Once Upon a Time- Fairytales in Comics
Fan-favorite comic book artist J. Scott Campbell’s Fairytale Fantasies depict some of the most popular and beloved fictional characters as imagined through a whimsical pin-up lens. Originally created for a collection of calendar pages, these designs have been faithfully brought to life as a series of Sideshow statues, including Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Tinkerbell and The Little Mermaid (Morning Version).
Blending the four-color fantasies of comic books with the magical mythology of beloved fairytales is a natural fit, as evidenced by the numerous series that take place, “Once upon a time…” or in a far-off wonderland. Sometimes, though, these fantastical characters are put up against the real world, gritty and mundane. Or, even stranger yet, the modern pop culture legends of superheroes like Spider-Man or the X-Men encounter a brush with the dreamy world of fairytales.
No matter which way you look at it, these enduring folklore figures are perfect for putting on the modern comic book page. Here are some of the most popular comic series that feature fairy tales as the main premise.
Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales
Beyond his pin-up calendar series, J. Scott Campbell’s artwork has appeared on covers for a wide range of fairytale comics offered by Zenescope like Grimm Fairy Tales, Oz, and the Wonderland series. Grimm Fairy Tales currently has two omnibuses available and fifteen different graphic novels, and the issues are broken down into individual stories. For example, the first graphic novel has individual tales for Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and the Robber Bridegroom.
Word of warning, these comics closely follow the classic fairytales written by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Grimm Brothers’ tales are much darker and contain more violence than their many re-imaginings. If you’re not familiar with those tales, the source material may be worth a read before these comics surprise you.
The final story in the first graphic novel also introduces us to a character who appears in all the previous stories with no explanation. This character provides the subtle link between all the stories.
Several of the characters within the Grimm Fairy Tales went on to receive their own separate series: Cinderella: Serial Killer Princess, Belle: Beast Hunter, Van Helsing, Robyn Hood, and Jasmine: Crown of Kings, to name a few. The graphic novel Van Helsing vs Robyn Hood brings two of the characters together in an engaging tale where Robyn Hood is turned into a vampire and Liesel Van Helsing must find a way to save her.
Currently, there are two versions of a Robyn Hood statue by Zenescope available through Sideshow, if you’re looking to bring home some of the Grimm action for your collection.
Fables is probably the most well known of all the fairytale comic book series. There are currently twenty-two trade paperbacks encompassing the one hundred fifty issues of the series. There are also fifteen volumes that collect the issues in larger groupings (i.e. instead of the normal 5-7 issues per graphic novel, the volumes contain at least 10 issues).
There are also several collected editions which contain the spin-offs such as 1001 Nights of Snowfall, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, and Everafter: From the Pages of Fables. The Fables series won fourteen Eisner Awards including Best New Series in 2003, Best Anthology in 2007, and multiple Best Cover Artists.
Fables: Legends in Exile is the first graphic novel in the series. It contains the first five issues of Fables and the story A Wolf in the Fold. In this introduction, we learn that the characters (both from European and American fairytales and folklore) fled their homeland when an enemy forced them from their lands. They set up the Fabletown community in New York City and the Farm in upstate New York to provide themselves with new homes. The Farm is reserved for those characters that do not easily fit in with human society such as the Three Little Pigs, giants, and other talking non-human creatures.
Legends in Exile is very much a murder mystery with Snow White, Bigby Wolf, Boy Blue, and Rose Red featuring as the main characters. The depictions from the characters do not match the Brothers Grimm or their fairytales as we know them. Snow White is divorced from her Prince and Bigby Wolf (The Big Bad Wolf) is mainly humanoid and has a drinking problem.
The characters are human with human flaws instead of fantasy and perfection, and put into the mundane world of New York City, the stark contrast between fairytale and fact is perfect fuel for the drama of the series. These humanized depictions of fairy tale characters make them much more relatable. The stories are gripping and leave you wanting the next installment.
The Weirding Willows
A little-known series that can claim a spot on this list is The Weirding Willows. This comic, published by A1, sadly only has seven issues. There is both a collected hardcover and graphic novel for this series.
Alice Moreau is 18 years old, but discovered Wonderland when she was only 9, thanks to a portal in the woods by her house. It turns out there are multiple other portals that lead other worlds within the surrounding areas: Oz, Neverland, Mars, Pelucidar and Elysium.
Alice’s father Doctor Moreau makes a deal with the Wicked Witch of the West, and Alice must discover the true motives of the witch before it is too late. Appearances from Frankenstein’s Monster, a T-Rex, and Mowgli are just a few that are sprinkled throughout the series. This is a very fun and entertaining read, combining classic fiction with fairy tales.
Marvel Fairy Tales
Marvel released three four-issue runs of fairytales involving fan-favorite Marvel characters: Avengers Fairy Tales, Spider-Man Fairy Tales, and X-Men Fairy Tales.
X-Men Fairy Tales was the first to be released in 2006 and the first issue sold out quickly. The four issues in the series are each separate fairytales and folklore from various cultures around the world, including Japan, Africa, Europe, and even Cajun Voodoo. Heroes and villains like Cyclops, Magneto, Professor X, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue, and Mystique all appear in the stories.
Spider-Man Fairy Tales released in 2007. This time the characters all came from the Spider-Man universe: Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson, the Fantastic Four, Venom, and Gwen Stacy. These four issues are based on Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, a Japanese ghost story, and the African legend of Kwaku Anansi.
Avengers Fairy Tales was the final installment of the Marvel Fairy Tales. Its four issues released in 2008. The four issues are based on Peter Pan, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. All the fan-favorite Avengers appear as well as Magneto, Cassandra Lang, and the Young Avengers.
All the Marvel Fairy Tales were written by C.B. Cebulski and are collected in a Marvel Fairy Tales graphic novel. In addition, each of the collections has their own separate graphic novel that you may be able to still find at your local comic store.
The Zenescope Grimm series, Fables, The Weirding Willows, and the Marvel Fairy Tales are all excellent examples of using folklore and fairytales of the past in present day comics.
Many of the series feature the fairytale and folklore characters in their original form instead of the modern reinterpretations we recognize from in popular children’s movies. While we all know and love the movies, as an adult, seeing the characters in their original forms is a nice change of pace that provides a unique reading experience.
Which of these series sounds the most entertaining to you? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments!