Do you know the graphic novels series Fables by Bill Willingham? It’s not for kids. It’s a grown-up (or older teen) graphic novels series about characters from fairy tales who have fled their homelands and taken up residence in New York. If you’re the sort of person who can appreciate graphic novels and can appreciate a premise like that, then they’re excellent. In the near decade they’ve been coming out, the stories have run the gamut from funny to snarky to dark to emotionally touching and even thought-provoking. In fact, they’re so excellent that they’ve ruined me for reading all these other modern takes on fairy tales. Every time I try one, all I can think is, “Fables already did that and they did it better.”
Seriously, I’ve now seen two different middle grades series with similar themes to the grown-up Fables and not been able to appreciate them because Fables just did it better. Usually, I find that children’s books tackle subjects in ways that I often find more interesting or at least as interesting as adult books. But apparently not this time. First, The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. I read Fairy Tale Detectives and I tried to read The Unusual Suspects, but honestly, I just kept thinking about how they’d stolen Fables‘s idea. The premise of this series is that there are refuges from the fairy tale world who are living in, honestly, I think it’s upstate New York. If you’ve read Fables, they’re not allowed to leave their town, making it oddly reminiscent of the Farm. Like in Fables, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk same is the same Jack from all the tales and is a rapscallion who isn’t to be trusted. The Big Bad Wolf has reformed and acts as the local legal enforcement. It’s a funny series and reasonably well-written with lots of action and plenty of appeal. I wanted to like it, but alas. The trappings were just so similar. I spent half the time wondering if Buckley had actually read Fables and thought, gee, what a great idea if you could make it for kids!
Now, I’ve just finished reading Shannon and Dean Hale’s Calamity Jack. This is part of a graphic novel series from Shannon Hale, who has written several more traditional YA fantasy novels with fairy tale themes. However, this fairy tale retelling, which begins with Rapunzel’s Revenge, has a very steampunk, early American feel to it. Again, I can’t help but be reminded of Fables. The character of Jack, while nowhere near as heartless or womanizing as in Fables, is still thrown into a similar setting as his spinoff comic series and is still the same brand of rogue. It’s fine. The art is pretty good. The attitude is fun. I would even recommend it to kids looking for graphic novels. Yet, I just couldn’t enjoy it. The husband, when he saw it on the side table, actually asked if it was somehow connected with Fables.
Now in the last year, I’ve also seen two Brothers Grimm themed quirky fairy tale books come out: The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman and A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. It must be in the ether. Both look interesting. Both have gotten decent reviews. Yet, I’m afraid to read them. What if Fables really has ruined me for modern takes on the fairy tales?