Ben Nadler revisits The Grimm Brothers’ tale, The White Snake, with modern-day emphasis on themes including kindness to animals and pushing back against classicism, and sexism. Randall is a young servant for King Arnold, an indecisive monarch who seems confounded by the mere act of hanging a picture. He is an autocratic father, too, shouting down his daughter and refusing to consider letting her rule; choosing instead to find a suitor for her. King Arnold sends Randall to the neighboring kingdom of Borisylvania to spy and report back on why King Boris is beloved. In Borisylvania, Randall discovers Boris’ secret: he is able to communicate with animals by eating a meal of white snake. With this knowledge, Randall heads back home, showing kindness to animals along the way. This kindness pays off when Randall needs help to complete quests set by King Arnold in order to win his daughter’s hand – and save his own life.
Ben Nadler weaves themes of sexism and racism throughout the story. King Arnold is a brutish overlord who refuses to listen to his own daughter, and throws Randall in prison when he refuses to divulge King Boris’ secret. Princess Tilda come to his rescue by offering herself as bait; she tells her father to offer her hand in marriage as a contest prize. When Randall completes each quest the king sets before him, he refuses to let a servant marry his daughter and adds additional perilous tasks. When Randall finally helps King Arnold see the light, the story takes an upbeat turn and the message is loud and clear: “the animals talked to me. All I had to do is listen”.
Back matter includes an essay by graphic novelist educator Paul Karasik on retelling folk tales, and a bibliography of print and online resources. TOON has a free, downloadable educator’s guide available. The endpapers feature artwork of key figures in the story: birds, fish, horses, crowns, and apples, all arranged into a lovely design with a vintage feel. The artwork dives into surrealist territory in points, which will make you wonder just what is in that food. Randall is fair-skinned; King Arnold and Princess Tilda are brown-skinned.
A great add to your graphic novel and fairy tale collections. TOON has copies available in both hardcover and softcover. Check out the interview Smash Pages did with Ben Nadler!