I’m never one to miss a Jim Henson comic, but it sure can take me a while to get around to reviewing them. In a prior installment of Lily Reads Comics, I shared The StoryTeller: Dragons, and now that the newest series, The StoryTeller: Fairies is reigniting interest in the stories, I’m excited to share them with you!
This first issue in the series is based on the Japanese folktale of Momotarō, which translates to “Peach Boy” or “The Peach’s Son.” In folklore and in the comic, a giant peach is discovered by an old childless woman while she is washing clothes in the river. When she and her husband cut into it to eat, they discover a baby boy inside.
I think it’s clever how the comic imagines the boy from the giant peach growing up to be a giant himself. The old couple loves and supports him as their own son, but the villagers mistrust someone who looks so different. When displaced people arrive with stories of ogres, the giant boy offers to help them reclaim their homes, hoping that it might also vindicate him in the eyes of his neighbors.
On his journey, the boy befriends a wolf, a monkey, and a crane. I love a good camaraderie story, and I was looking forward to each of the animals using their unique talents to help the boy. The only disappointment I felt was because the story wasn’t longer, because by the time our fellowship meets the ogres, the comic was already past the halfway point, so there wasn’t much time to indulge in elaborate teamwork-heavy battle strategies. That’s a personal preference, though; I don’t think the story is really lacking and it ends happily, as The StoryTeller series often does.
I loved the artwork in this issue, especially how it portrayed the StoryTeller. Conor Nolan really nailed it with the facial expressions, and whether they were on humans, animals, or ogres, they were compelling and emotive. It’s always a good sign when I find myself staring at pages long after I’ve read all the words, and I did just that!
My only lingering questions originate from a panel on the second page. When the old peasant woman is doing her washing in the river, there are six giant peaches and she manages to bring one of them home. Could there have been giant children inside the other peaches? What are their stories?
The StoryTeller: Giants – Tale Two features story and art by Brandon Dayton with coloring assistance by Spencer Holt.
This second issue draws on stories from Russia, Norway, and France, and from the start, it had me wondering how it would surprise me. The StoryTeller series has a penchant for opposing our expectations when it comes to a character’s intentions. Like some issues from The StoryTeller: Witches and The StoryTeller: Dragons before it, the giant of our first tale was a hero, and I thought that some twist might reveal a kind heart inside the grotesque giant of this story.
Also like our first hero, the protagonist comes across three animal friends on her journey, but instead of joining her to fight, they offer her gifts. After receiving the best needle and pincushion from her father, the tailor’s daughter rescues a goose, a hare, and a mare from the giant’s snares. When they learn she is travelling to the castle to marry the giant and fulfill her father’s promise, they give her a magic collar, magic boots, and a magic comb, respectively, saying that she will need them more than they will.
She arrives at the castle to find her betrothed has monstrous table manners, but he does give her full access to everything the castle has to offer — the gardens, the libraries, the halls — except for the cellar. But as the Storyteller says, “You can’t tell a story with a shut door anymore than you can with a shut mouth,” so you know she’s going to open it. I won’t tell you what she finds, but you can bet that she will put all of her gifts to good use!
The art style here was very different from its predecessor, but I loved it just as much. The castle afforded many opportunities for dense bookshelves and laden tables, and I wanted to soak in every detail. That led me to discover one tiny continuity error, though. The magical comb doesn’t appear in her hair until the panel when she opens the cellar door. I suppose it is magical, after all.
Before this comic, I had no idea about the Fomorian giants of Irish mythology (or The Forgotten Realms, for that matter). They are the foes of this tale, and based on their size in comparison to humans, I’d say they might also be the largest giants of the series.
The Fomoire are the catalyst, but they take a back seat to the story of the bond between siblings. The arrival of these giants separates Pru and her little brother from their parents, and after three years of living on their own in the wild, Pru is adept at protecting Spoon (we have reason to believe this is not the name his parents Mathghamhain and Fedlimid gave him) with her slingshot and her father’s drum. When she can’t defend herself, a mysterious spirit named Púka comes to her aid. Spoon takes to Púka immediately. But Pru is tired of always having to look after her brother, and in her frustration, she blames him for their parents’ fate. By the time she can take back her words, it’s too late. Spoon wanders off alone to prove himself and is quickly captured by a Femoire!
To save her brother, Pru teams up with Púka whose shapeshifting abilities are sure to come in handy. And Mathghamhain’s words, “Family stays together,” may take on a whole new meaning.
Jared Cullum’s watercolors created something special in this issue. I was impressed by the way Cullum conveyed motion in an early panel with a giant’s shadow overtaking a horse, and it was a perfect medium for the ethereal movement of Púka. Setting Púka apart with speech bubbles that were a different color than those of the mere mortals was a nice addition. I loved that the first form we saw of the shapeshifter was a bear, since Mathghamhain means “bear” in Irish Gaelic.
And remember when I said that stories in the StoryTeller series tend to have happy endings? That isn’t always true. The world of Pru and Spoon was changed forever when the Fomoire arrived. Their tale cannot right all the wrongs, but it still manages to end on a hopeful scene.
This is normally the part where I give a little bit of cultural context or begin a plot synopsis, but I have to start with the art style because it is so striking. FeiFei Ruan creates a surreal atmosphere with delicate, fine lines that draws on traditional Eastern art styles, but creates an entirely new experience. The comic, like much of Ruan’s work, is done in only a few colors. Please take a moment to marvel at the first three pages in the gallery below.
You don’t even know what a treat you’re in for as the comic continues.
This tale is based on the story of the fisherman and the genie from The Arabian Nights. In this version, the genie has been replaced with a powerful giant that can even change into a large bird. It all starts with our fisherman taking pity on the fish in his net when he discovers they used to be humans. They were the former inhabitants of a beautiful island, but when the ruling giant’s heart was broken, he decided to make all the humans disappear. When the fisherman arrives on the island, he is greeted by a courtyard of stone soldiers. Three mice try to deter him, assuming he seeks to gain the giant’s magical powers like all the rest who were turned to stone, but he tells them that his only desire is to stop the giant. The mice spell out the secret to the giant’s destruction, but even they can only help the fisherman for so long before the giant turns them into a three-headed dog to pursue our hero.
The story is simple and straightforward, and with all of his tools and allies, the fisherman is sure to triumph. But I won’t spoil the ending for you!
Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller: Giants was released as a hardcover graphic novel in August 2017. If you love the look of these stories, why not head to your local comic book shop and order them all in one volume? While you’re there, you could pick up the first issue of Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller: Fairies that came out last month. I can’t wait to read the rest of the latest series.
I’m excited to share more comic books with you in my next installment of Lily Reads Comics. Until then, let me know your thoughts on the tales from The StoryTeller: Giants!