[18 February 2007]
Streetfables is an indie publisher with an eye on modernizing famous fables. Two of their books, Weird Sister and Red show not only their ability to update these tales, but to tell an engaging and original story.
The problem with taking well-known material as your source is that a single misstep can alert the reader to weak writing. The characters and plots are so familiar, that a reader can’t help but compare the new work to the old. Even when new stories are being told, unless they can immerse the reader in a way that utilizes the well-worn stories in a compelling way, the reader will judge the work at every step. Streetfables’ Weird Sister and Red, both written by Elizabeth Genco, overcome this by telling their tales so simply as to inhabit a very primal place. They don’t replace the original tale or mythic figure as much as drag it, kicking and screaming, into our world, and then sit alongside it, daring it to make eye-contact.
Red, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. This tale is shorter than Weird Sister, and it’s more mythic in its approach. The setting is a city, little Red Riding Hood no longer runs through the forest, nor does the wolf; they take a subway instead. Of course, this time around the wolf and the little girl lost are not easily defined hunter/victims. They are both more complex as lines are crossed and characterizations mixed, and the story, while perhaps not surprising in the end, is well told and nicely illustrated. It benefits from a single artist’s vision, and Mr. Colden has a rough-edged style that fits the quick moving story and its horror elements well.
Weird Sister is less of a retelling of any particular tale as much as it is a recasting of a standard fable character: the witch. The main character, Daleth, is a witch of a modern sort, living in an apartment, wearing homemade jewelry, combat boots and a skirt. Her use of magic is more neutral than evil, sort of a “be careful what you wish for” kind of magic. Her attempt to save a dog from execution by druggie thugs, and her rescue of Phillis—a young, street smart girl with magic powers—from the hands of a tormented man gives Daleth a sort of adopted family: a ghost dog and a scarily powerful girl with an undead boyfriend.
Red, page 3
There is humor and a youthful-world-weariness to these characters, an acceptance that life is hard and probably harder for them than most, powers or not. Witches are, in this book, not forces luring the innocent to their doom. They are forces of power, and they are dangerous, but only if not respected. The nice thing about these characters is that they give the impression that witches in fables have simply been misunderstood. They make you think that all witches must have been, at some point, as cool as these girls are. There are no black hats or brooms. There are jilted lovers and broken promises, feared futures and ironic twists of fate. This book introduces a set of characters it would be fun to see again.
While the art for these two books are done by a number of artists (Kevin Colden handles all of Red; four separate chapters of Weird Sister are handled by Boorman, Shaw, Zornow, with additional art by Purvis and Wood) the writing is all from Elizabeth Genco, and she shows not only a strong talent for story-telling, but for letting the telling be nicely augmented by the art and for giving artists room to find their own path in her tales. The result is some very different looks to the books, even the chapters with Weird Sister don’t look similar from one the next, but never any confusion that what we’re reading is part of a loosely connected whole. Ms. Genco and the artists complement each other and never lose their way, either from each other or us. These fables are highly accessible and fun to read.