Melanie Gillman’s “Other Ever Afters” Part 1: The Power of the Fairy Tale

By | September 13th, 2022
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Melanie Gillman is the creator of the award winning webcomic “As the Crow Flies,” the graphic novel “Stage Dreams” and now a collection of fairy tales “Other Ever After,” which is coming out next week and collects some of their previously released work and a few new stories. In the lead up to the book’s release, I got the chance to sit down with Melanie and chat about everything from the purpose of the cautionary tale to adding queer text back into an ancient genre to the meaning of an upturned bow to the absolute glut of days that have “comic book” in the name. In fact, we talked for so long, this interview is coming to you in two parts: one now, and one next week.

I won’t bore you with much more preamble because it really speaks for itself so let’s go! Thanks again to Melanie and Random House Graphic for the opportunity.

To get us started, let’s talk about fairytales. Your new book, “Other Ever Afters,” is about telling modern fairy tales from a classic lens, as opposed to modernizing a fairy tale. There’re so many questions in that which I kind of already have an answer to – ex: Where did it come from is the 24 hour comics – but what inspired you to first approach this project?

Melanie Gilman: So it definitely started, as you mentioned, with 24 hour comics, where the idea is essentially that you’re supposedly supposed to be drawing a 24 page comic in 24 hours. I do that, but I also cheat every single year, including drawing fewer pages or doing my like scripting and penciling beforehand and just doing the coloring of the day of, because I am old and tired and I like sleeping. I don’t want my hand to divorce itself from my body because I did an unhealthy amount of work in a 24 hour period.

I guess the first one of these that I did was in 2016 and that would have been “The Fish Wife.” I knew that I wanted to do a 12 page comic in about 12 hours so I was trying to think of what is something that is relatively small, self contained in terms of storytelling that I could knock out in 12 hours, and also that I could post to Twitter along the way, you know, make a little Twitter thread of all of the pages as I am completing them and drawing them so that people can follow along in real time as I’m finishing this story. Fairy tales really appealed to me for that situation as a storyteller, where you want something which is quick, self contained and manageable in a short amount of time.

I think the thing with fairy tales is that they’re allegories, so they are already a very short and distilled format for storytelling because the idea is that you’re not necessarily doing deep dives into character feelings and motivations and all this; it’s much more about: here is a simple set of characters and a simple conflict that we’re going to watch play out in a narrative style which is reminiscent of oral storytelling, because that’s where a lot of fairy tales are coming from originally, as you know, sitting around the campfire with each other and telling each other stories that you can speak in five to 10 minutes to other people who are listening to you. So that type of oral storytelling style, I found translated really well into comics.

Because comics has a lot of the same concerns where it’s about having a narrative voice that feels very natural in the same way that oral storytelling does and it’s about boiling things down to a really distilled essence in an allegorical form so that you can get an entire story down on the page very quickly in a very compact way. But also, since it is an allegory, leave a lot of room in the text for more complicated emotional interpretations that individual readers might bring to the story with the reactions that they’re having to the way that things are playing out on the page. That’s really the strength of allegory in a lot of ways. It’s leaving a lot of room for the reader to be able to make certain connections on their own to find meanings within the text that you, the author, don’t have to sit there and spell it out for them it in a very direct and rigorous way, I guess.

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Like they don’t necessarily have to always end on kind of a closed loop, you can leave it at “and here’s where we’ve stopped. Here’s as far as I know the story. You can extrapolate from what I’ve presented so far what the next step is.

MG: Absolutely.

Which I guess is the happily ever after idea, and in this case, I don’t want to say all of your stories end happily in the new one. but they all…I mean, I guess they do. Was that the intention, to preserve the happily ever after but change the connotation? Or was that just a kind of a happy accident?

MG:That’s a good question. To go back to something you were saying earlier, when I thought about endings for each of these stories, the moment where I wanted to end these stories, wasn’t necessarily at the place where all of the loosens have been tied up and everything is wrapped up and good to go from here, but rather the moment as a storyteller where I felt like one narrative arc had finished. If I were to continue the story, that would actually be a different story, in a sense, it would be a different narrative arc; it would be a different problem that these characters are facing; it would be a different conversation that we’re having as a storyteller. I think “The King’s Forest” is a really good example of this principle in action.

So it’s a story of where it ends at the moment of a regicide. I guess, in theory, it actually ends like a split second before that regicide actually happens. That’s the moment where one story has met its conclusion, because that is the story of a character realizing who their actual enemy is and making a decision, which is going to have presumably a lot of ramifications for them about how they want to respond and the choice that they want to make in that situation. That is what that story is about.

And like, if I were to draw more pages after that, that actually would be almost a different genre in a way because then it would be like, you know, how do they escape? Or how do the the King’s guards react to the murder that just happened in front of their eyes? Or, like, is the other little girl going to be okay and, you know, not that those are invalid things to explore as a storyteller, but those are different stories in a way. For a fable, for a fairy tale, what we’re thinking about is: what is the line that brought this character to this very important moment, and that is the ending point of that narrative for me, is when that character makes that decision and has been irrevocably changed by that decision.

