‘Fairy Tale Comics’: Craig Thompson takes on a never-ending story

Sept. 30, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

“Puss in Boots,” “Goldilocks,” “Snow White” and more classic fairy tales are getting makeovers in “Fairy Tale Comics,” a new anthology that features stories from all over the world.

The book, which hit shelves this week, features 17 fairy tales, adapted by 18 cartoonists, including Gilbert Hernandez, Vanessa Davis, Jillian Tamaki, David Mazzucchelli, Luke Pearson, Emily Carroll and a dozen more. Not least among them is Craig Thompson, the Eisner- and Harvey-winning author of “Blankets,” “Habibi” and “Good-bye, Chunky Rice.”

For First Second’s “Fairy Tale Comics,” Thompson adapted “The King and His Story-teller,” by 11th century Spanish writer Petrus Alphonsi. Thompson’s version, “Azzolino’s Story Without End,” follows a king greedy for stories and his court minstrel, weary for want of sleep. What results is an endless bedtime story that leaves both the king and his minstrel counting sheep.

Hero Complex caught up with Thompson to talk about his contribution to the anthology. (Read about other “Fairy Tale Comics” contributors’ work here.)

HC: Had you heard ”The King and His Story-teller” before this project? What was appealing to you about this tale?

CT: No, I’d never heard the story; rather it was assigned to me by the book’s editor. I think he chose me because I’m known for crafting long, epic graphic novels that spiral out of control, comic books with seemingly no end.

Craig Thompson adapted the 11th Century Spanish story "The King and His Story-teller" for "Fairy Tale Comics." (First Second)

Craig Thompson adapted the 11th century Spanish story “The King and His Story-teller” for “Fairy Tale Comics.” (First Second)

HC: As a storyteller, do you ever relate to the one in the story? And if so, who is your King Azzolino?

CT: Definitely. As soon as I finished my last 700 page graphic novel (“Habibi”), the first question many people had was, “So what’s next?” Especially in the digital age, the audience’s appetite for new content is insatiable. Daunting, when drawing comics can be such a slow, time-consuming process.

In my first draft of this story, the king was a feeble, old man and the storyteller was a pompous jerk. It was my editor who suggested making the storyteller the old man who desperately craved sleep, while the king was a child that the readers of this book would hopefully relate to, not wanting the book itself to come to an end.

HC: How did you choose the art style for “Azzolino’s Story Without End”? It’s really fun and cartoony.

CT: I keep mentioning the editor on the “Fairy Tale Comics” anthology, Chris Duffy, who was the same editor of the comics section of Nickelodeon Magazine back in the day. For six years or so, my entire income was based on drawing kids’ comics for that magazine. Later on my career shifted to drawing “serious” graphic novels aimed at adult readers, but I’ve always wanted to revisit my more fun and cartoony style.

HC: Do you think fairy tales are still important and relevant? Why do they endure?

CT: Of course they’re still necessary. And they’re still being conjured, such as modern pop fairy tales like “Star Wars.” They endure because they whittle storytelling to its essence, and yet are mysterious and complex and open to interpretation.

HC: What was your favorite fairy tale when you were a child?

CT: “Rumpelstiltskin” was probably my favorite as a kid. Spinning straw into gold is a decent metaphor for the artist’s process. I’m sure I felt a mix of disgust and sympathy for lil’ Rumpelstiltskin — on one level a creepy little imp that tries to steal a child, and on another level an industrious craftsmen tricked out of what he earned.

HC: Anything else you’d like to add about this project?

CT: Just that there’s some incredible storytelling talent in here. Luke Pearson (“The Boy Who Drew Cats“) and Joseph Lambert’s (“Rabbit Will Not Help“) stories completely blew me away.

HC: What else are you working on?

CT: I’m working on an all-ages humorous book for Scholastic about a little girl and her misfit buddies setting out to save her father in outer space. It’s titled “Space Dumplins” — 300 full-color pages of spaceships and planet-eating space whales and kids saving the day!

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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