Once Upon a Webcomic: Erstwhile Tales

Although I’ve done many posts in my “Once Upon a Webcomic” series, Gina Biggs’ Erstwhile Tales is perhaps my favorite find among them.  Strangely, it’s also the one that seems to require the least amount of explanation.

Instead of just referencing the most obvious fairy tales (i.e. Cinderella, Snow White, etc.), this webcomic’s entire purpose is to shed light on some of the lesser known stories from the Grimm Brothers’ collection.  As someone who loves these less remembered stories best of all, I could hardly believe my luck when I stumbled upon this ongoing comic series that tells some of my favorites in comic form.

The stories, however, are not the only things to love about Erstwhile Tales; Biggs’ playful, storybook-style illustrations are lovely and perfectly capture the feel of the tales she uses this medium to share.

If you love lesser known fairy tales or would like to give some of them a try, you’ll delight in the magic of Erstwhile Tales.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Jim Benton

This post marks a return to my recurring feature, Once Upon a Webcomic.   Although Jim Benton‘s work is not technically produced as a webcomic, it is a comic I discovered online.  Because of this, I’m lumping them in together.

This comic from jimbenton.com starts off with a fairy tale scene we all recognize, but quickly takes a different turn.

As in my previous posts in this series, this comic uses our cultural knowledge of fairy tale norms to make a joke that people of all ages will understand.  Today, we remember the Frog Prince being cured by a princess’ kiss, so it’s alarming (and potentially amusing) to see the princess refuse in this way.

Interestingly, however, this violent reaction isn’t far off from the princess’ response in the  earliest versions of “The Frog Prince.”  The original princess, who was disgusted by the frog, threw him against a wall; this ended the spell and returned him to his human form.  In various similar tales involving princes enchanted into frog shapes, the women must actually behead the frogs to trigger their transformation.

What’s most interesting here, however, is that Jim Benton was probably not making an attempt to return the tale to its roots.  In all likelihood, he was trying to get a laugh from his princess’ unexpected response.  Instead, he brought the tale almost full circle.

Cracked Fables

Cracked.com has finally decided to take a stab at Aesop’s fables (and a few wrongly attributed to Aesop, i.e. “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” and “Henny Penny“), and the result is pretty amusing.  Their “non-bullshit fables” summarize what they believe would happen if any of these fantastical events happened in real life.  Some of the jokes are based on common sense responses to fairy tale problems, while others make blatant pop culture references.  They even throw in some more “realistic” morals for good measure.

This is just another great example of a joke based on our cultural knowledge of fairy tales.  Everyone who reads the above comic strip will understand the stories these are based on and get a laugh.

My personal favorite of these Cracked fables is the retelling of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”  That ant always did seem like a jerk, to me!  Of course, their version of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is pretty great, too.  Why did the townspeople let that irresponsible boy guard their sheep at night, anyway?

Once Upon a Webcomic: A Softer World

It’s time for another “Once Upon a Webcomic.”  This one centers around another comic I adore, “A Softer World.”

First time I've ever wished for a Disney version.The alternate text of this comic on its original page is fantastic.  It reads “First time I’ve ever wished for a Disney version,” and Joey Comeau (He’s the writer of the series, but not the photographer; that would be Emily Horne.) has a great point.  Because our culture has censored so many of these old stories for modern children, we often forget that fairy tales are almost never truly happy stories, and it is only ever through great hardship that characters are sometimes (but not always) able to find their happy endings.

Take, for instance, the familiar story of Rapunzel.  In its original version, Dame Gothel (the witch) cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out into the wilderness upon discovering that Rapunzel is pregnant and must have been consorting with a man.  When the prince comes for Rapunzel, the witch tells him that he will never see her again.  In despair, he attempts to commit suicide by leaping from the tower, but instead blinds himself when he lands face first in the thorns below.  Confused, disoriented, and in pain, he wanders off into the wilderness.  Rapunzel gives birth and eventually finds the prince.  Her tears heal his blindness and they live happily ever after.  Of course, this happy ending is only achieved after the couple has experienced great trauma and misfortune.

