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Posts Tagged ‘updated classics’

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 18, 2014

The evil daughters of Zamora, intent on conquering the world, seek the Viridian Scepter, a powerful magical artifact which was used to destroy their mother. It has been broken into three pieces, and its handle stolen, taken by a ghost wolf to another world, the nexus. There, it is found by a girl who can, mysteriously, wield it, although it should be possible only for the most powerful of Highborns.

Does this story sound familiar to you? Let me describe it again.

Young Dorothy Gale, who lives on a farm in Kansas, finds a wolf, which she names Toto, and determines to keep it as a pet. Soon after, her house is lifted by a tornado and Dorothy finds herself in the land of Oz, where the Wicked Witches of the East and West terrorize the land. Dorothy accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East using a rod that Toto carried, which is sure to cause the witch’s sister to target her. So Dorothy sets out on a journey across Oz to complete the scepter, of which Toto’s rod was a part, and use it to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West and return home.

That’s probably more recognizable, isn’t it?


Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz is a hardcover collection of the six issue miniseries of the same name from Zenescope Entertainment. The series ran from July 2013 to February 2014, and was written by Joe Brusha, with pencils by Rolando di Sessa, inks by Glauber Matos, and colors by Ulises Grostieta.

The Grimm Fairy Tales series presents re-imaginings of fairy tales, set in a crossover-friendly universe consisting of Earth (called the nexus) and four other worlds: Myst, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz. The miniseries in this book, as the title implies, is concerned only with the final of these. I’ve never read any other entries in the Grimm Fairly Tales series, so I can confidently say that this book works as a standalone story.

The story is, in broad stokes, the one we’re all familiar with. Dorothy from Earth shows up in Oz, meets some traveling companions, and eventually defeats the wicked witches, freeing Oz from their tyranny. At last, Dorothy goes home. All of the details, though, have been changed.

Rather than setting out alone, Dorothy begins her quest in an RPG-approved cliche party consisting of a magic user (Glinda, the Good Witch of the North), a warrior (Thorne, a member of the lion-like Kavari tribe), and three short comic-relief types (Sparky, Crumb, and Crank, who are Boggers–don’t call them munchkins!).

Unfortunately, cliche is rather the name of the game, for this story. Dorothy is mysteriously very powerful. Glinda, the knowledgeable, powerful, and very useful leader of the party (at the outset), ends up conveniently unconscious for the latter part of the story. The third chapter’s opening is narrated by a positively painful letter home from Dorothy, in the venerable writing-that-everything-is-fine-while-actually-in-a-pitched-battle style. And the ending is rather spectacularly unsatisfying.

The adaptation isn’t without its clever bits, and in particular it does a reasonably good job with the lion, scarecrow, and tin woodsman, but overall the writing is just not up to par.

The artwork is fairly good, but quite variable. Dorothy, in particular, never seems to have quite the same face from panel to panel.

The many faces of Dorothy, from the first two chapters.

The many faces of Dorothy, from the first two chapters.

I’ve seen some complaints about the sexualized outfits and poses of the female cast of this book, and I gather that it’s something of a staple of the series. The characters certainly wear impractical clothing, and the artist is clearly not above taking advantage of this.

This is certainly not a problem that’s limited to this book–it’s a common (and valid) criticism of comics in general. That said, I don’t think that it’s the biggest problem the book has, nor a particularly egregious example of it. The worst of it is all in the alternate covers, but that’s not an issue, here.

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz is not by any means an excellent comic, but it’s not a terrible one, either. It’s worth the 45 minutes or so it takes to read, if only that.

Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz is available in hardcover starting today, March 18, 2014.

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The Sagebrush Singers

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 8, 2014

Four animals, dissatisfied with their lots in life, set out for the town of Big Creek to be musicians. Along the way, they encounter–and drive off–a band of rustlers and horse thieves.


Sound familiar? The Sagebrush Singers, written by Herb Kernecker and illustrated by James Watts, is a very close retelling of “The Bremen Town Musicians”, as collected by the Brothers Grimm, set in the American southwest.

In place of the ass, hound, cat, and cock from the original tale, The Sagebrush Singers features a burro, a coyote, a skunk, and a raven. Rather than simply encountering robbers, the Sagebrush Singers encounter a group of rustlers and horse thieves.

