When I decided to create an anthology of fairy tale-inspired comics for my honors capstone project, I underestimated the amount of work it would take to pull it off. This was because I often adapted fairy tales to new stories as a hobby. However, when the intent of the project is to publish an anthology that brings light to modern social issues through well-known tales, the stories have to be much more thoroughly considered.
At the start, I wanted to have ten stories, as ten was a nice base number for a collection that would allow me to explore many different themes and styles. Each story was going to be 5-16 pages long. My plan was to illustrate each story in an art style that fit its subject matter. For example, I wanted to draw in a psychedelic style inspired by Peter Max’s posters or Joann Sfar’s graphic novel adaptation of The Little Prince for the story “The Daisy,” a tragic tale about talking flowers and birds.
But while some stories like “The Daisy” always had a clear style in mind, others I experimented with several styles, such as my horror story “Juniper’s Tree.” For this story, I considered everything from old Disney cartoons to modern Cartoon Network styles to German Expressionistic woodblock prints. I even carved my own woodblock print to better understand how the medium worked, even though my plan was to replicate the style digitally for the comic itself. Eventually, I settled on a dark indie comic-type of look after reading Daniel Clowe’s “Ghost World.” That way, I could retain the dark mood and harsh contrast of a woodblock print while achieving more delicate details when needed.
But choosing styles wasn’t the only problem. I also was not sure which ten stories I wanted to adapt. Some I knew I wanted to write were “The Pied Piper” and “Little Fay,” which featured regular characters of mine and I assumed would translate easily to comics. For others like “Juniper’s Tree” and “The Snowgirl,” I had good concepts I wanted to explore, but I had no idea how to end my versions of them. Then there were the ideas that I tossed around but could not decide on such as “Little Ida’s Flowers” (too boring), “Rumpelstiltskin” (too long in my retelling), or “The Selkie” (better suited to a medium other than comics).
In the end, after discovering a comic book my grandparents gifted me when I was two years old, I decided on the Philippine legend Ibong Adarna, or “The Adarna Bird.” As this version was already a comic, I new that the story worked well in that format. The story was also about a male protagonist, which would balance out my mostly female-lead stories. Finally, this was the only non-Western fairy tale of the collection, and I wanted to have that range.
There was only one problem: the comic book, and all non-summary versions of Ibong Adarna I could find online, were entirely in Tagalog. So, using a combination of Google Translate, a Tagalog/English dictionary, English summaries found online, and my mom’s basic Tagalog knowledge, I translated the comic book into English. The comic book version, of course, was its own adaptation of a much longer epic, so my knowledge of the original legend mostly came from a detailed summary slideshow I found online. I decided to base my version on the shortened form used by the comic but make it a children’s story, the way Disney bases their fairy tale movies off sanitized and simplified versions of tales.
In the end, I narrowed down my plan from ten comics to seven. This was mostly due to time constraints, but also because I felt three of my decided stories weren’t as strong as the others. “The Pied Piper,” which I had been initially set on drawing, would have been too complicated for a 20 page comic, and tread lightly on problematic issues I did not feel I could currently address. “Fitcher’s Bird,” another story I thought for sure I would draw, was similar to “Juniper’s Tree” and “Little Fay” in terms of violence and implied danger of sexual assault, but it addressed these issues comedically, which I thought would undermine the more serious stories. And finally, “The Handless Maiden” was another quasi-comic story about sexual violence against women, and I just didn’t want that topic to dominate my anthology.
In the end, I kept my seven strongest ideas and developed them into a collection of comics with a wide range in style, tone, genre, and social issues. I believe this was the best course of action for this book, and I learned so much about fairy tales that I had known for years and also those that I had just discovered.