Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Comics Review: Into the Woods

It feels like I woke up one day and Fairy Tales were "in" again. There are two Fairy Tale-based shows on the TV, two versions of Snow White approaching cinemas, Stephen Moffat cites them as a big influence on his flavour of Doctor Who, and there is just generally a more indefinable "zeitgeist" in air. I would say something off-the-cuff about Fairys being the new Vampires, but as I'm not a huge fan of the current Vampire craze it would be unnecessarily cruel. Moving Fairy Tales into the modern world (or modern sensibilities) isn't a new idea, of course - but its a concept that is suddenly front and centre.

So Into the Woods feels like it fell through my letter box at exactly the right time. Its a "small press" anthology of Fairy Stories, but rather than being the retelling of fairy tales in a modern setting, it's focus is telling modern* Fairy Stories. It sounds like a fine point, but instead of "Snow White gets a job in Tesco" sort of stories it's focus feels like the intersection of the real world with that blurred, semi-fantasy, semi-horror border-reality that the best Fairy Tales inhabit. There are exceptions, of course - the first story is a fun re-telling of Red Riding Hood - but that's the general vibe I walked away with.

For me the real joy of reading Into the Woods is the pace of it. All the stories are short, punchy tales written for effect in a few pages each, then its onto the next one. It's really effective, nothing even comes to close to overstaying it's welcome and the constant shifting of story tone and art means that almost every page turn feels new. The secret here is, I think, in the ordering of the stories - some are properly horrific, some are blackly funny, and so on, and they flow into each other without ever feeling like they're tonally repeating themselves. And putting the last story right at the end - a beautiful marrying of art and story - leaves the you closing the final page with a big smile.

And finally it's worth mentioning that Into the Woods is only a fiver, and its got a lovely professional production quality to it. Its a sampler for a lot of talented writers and artists working in the Small Press market at the moment and a great gateway to the stuff that can be found out there away from the pants-over-your-shorts mainstream. It's wonderful value, can be bought here and you probably should go there right now.

*I should probably interrupt myself and here and explain that by modern I don't mean exclusively set in the "now", but I stories that feel that they have modern styles and sensibilities rather than attempting to emulate traditional forms.