(2019) Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran, Headline, £14.99, hrdbk, 64pp, ISBN 978-1-472-26291-2
Based on Neil Gaiman's 1994 short story of the same title, it is a chilling fantasy retelling of the Snow White. A not-so-evil queen is terrified of her monstrous stepdaughter and determined to repel this creature and save her kingdom from a world where happy endings aren't so happily ever after. From the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, Nebula Award-winning and Sunday Times-bestselling writer Neil Gaiman (American Gods) comes this graphic novel adaptation by Colleen Doran (Troll Bridge).
Among the things that Neil Gaiman is famous for, is his comic-book, or graphic novel output, ranging from The Sandman to Black Orchid and Stardust for DC, and 1602 for Marvel. More recently weíve seen a little glut of slender graphic novels such as this based on some of his short stories. Colleen Doran has previous form on the Gaiman front having illustrated his short story 'Troll Bridge' which was published in 2016 and illustrated Gaimanís updating of the old fairy tales around trolls and bridges. Her illustrations for Snow, Glass, Apples couldnít be more different from those in Troll Bridge as she has drawn her inspiration from the Irish illustrator Harry Clarke (1889 Ė 1931). In fact, after the tale is told we get ten pages of notes from Doran, showing early sketches, some discarded sketches (because they might have appealed to younger readers, and in some ways this is a very adult tale) and we read about which of Clarkeís work inspired her in her creation of the characters, drawing from a variety of the Irish artistís work, including illustrations of Poe stories and even the stain glass windows he designed.
As for the story itself, itís has a bit of a chequered history. The story was originally written in 1994, and appeared in a benefit book by Dreamhaven Books for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, then was reprinted in the anthology Love in Vein ll, edited by Poppy Z. Brite, before featuring in Gaimanís short story collection Smoke and Mirrors in 1998. Somewhere in Hunter Towers there is a signed copy of that book, as well as a signed copy of a two-cassette audio collection called Two Plays for Voices (I thought I had bought the CD version) which contains an audio drama of the story performed by Bebe Neuwirth from Seeing Ear Theatre. The other play is a version of Gaimanís story 'Murder Mysteries' featuring Brian Dennehy as the angel Raguel, and highly recommended they are too.
If, somehow, you have never read the original Gaiman story and canít glean what it is about from the title then suffice to say it is a very adult retelling of the Snow White legend as her step-mother tells the story of how she entranced the King, became his Queen, but something walks the castle at night, and the King grows weaker and older as every night passes and his body is covered in little scars. The Queen suspects her little step-daughter, who has pale skin and sharp little teeth and a liking for blood. The King dies and the Princess is taken to the forest where her heart is cut out, but is the girl truly dead? Every year the numbers of the forest-folk who come to town to entertain and sell their wares, dwindles and dwindles. Something is killing them off, and the Queen is terrified that she knows what is doing the killing, because a heart hangs above her bed, and it still beats, and one day its owner might come looking for it.
Gaimanís story is a classic in its own right, deconstructing the essential elements of the Snow White story and rebuiliding it into some else, something darker, more erotic, and Doran artwork reconstructs Gaimanís story again into a fabulously illustrated tale. Recommended.
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