That’s where the differences end, though; the story and the manner in which it is told are both very close to the source. For example, when the ass and hound come upon the cat, in “The Bremen Town Musicians”:

It was not long before they came to a cat sitting in the road, looking as dismal as three wet days.

“Now then, what is the matter with you, old shaver?” said the ass.

Compare it with the scene in which burro and coyote meet the skunk in The Sagebrush Singers:

While crossing a wide arroyo they found little Skunk, lost and squeaking sadly.

“What are you complaining about, old stinker?” Burro asked.

The similarity is striking, and it’s representative of the story as a whole. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but it is far from being original. The story is enjoyable enough, but that’s because the original story was so.

Where The Sagebrush Singers does deviate from the original is in the motivation of the animals. In “The Bremen Town Musicians”, the reasons the animals have fled their homes are an important part of the tone of the story: the ass has grown to old to carry the loads he once could; the dog has grown weak with age and is no longer any use in the hunt; the cat cannot run about after mice, as it did in its younger days; and the cock, though still useful, is to be killed and made into soup for company.

The animals in The Sagebrush Singers have slightly different motivations: the burro has been replaced by a truck, and feels lonely (and hungry) in his corral; the coyote is frustrated by people encroaching on his territory, always out to get him; the skunk has been chased away for become “a little too interested in the chicken coop”; and the raven is unhappy because of pollution.

I feel like the story of “The Bremen Town Musicians” is much stronger for the animals’ motivations, and by contrast The Sagebrush Singers is weaker. It’s no worse than many children’s stories, but I think it’s appropriate to compare a retelling to the original, and The Sagebrush Singers doesn’t measure up.


I’m not the biggest fan of the art. It illustrates the scenes well enough, but it doesn’t really add to the book. It’s just decoration. The style is the sort of simplified and exaggerated line art that is generally used for comedic effect, with uninspiring colors. Looking at some of the artist’s other paintings, it seems he favors understated coloration, but his choices here don’t suit either the story or the line art very well. It’s a shame, because I think a different choice of palette might have provided a lot of atmosphere for the desert setting.

I love folk tales, and I always enjoy seeing retellings of the classics. The Sagebrush Singers is a competent retelling, but it doesn’t exceed the original in any way. Those interested in the Brothers Grimm particularly will probably want to take a look at it, but for everyone else, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this one.

The Sagebrush Singers goes on sale March 31, 2014. It is recommended for children age 5 and up. It has a website which will feature an audio recording of “The Sagebrush Singers Song”, and other supplementary material.

Disclosure: this review is based on an advance copy received free for review.

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Other Goose: Re-Nurseried!! and Re-Rhymed!! Childrens Classics

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 28, 2012

I wanted to like this, but the poetry is very weak. The poetry is changed just for the sake of change–the new versions aren’t always clever, either intrinsically or as parodies on the originals. The ‘re-rhyming’ seems to have spoiled some perfectly good rhymes and left poorly rhymed poems with no rhythm to speak of. For example:

Why sing a song of sixpence?
That money doesn’t make sense.
And who puts blackbirds in a pie?
I really have to wonder why.

Compared to the original:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

In the original, the meter of the third line echoes the first, and the longest line is six syllables. In the ‘improved’ version, there’s no such symmetry, there are up to eight syllables per line, and it’s just generally harder to read. I focus on the number of syllables per line because a good part of the charm of the originals is in the short, forceful lines of each poem. As Hannibal Lecter reminds us:

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

This should be read intensely. Strictly speaking, the lines are a bit longer, but the pause in the middle means that they may each be read in two shorter segments.

Many of the poems in Other Goose do indeed have shorter lines, but they generally still don’t read well. Consider:

Baa baa black sheep,
have you any wool?
“Hmmm, let me see,”
he said after a lull.

The latter two lines flow very poorly, and I want to stress the second syllable in ‘after’ if I pause where the line breaks indicate, which isn’t nice at all. It sounds a bit better if I read it “Hmmm, let me see, he said/after a lull.”, but I shouldn’t have to go over every nursery rhyme, carefully deciding where to pause and how to stress the words so they come out smoothly; nursery rhymes, as this very book indicates, should be memorable–this is not made easier by the poems being hard to read aloud.

Apart from all this criticism, I did like the art, generally. The sequence for “Jack B. Nimble” was fun, and everything was colorful and interesting, if not a little odd.

