Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Webcomic Review: Erstwhile

I may be a week off from my usual schedule now but I still wanted to take the time and highlight the just-ended Erstwhile before it holds the kickstarter for it's third and final volume next month. I have the first volume from the very first kickstarter and I'm still deciding if I want to pledge for another volume or not (it's a matter of "will I reread this?") but don't think that means I didn't like this anthology, on the contrary this is the most consistently well-drawn and well-told anthology I've ever come across.

Esrtwhile by Gina Biggs, Louisa Roy, and Elle Skinner

Given that this is an anthology of Grimm's Brother fairy tales, it should be no surprise that no two stories are exactly alike but there are a number of tonal similarities between them. I felt like most of the stories fell into three rough groupings; the first was "the usual kind of fairy tale" with stories like Mother Holle where there are clearly good and bad characters, challenges, and rewards for the fair and punishment for the wicked in the end. The villains don't face an overly dark fate here but rather there is more of a comedy to their downfalls without being too-over-the-top. Simply put, it feels the the way a fairy tale should.

"Ah but fairy tales are actually really dark!" some people might say and to that, well, sometimes! No story in here gets truly dark, there are no cut off body parts a la Cinderella, no one dancing to death because of cursed shoes in Snow White etc, but there are a few with some of those darker and weird moments. Seven Little Goats starts off as a cute fairy tale with a mother goat and her kids but ends with an unexpected piece of revenge against the wolf who was preying on the kids. It never feels so dark that you couldn't read them to a child however; I feel that third graders and above should be fine although those weirder moments might be too much for someone still in say kindergarten.

Mainly however the stories fell somewhere in-between the two, more light-hearted than dark but with weirder moments none the less. My favorite work from the anthology, The Singing, Springing Lark, was one of them where the basic trappings (it's a variant on Beauty and the Beast) seem normal enough for a fairy tale but it ends up spiraling off in some odd quests before the story's end. It doesn't hurt that it has my favorite art as well; while I like Brigg's and Roy's styles quite well I really love Skinner's traditional watercolors the most. There weren't any stories that I disliked, a rarity for me with anthologies, but in addition to those three titles I also really liked The Farmer's Clever Daughter and Sweetheart Roland which also balanced the expected with the odd. And, considering how many fairy tale retellings I've read over the years, I was delighted to find that I didn't actually know all of the stories! Some I had seen a few times already like All Fur but otherwise I thought the ladies did a great job at choosing some of the lesser known Grimm's tales. 

If you finish all of Erstwhile and find yourself craving more before the kickstarter launches, all of the creators have other completed and on-going webcomics that will keep you busy for at least a week!
*Gina Briggs is probably the best well-known for Red String and her current comic is Love Not Found.
*I have previously talked about The Littlest Elle by Elle Skinner and her current comic is Missing Monday
*Finally, I am less familiar with Louisa Roy's work but her current comics are Queen of Hearts and Velharthis.