The Power Of Picture Books: Emily Carroll Talks ‘Fairy Tale Comics’ [Interview And Preview]
This week, First Second Comics releases Fairy Tale Comics, a hardcover anthology of classic stories adapted by 17 prolific cartoonists. To celebrate, we’ve snagged an interview with Emily Carroll, whose adaptation of The Brothers Grimm’s perhaps lesser-known tale “The 12 Dancing Princesses” graces the book’s pages.
ComicsAlliance: Some of the stories in here — Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Goldilocks — are some of the most famous fairy tales ever told. Yours, “The 12 Dancing Princesses” is a lesser-known story. What drew you to it?
Emily Carroll: Actually it was suggested to me by the editor, Chris, when I was approached to work on this project, and since I was familiar with the story but not too familiar, I was happy to take it on and figure out how to tell it. It’s a little different from the fairy tales I am normally drawn to (no one dies or is hideously transformed, for one) but I like the surreal quality to it, the dreaminess that comes from the princesses’ secret.
Also I won’t lie, I like drawing period costumes a lot, especially gowns, and here was a chance to draw a whole bunch of them at once.
CA: You knocked out this entire story in just eight pages, with minimal narration. I found a text version that was five full pages of text. Was it a difficult story to adapt?
EC: Not as difficult as I thought it was going to be. I sat down with the story and went through it, crossing out elements that I decided wouldn’t be needed in my retelling, and the result was, I think, still very similar to the spirit of the original. Plus versions of the original often go into a lot of detail about the hero’s backstory before the story even begins, and it really doesn’t come up again, so removing that cut things down right off the bat.
CA: There are 17 other cartoonists with work in this book. What was the story-selection process like? Did anyone, to your knowledge, have to compete over a particular story they wanted?
EC: I have absolutely no idea! As I mentioned, Chris offered me this story and I ran with it.
CA: Is there a story in here you wish you could’ve gotten your hands on?
EC: I’m pretty happy with the one I ended up with, honestly. I think it has just enough strangeness to make it the sort of fairy tale I enjoy, but it lacks the out-and-out darkness of a lot of others (all threats of a beheading aside) which I know I would, by my very nature as a horror fan, feel compelled to include — and since this anthology was going for more of an all ages feel, I thought it would be good to go outside my comfort zone and try to make something a little more fun and upbeat for once.
EC: I really do feel that picture books have been the biggest influence on my personal work, probably just because of the impact they had on me as a kid. I love the rhythm of fairy tales, and the cadence of the words when you read them aloud. I like the idea of them being something you revisit again and again.
CA: A lot of your original comics take the form of fairy tales. What do you think it is about comics that makes it a particularly great medium for these kinds of stories? Why aren’t there more compilations like this?
EC: Like you say, I think they do share a lot of similarities between picture books, but with comics you can arguably control the flow of narration to an even greater extent. It’s fun to dig into scenes and explore them in depth through panels, ferreting out what about them struck you so much as a child. As for your second question, I don’t know enough about the market to even guess, but I would be surprised to hear that there aren’t more fairy tale comics, honestly.
CA: Your story comes right before Gilbert Hernandez’s version of “Hansel and Gretel.” How does that feel?
EC: I had no idea — wildly intimidating probably sums it up! I look forward to reading it.
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