Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Graphic Novel: A Noir 1930's "Snow White" by Matt Phelan

Set against the background of Manhattan in the 1930's Depression era, this newly released graphic novel retelling (released September 13, 2016) by award winning graphic artist Matt Phelan, is just lovely. Our only complaint is that we felt the book could have been quite a bit larger, to better view and enjoy the artwork.


The title is simply Snow White: A Graphic Novel and the images hark back to the golden age of black and white cinema, making you feel like you've seen this before, except each reveal is somehow also unexpected and fresh.

Our brief look convinced us it was a delightful find, with shades of detective noir via the chapter titles of "A Drop of Blood" and "Detective Prince Oversteps His Bounds". Interestingly - and relevantly - the Sock Market crash that triggered the Great Depression, is also the inciting incident to set this version of the fairy tale in motion. While vanity is still a driving force of the Queen, there's a large motivating force of money too, and the combination, especially in that era in which big city life suddenly has as much danger as any dark forest, make it seem a natural setting for a Snow White story.

Here's the blurb:
The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. 
Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.”  
In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.
Author and illustrator Matt Phelan was interviewed about why this fairy tale that's been retold so many different times. he had this to say:
“Snow White” has always been my favorite fairy tale. Like most kids of the past few generations, the Disney version was my introduction to the story. I loved it then and still do.“Snow White” has more layers than many fairy tales. It has the stepmother element, the jealousy, and the murder attempt, but it also has the help and friendship of the seven dwarfs, which sets it apart. Unlike other characters in fairy tales, Snow White is not alone. She has the seven dwarfs. The Huntsman spares her. That always interested me.
It was always going to be set in the late twenties/early thirties. The idea sparked from sketching apple peddlers for a short story I wrote about Herbert Hoover for the anthology Our WhiteHouse. One day, I drew a hag-like peddler holding an apple up to a smartly dressed young woman as everyone on the crowded street rushed by and I thought: “Snow White” in 1930s NewYork. Once I had the idea, I started playing with how to translate the rest of the tale to that particular setting. Who was the Queen? She was the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies. Who are the dwarfs? They could be seven street orphans, like in those old Dead End Kids movies, and so on.The noir tone came naturally, especially after I focused on the inheritance as the main motivation. I’ve always been influenced by old movies. For this book, I thought about the noir films of the 1940s, but also earlier atmospheric films such as Fritz Lang’s M and John Ford’s The Informer, not to mention the Thin Man movies and the first ten minutes of King Kong . The opening sequence of Citizen Kane was also an inspiration, but then again Citizen Kane is always a creative touchstone for my graphic novels. 
My research tends to be image-based: books, movies, or online photographs. I have a wonderful book on the Ziegfeld Follies that I had originally bought for Bluffton: My Summers with Buster. There are a ton of great art deco books out there (they tend to be oversize so they may actually weigh a ton). I wanted some of that art deco in Snow White, but I was more interested in the darker visions of the Great Depression, such as the photographs of Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White.  I also took some trips up to New York City to photograph locations in Central Park and Macy’s,as well as to find a stand-in for the White mansion. It’s always good to physically walk in the setting, even if it has changed considerably.  
One thing that I didn’t do was seek out other versions of “Snow White,” aside from rereading the edition I’ve had since I was a kid (Sixty Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm with Arthur Rackham’s great illustrations). I wanted to approach this story fresh. Lisbeth Zwerger once said that “to illustrate a fairy tale is not an intellectual, scientific interpretation, but a transposition of internal pictures and feelings.” That was my approach.
You can read the entire interview HERE.

There's a lot of praise for this book so we thought we'd include a notable one to give you more of an idea, of how this retelling is unique.
Phelan (Bluffton) delivers a spectacular 20th-century update of “Snow White,” transplanting the story to Jazz Age and Depression-era New York City, where themes of jealousy, beauty, and power find a comfortable home… 
Moody gray and sepia panels carry the story forward, punctuated by splashes of lurid red—for an animal heart, procured at a butcher’s shop, or an apple tainted with a syringe. Snow’s affectionate relationship with “the Seven,” a group of street children, is among this adaptation’s most potent elements. The boys are hesitant to tell Snow their names, but readers will want tissues on hand when they finally do. —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
There is also a book trailer to give you a good idea. Our only issue with it is the music is very repetitive, but the book itself, the visuals, the layouts, the characters - all make for a Snow White retelling we'll be aiming to add to the Once Upon A Blog library soon. Take a look:
Lastly, a little bonus we found: a great discussion guide and the whole interview with the author from Candlewick Press which for any language arts teacher, or at teacher, might find very useful. You should be able to scroll within the embedded window, as well as enlarge the text of shrink with the magnifying glass icons below it. There is also the option to download it from the site as well (linked below).

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