Gina Biggs (Red String), Louisa Roy (Queen of Hearts), and Elle Skinner (Missing Monday) are well-known comic artists in their own right, but together have started something fantastic. Taking the lesser-known Grimm’s fairy tales, each artist draws up a comic version, presented in different turns, creating an anthology is that both wonderful to look at, as well as read. Titles include The Sweet Porridge, The Twelve Huntsmen, and King Thrushbeard, all wonderful tales in their own right, but remaining obscure to mainstream readers.
While the site does deal with fairy tales, these are not the sanitized versions. There is blood and death, and there are just as many unhappily-ever-afters as there are happy. However, in keeping with the written tradition, there is no gratuitous gore or violence, only enough to help the narrative along. Also, many of the stories feature characters differing from the usual princess-and-prince tropes. There are many instances where female characters run the plot, and several male characters relying more on their wits instead of simply looking good on horseback. And in a wonderful show of diversity, the artists have drawn non-white characters, presenting people of African, Greek, and Hispanic ancestry among their canon, with many more besides.
Half the fun of reading Erstwhile is seeing each artist’s rendering of the story. While certain details remain true to each artist, all three will challenge themselves using different styles and coloring for new stories; very rarely are two stories similar in design. However, there are certain details that are particular to each illustrator. Gina Biggs’ style is reminiscent of traditional comics, with defined and visible outlines, giving bold definition to her shapes; she is also often credited with the story adaptation. Elle Skinner’s approach is softer in both colors and lines, often evoking watercolor or colored pencil sketches. Louisa Roy draws in a more modern manner, with her work most resembling manga and anime.
Begun in 2011, they have so far released over twenty adapted stories, collected into two print books, available for sale, and show no signs of stopping. An anthology that is well drawn and written, it is a must-read for all. You can find it at Erstwhiletales.com.