of already the case with Fables, isn't it? Even though it's Vertigo, not really DC. And there was also that one time when Marvel also did a fairy tale series - it had Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Avengers all in 4 adapted fairy tale stories each. I think incorporating them in this way can be really fun and enjoyable, for comic book and fairytale fans alike. (Being both of those myself, I definitely love it).

ATL:  Could be or should be? I think anything's possible, I mean really, if recent events have told us anything, all we need is a picture of Angelina Jolie reading her kids a fairy tale and comics will be all over that.

As for should be, while I would be up for it, I know back when the Thor movie was coming out people were talking about how it seemed like a weird fit and how would science and magic be blended to lead up to Avengers. That suggests to me that many comic fans (who are renown for their anal-retentiveness) wouldn't be comfortable with the idea or accepting of it and it would get brushed under the rug relatively fast. For an arc or something, I could see things working or as a character that pops in rarely like Phantom Stranger (or Pandora I guess now) but as a primary cast member of the universe. They'd probably need a superhero spin to them.

SC:  I think many classic fairy tale and not so traditional fairy tale characters could transition well into Marvel or DC. The only real hindrance would be establishing characteristics with a character as to help them add value and fit in with their new surrounding. In other words what themes and stories could a fairy tale character bring that can't already be fulfilled with a preexisting Marvel character? Rogue Marie mentions the Avengers themes fairy tale comics, and in one of those stories Vision was rewritten as Pinocchio and it was great. We have had that type of story many times in Marvel and DC, as far as artificial and sentient life and what it means to be human and what defines a human or living person. Does that mean a character like Pinocchio would be redundant in Marvel or DC? Maybe, but I think a good writer with a good story could bring something new and valuable. To me that's the bigger factor, having a writer like say Bill Willingham writing the story and characters. I'd love it if his Fables version of Cinderella was in Marvel. We really need a Cinderella-Black Widow Cross over too! I mention Bill Willingham because he seems to have a great understanding and appreciation of fairy tales the same way Michael Avon Oeming does mythology and the latter writer was very successful reinventing the mythological god Ares into Marvel. So I think success would lie in the hands of a good writer.  

Well in the end, no one felt like saying goodbye (though in fairness I kind of forgot to ask them to.)  In the interest of some closure though I will say goodbye on behalf of all our participants.  The questions are now to the readers.  Does anyone think we are way off base?  Anyone care to share their own favourite fairy tales characters or stories or which ones could transition to comics?  And I will leave you with one last question, are fairy tales just a fad in comics, or are they here to stay?

Posted by aztek_the_lost

I would've said goodbye!

Posted by RazzaTazz
@aztek_the_lost: Sorry, I blamed myself (mostly)
Posted by kfhrfdu_89_76k

"fairy tales were aimed at children"

Well, not really...The less gory and unfair versions are. Not the first ones from centuries ago.

I think that oversexualising fairy tale-characters is both a good and a bad thing, and I agree with all of your thoughts on that subject. But I cant decide what opinion suits me the best. Maybe I should read at least one of that kind of comics, to find out.

Posted by kfhrfdu_89_76k

Are Fairy tale-comics here to stay...?

Well, I don`t really think so. It`s often so, that if something wasn`t extremely popular to begin with, or started in folklore or TV instead of comics, it`s popularity is passing. Of course it will still exist. Readers will like it, and it`s used. But eventually, alot of readers will get bored of seeing stuff like that all the time, the series quality will drop or the makers of that comic will end the series `cause they want to. Or all of those.

So, I think that it`s passing. Naturally, there will be a new golden (or silver or copper or whatever) age for those comics. But not for a few decades. Or maybe only a few years.

Posted by aztek_the_lost

@RazzaTazz: did you have to do research to find out what I was talking about for that picture you inserted? :P

Posted by RazzaTazz
@aztek_the_lost said:

@RazzaTazz: did you have to do research to find out what I was talking about for that picture you inserted? :P

Absolutely, I am all seeing and all knowing, just not as much as you are.  
Posted by Grey56

Interesting bread-loaf discussion over a topical vignette currently seen in comics. It is certainly not without its precedents - see Disney's 4 Colors and Classics Illustrated for further Golden Age reference. The wife is an ardent collector and reader of almost everything Zenescope. As an author of contemporary adult fiction herself - it's interesting to pick her brain over the various stories represented as a modernistic resusictation of the Brothers tales of Germanic lore. Personally, I find it hard to argue with overly sexualized attractive women - and have no problem in talking or admitting it without compunction.

Beyond the bosom factor however, one has to appreciate the fact that near millenia old bardic tales are getting play in post modern literature. Let alone comics. For something which was originally handed down as tawdry adult tales, to turn them into children's stories and then to again turn them into something more risque isn't truly a bastardization of the original concept - no more so than Shakesperean Theater taking zoot suits and cabaret dancers to play play out Hamlet and Ophelia. Summarily, and in answer to the viability of these things - well, here we are...talking about them all these years later. Regardless as to time, place or demographic - there is something universal in tales of the human condition. They resonate to all of us in some fashion.