In many cases, fairy tales are darker than our culture seems to remember.  Like Comeau, I always find it interesting when people express a desire for a “fairy tale” romance, because it reveals, as he points out, that they have probably never read any actual fairy tales.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Ryan North Strikes Again

Some of you may recall last week’s Once Upon a Webcomic on Ryan North’s “Dinosaur Comics.”  Apparently, since that time, Ryan North has become determined to blow my mind.  His last three webcomic posts have been a fantastic series on fairy tales.

The first of these retells “Little Red Riding Hood” including some of the more disturbing details from older versions of the story.  Yes, in some versions, Little Red actually did eat her dead grandmother and escape because she told the wolf she had to poop and didn’t want to have an accident in the bed.

In his next comic, North addresses “Sleeping Beauty.”  Some of the information he gives us is true; the Prince really did rape the title character, causing her to give birth to the twins who woke her from her slumber.  Of course, he also provides us with some false information.  “Sleeping Beauty,” while it describes the character, is not her name.  She has been known, in different versions of the tale, as Talia, Aurora, Briar Rose, and more.

Finally, North writes a comic strip in which T-Rex tries to write his own less disturbing fairy tale.  Of course, he fails when he creates a story with a gender-confused protagonist (reminiscent of Ozma) who uses magic to enable her friends to cannibalize an evil wizard.

With any luck, Ryan North will keep reflecting on fairy tales in their grisly, original forms and make comic strips about even more of the old favorites.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Dinosaur Comics Fairy Tales

Since last week’s post on XKCD fairy tales was so popular and many of my favorite webcomics have referenced fairy tales in the past, I decided to start a new recurring feature called Once Upon a Webcomic.  My second webcomic post centers around another of my favorites: “Dinosaur Comics” or “Qwantz” by Ryan North.

Although Dinosaur Comics has referenced fairy tales on a number of hilarious occasions, the following comic is my favorite example of this.

As you can see, this comic takes a humorous poke at fairy tale retellings.  While many of them are interesting and inventive, some do seem a little silly.  For instance, take a look at the plot of Disney’s upcoming film, “Snow White and the Seven“; if Snow White is a British woman in China in the 1800s and the dwarves are actually not dwarves but international warriors teaching her how to fight, is it really even the same story?  Sure, the concept sounds pretty cool, but at what point does it begin to distract from the actual story and become a little pointless?

I can’t help but feel the same about Maureen McGowan’s new books “Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer” and “Cinderella: Ninja Warrior.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and read them on the off chance that they may actually be cool and funny mash-ups, but frankly they sound a little ridiculous.  Hopefully, that’s intentional.

When retelling fairy tales, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to make everything “totally sweet” and forget about what you were actually trying to do in the first place; breathe life back into an old story.  Of course, that doesn’t mean space travel and fairy tales should never mix; in her book of short fairy tale retellings “Red as Blood,” Tanith Lee masterfully reconciles these genres in “Beauty,” a futuristic retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

To see some other fairy tale references in Dinosaur Comics, check out the comics from November 20, 2003 and May 31, 2006.

Cinderella’s Eigenvectors: An XKCD Fairy Tale

One of my favorite webcomics is XKCD, which I religiously read on its post days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  Imagine my delight, this morning, when I got online to read my emails and daily webcomics and saw the comic strip below.

Goldilocks' discovery of Newton's method for approximation required surprisingly few changes.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that XKCD has combined fairy tales and math; the webcomic proclaims itself to be about romance, sarcasm, math, and language.  It was only a matter of time before fairy tales, as an integral part of our pop culture language, found their way into the mix.  Even if you don’t know enough about the mathematical and scientific concepts referenced in this comic to fully understand the jokes, everyone can recognize the fairy tales and dredge up some childhood memories of occasionally distracted parents.  Once again, fairy tales help to create a joke in which all members of our culture can participate.

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