DCC Showcase – Chrissie Zullo & Cinderella
For my final installment of DCC Showcase, I wanted to take a look at a fantasy series in which I have been interested for a very long time. One of the best fantasy series in the graphic novel genre is the Fables series by Bill Willingham and Steve Leialoha. It’s a modern take on fairytales and a series that I’ve been a fan of for a long time, I reviewed it last year here on Graphic Reviews when the final volume of the series came out. The central concept of Fables for those who haven’t read it is that the fairy tale characters like Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Prince Charming, Cinderella and many, many others escaped into the mundane or “mundy” world after an evil Emperor forced them out of their homelands. These Fables have created an enclave called Fabletown in New York City where they try to blend in with the mundies. During the course of the series, it is revealed that Cinderella is a a spy for the leaders of Fabletown and goes on missions that only the top brass know about. In 2010, a spin-off series about some of Cinderella’s adventures was written by Chris Roberson and illustrated by Shawn McManus. Given that Cinderella as a spy is a concept that immediately interested me, I was incredibly pleased to find out that one of my favorite new illustrators worked on this project as well. I was lucky enough to catch a panel with Chrissie Zullo while I was at Denver Comic Con so I wanted to take the last week of DCC Showcase to talk about her art and this rather intriguing series. Cinderella is a two part series, comprising the From Fabletown with Love first volume and the second volume, Fables are Forever. Each series has six issues so it’s a relatively quick read.
In From Fabletown with Love, Cinderella has been assigned a new mission: find out where a new influx of magical items being auctioned off in the mundy world has been coming from and stop it before the presence of the items causes problems for Fabletown. This mission leads Cinderella to Dubai where she meets another Fable, this one from a different Homeland which has not joined Fabletown. Aladdin is from Baghdad (a mythical Homeland rather the present-day city) and has been tasked with the same mission by his superiors. Cinderella and Aladdin decide to team up to find the source of the magical items before the mundy world can find out about the Fables.
In Fables are Forever, Cinderella has a new challenge: a figure from her past code named the Silver Slipper has reappeared and this time, wants to eliminate Cinderella for good. Cinderella must use her wits and all the resources at her disposal to make sure that she survives this final confrontation with her arch-nemesis. Complete with flashbacks to earlier encounters with this other dangerous Fable, this volume reveals a great deal of Cinderella’s history as a spy for the Fables and her role as patriot and protector of Fabletown.
Cinderella is one of those series that I find somewhat difficult to review. There are a lot of things that it does right, but also a lot of things that irritated the hell out of me. What Chris Roberson does a pretty fantastic job with is continuing the history of intriguing takes on Fables characters. What has always drawn me to the Fables series is the interesting ways in which these fairytale characters have been adapted to the real world. Cinderella was no different. Cinderella as a kickass spy who masqueraded as an empty-headed socialite in the Fabletown community is a concept that was tailor made to intrigue me. Roberson truly does Cinderella justice in the first volume, making her both smart enough to work her way out of her own problems and a truly badass action heroine. Add in the spy intrigue and it’s hard not to fall in love with the character. There are a lot of little easter eggs, as in any Fables book and not all of them are related to fairytales. For those who also happen to be James Bond fans, you may notice that the titles of these series correspond to Bond movies. There are some very familiar moments if you enjoy spy movies and they’re generally done well.
What Roberson doesn’t do well, particularly in Fables are Forever, is dialogue that doesn’t make you roll your eyes and the flashbacks. Dear God, the flashbacks. I understand that Roberson is trying to reveal some of Cinderella’s history in an interesting fashion but I was about ready to throw the book across the room by the time I finished Fables are Forever. I lost count of the number of flashbacks, but each issue had at least one and they were brought on by the most ridiculously minute connections. Flashbacks are good when they’re kept clearly connected to the story and at a minimum. If you’re constantly going back and forth between present day and various moments in the past, you’re going to give your reader literary whiplash. While From Fabletown with Love was entertaining if not the most well-written story I’ve ever read, Fables are Forever was a challenge to get through. It had its moments, like the reveal of the identity of Silver Slipper and the fight scenes between Cinderella and her archnemesis, but was generally an incredibly aggravating read.
Shawn McManus was responsible for the illustrations in both series, and I honestly wasn’t particularly impressed. There are panels that aren’t too bad but there are a lot of panels that aren’t particularly appealing. Whether the choice is McManus’ or Roberson’s, there’s also a lot of pet peeves in this series for me. For one, there’s a lot of female Fables in this and the majority of them are top-heavy sticks. If you want to make curvaceous female characters, then by all means go for it. But basic anatomy should tell you that you can’t have DD breast size and a size 0 waist with no hips. She’s gonna fall over. And dear God, the towel scene. I don’t know what planet people who do this are living on, but if you wrap a towel around yourself, it’s not staying up there by itself. It’s one of those little, nitpicky moments that will break a scene for me because it’s just completely unbelievable. I wouldn’t call McManus’ illustrations ugly but they certainly don’t help the story any.
On the other hand, Chrissie Zullo’s covers for the series were downright gorgeous. They made me wish she’d illustrated the entire series because they were EXACTLY what I wanted from a Fables story. I understand that cover illustrations differ significantly from illustrating panels. That being said, it’s difficult to read a magical story like Fables without wanting the art to reflect that. Zullo has said that she’s drawn inspiration from James Jean’s cover art on the Fables series and you truly can tell. Zullo draws her characters very differently from Jean but both have the same dreamy, whimsical quality to their art that fits so perfectly to a story about fairy tale characters. And while Zullo is drawing gorgeous female figures in the covers, I never felt that same anatomical disconnect with her work. She understands how to make the characters sexy without being ridiculous and I absolutely loved her work for that. If you get a chance, check out her artwork, she’s an amazing artist and it was truly a pleasure to hear her perspective at Denver Comic Con this year.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the Cinderella series, it isn’t one I’d warn people away from. For fans of the Fables series, it’s a fun little romp that lets you see Cinderella’s history as a spy and her interactions with some very familiar characters from the series. For those who haven’t read Fables (and it’s not necessary to understand and enjoy the stories), Cinderella is an interesting take of fairy tales and spy stories. Unfortunately, the overuse of flashbacks and mediocre art make this a series that I enjoyed but wouldn’t universally recommend. But seriously, check out Zullo’s art, I’m completely in love with that style and now just want to plaster my walls with it.