Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Snow White graphic novel review

Warning: Even though everyone knows the story of Snow White, there are some spoilers here in terms of this particular rendering of the story and the artist’s vision of it.

Yesterday at work I saw one of our new graphic novels on display, so I picked it up for some light reading. It’s an adaptation of Snow White, and I love seeing fairy tales reimagined and reinterpreted so I knew it’d be interesting at least. I ended up falling in love with this rendition of it.

Matt Phelan has set the story in the 1920’s and 30’s in New York City, and the novel’s format is reminiscent of film noir from that period. In the classic story, Snow White gets her name because her mother pricks her finger while sewing and admired the way the color looks against the black trim of the window and the fresh-fallen snow upon it (and then obviously she dies while Snow White is still very young).  That element is still present in Phelan’s book but instead her mother succumbs to tuberculosis and the red blood spots are on her handkerchief, which contributes to the updated setting of the story. Most of the pictures are black and white, and the red punctuates the visual narrative.

The essence of film noir is that it is a stylized genre of cinematic story-telling which conveys a mood of mystery and menace. It was utilized in detectives stories and thrillers and featured stock characters such as femmes fatale and cynical cops. Samantha/Snow White’s father is a Wall Street millionaire who falls in love with a Ziegfield starlet, a beautiful but narcissistic woman.

The illustrations of her resemble well known stage and film actresses from the time period such as Louise Brooks or Theda Bara. When the crash hits her husband’s interests hard, she “fixes him a drink.”

Samantha/Snow White flees for her life and makes the acquaintance of seven young boys who reside in a local Hooverville, and they take it upon themselves to look out for the beautiful, naive young lady with seems so out of place in their world.

Staying true to the text, Snow White falls victim to a poisoned apple that is sold to her on the street.

Notice the red again

The heart-broken boys don’t know what to do with her body, so they place her in a beautiful store-front window that’s decorated like a winter wonderland, and the window replaces the traditional glass coffin. And since there weren't any European princes roaming around Manhattan at the time, it's the young detective who sees her laid out and instantly falls in love with her who kisses her.

Because the fairy tale is so well-known and doesn’t require much explanation, the text is sparse and the illustrations do most of the story telling. There are pages which precede each chapter that are modeled after silent film screen credits.

The illustrations are pencil sketches with watercolor details which are beautiful on their own, even without a well-known fairy tale behind them. It's a quick read because of the minimal text and because everyone already knows the basics of the story, but most readers will go back again to look at the illustrations. A great pick because of its potential for historical fiction discussion and visual literacy lessons.

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