I’d love to see this artwork with better poems, and I do think there’s some room for reworking nursery rhymes into something more modern. But I don’t think that Other Goose succeeds at doing this.

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Pooh’s New Clothes

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 13, 2011

Pooh’s New Clothes is a retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes (Aarne-Thompson type 1620), starring Winnie-the-Pooh.

In this story, Sly Fox has come to the Hundred Acre Wood, and is showing off clothes. He offers to make Winnie-the-Pooh a suit of clothes, in exchange for all of his honey. The clothes, he says, will be made of a wonderful, magical cloth, which only wise people can see. All the residents of the hundred acre wood come to see the clothes as they are being made, and pretend to be able to see them (except for Roo, who insists there are no clothes). At last, the clothes are done, and Pooh asks everyone how he looks. They compliment his new clothes, and so Winnie-the-Pooh believes that although he is not wise enough to see them, at least his friends are. But the trick is revealed when Pooh asks Christopher Robin how he looks, and is told he’s only wearing the same clothes as always–for no one is wiser than Christopher Robin.

The story is, of course, just the same as The Emperor’s New Clothes, down to a child (Roo) being the only one to admit he can’t see the clothes. It’s a little spoilt by the truth being revealed by Christopher Robin, rather than Roo being believed, but this is a story about Winnie-the-Pooh, after all. It’s a fun little story. And Pooh is wiser than he believes–when the trick is revealed, Pooh wishes he’d kept a little honey, for “it helps to have honey at a time like this,” which is quite right.

The illustrations are again nice in this volume. It’s especially fun to see Sly Fox showing the empty clothes hanger to everyone, and to see Pooh staring at it appraisingly, as though he’d be able to see the clothes if only he looked hard enough.

Pooh’s New Clothes is a fun story with nice illustrations–a worthy addition to the Walt Disney Fun-to-Read Library.

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Goofy’s Big Race

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 13, 2011

Goofy’s Big Race is a retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare, with Goofy in place of the tortoise and Donald Duck in place of the hare.

Donald and Goofy meet on the road one day. Donald is driving a fast, new car, while Goofy is driving an old, slow car (which he calls ‘Bessie’). Donald challenges Goofy to a race to the ice cream shop. Donald, overconfident, makes many stops to wash his car, eat, play baseball, and even take a nap. Goofy, though, presses on, saying “slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the way to go.” In the end, of course, Goofy beats Donald to the ice cream shop, much to Donald’s surprise and dismay.

Again I say it: I’m a sucker for retellings of classic folk tales, and they don’t get much more classic than The Tortoise and the Hare. The story in this one is fairly fun; not as good as Mickey Meets the Giant, but still nice.

As usual for books in Walt Disney’s Fun-to-Read Library, the illustrations are great. It’s fun to see Donald’s misfortunes as he keeps taking breaks from the race, and in the illustration of Donald napping under a tree, there’s even a rabbit napping there with him, in a nod to the original tale.

Goofy’s Big Race is a good children’s book, and is certainly one of the better books in Walt Disney’s Fun-to-Read Library, living up to that series’s name.

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Mickey Meets the Giant

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 13, 2011

Mickey Meets the Giant puts Mickey Mouse in the shoes of a number of classic folk tale heroes, similar in particular to The Valiant Little Tailor (not an unfamiliar role for Mickey).

In this story, Mickey is a woodcutter, and when he goes into a town to get his axe sharpened, he hears that a giant has been terrorizing the town, and offers to stop him. At length, the townspeople send him off with the supplies he’s requested: a bag, a drinking straw, and a cheese.

He tricks the giant into solving some of the problems he’s caused, and then challenges the giant to see who can squeeze the most water from a stone (this is Aarne-Thompson type 1060). The giant can’t squeeze out any, but Mickey pretends the cheese is a stone, and squeezes whey from it. Seeing this, the giant is frightened of Mickey, and ran away. The town is saved, and Mickey is a hero.

The story is great–I’m a sucker for retellings of classic folk tales, and I definitely support exposing children to these stories that are the foundations of so much modern literature.

The illustrations are lovely and colorful. As expected of a children’s book, it’s quite possible to understand the story just by looking at the pictures.

Mickey Meets the Giant is a great, fun book for kids.

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