I guess it’s not always that I’m looking for the happy ending, and I guess it depends a bit on how you would define a happy ending, but I’m thinking about what is the resolution of this story which feels satisfying to me as a storyteller. Satisfying and complete in it is saying what I wanted it to say on the page and it is leaving enough ambiguities in terms of, you know, the lives of these characters after the curtain is closed, that if readers want to, they could spend time imagining those different scenarios and imagining the paths that the story could take after this. That doesn’t feel like my job as an author to draw those pages for them, I guess.

And certainly some people have a felt differently about those stories. I definitely, still to this day, get a lot of questions with “The King’s Forrest,” like “Is the little girl okay?!” “What happens afterwards?!” And I understand that because I sort of brought them to the climax of the story and then was like “Stop.” But that is the moment where the story felt complete to me. It’s where I was able to say the thing that I wanted to say and show this character going through this very important transformation that they went through. And everything after that is a different story.

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It’s a very powerful way to open the collection too. All of the stories for this collection were drawn for 24 hour comic day, or were there some that were done specifically for this collection? Was there any remastering, redoing for it? I guess, the actual physical creation of this book, what were some of the steps and the story behind it?

MG: I think four of the stories existed for 24 hour comic days in the past, and those stories have been reprinted for this collection. I also ended up drawing three, or three and a half if you want to include the intro and the conclusion, additional new stories that have not been seen by the internet, and nobody has read before. So they’ll be brand new for the collection. A lot of times the new stories are also the the longer story in the collection.

I was gonna ask!

MG: Yeah! Yeah. I think the longest story in that book is 60 some pages and I’m definitely not doing a 60 page comic in 24 hours. I have limits and my hand will pop off of my wrist and crawl away if I were to make it do that. So I was able to tackle more complex narratives and more intricate character arcs for the stories that I was not doing for 24 hour comic day. That was entirely because of the format because I have more time, I can slow down, I can really move through the story and allow it to expand to what felt like a more rich and complicated length than what I’m able to accomplish in like, a single weekend drawing an entire complete story start to finish.

That was one of the really nice things about the collection is being able to kind of balance both shorter narratives, which are maybe a little bit more in keeping with that very short and compact oral storytelling style that I was talking about with fairy tales, but also giving myself permission to weave some longer yarns in there and to kind of intermix the two of them together but with a lot of shared themes between both sets of stories.

I was thinking: “let me see if I can guess which of the ones were were drawn for here. Because when you said that “The Fish Wife” was the first one you had drawn. I was like, that makes sense from the visual style because your art has evolved so much from then, through here, through “Stage Dreams” and to the newer stories. But I guess to walk back, when you were writing these longer stories, were you trying to approach them with with that length in mind, or were you going “This is the story I want to tell. Let’s see how long it takes?”

MG: When I approach those longer stories, the first thing that’s on my mind is what is the story that I want to tell rather than like, “How can I tell a 60 page story?” [Laughs.] So the page count that ends up happening is just a byproduct of the narrative that I’m trying to scope out as a storyteller. I did want to give myself permission as a storyteller to dive into those longer narratives because those allow you to incorporate a little bit more complexity into the character arcs and the themes and the allegorical nature of the storytelling. You can just cover a little bit more ground when you’re giving yourself permission to utilize more pages in length.

I definitely don’t feel like I prefer one mode over the other. I really enjoyed the short stories that I get to do for the little weekend events like 24 hour comics day but it was also very nice to get to sit down and really slowly enmesh myself into these longer narratives, and more slightly more complicated narratives, with more stuff going on in them along the way to

Kind of like with “The Goose Girl.” That’s one of those that feels like a three part story. Like you’re sitting around the fire, you’re listening to the story until they reach a point and go, alright, we’ll continue next week, and you’re like “No!” and it builds night to night until you reach the end, but it’s presented all at once.

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With that we should move into some of the content of the stories and the use of the allegories and the morals and all that because fairy tales are a moralistic genre. Like, all fairy tales have a moral, more or less, and that’s kind of their point; they’re cautionary tales.

Did you have to do any research into certain types of stories when you were making them? To know what are, for example, the arcs and the formats of the Giant Story or the prince or the princess or the queen, the ruler, is coming as is like “Peasant. Be with me.” Those kinds of stories, like “The Goose Girl.” Or were they just ones that you were familiar with that you wanted to push back on the morals that are kind of baked in?

MG: I think I probably did a lot less research into the actual text of folklore and fairy tales than people might think I did [Laughs.]

To be quite honest, the vast majority is just me internalizing a type of narrative structure that I was very fond of as a kid, in particular. I read a lot of old classic fairy tale collections when I was younger but actually haven’t done a lot as an adult. But! I read enough as a child to kind of internalize that story structure and a lot of the tropes, you know. Things like the powerful prince or princess who’s like, I’m just gonna marry whoever’s the hottest person in the land. Like, you peasant, you’re the hottest in the land so you get to be my bride now.

Taking tropes like that and spinning them out into a queer context, first off, but also another theme which comes out, I think, pretty obviously in this book is a sort of critiques of very lateral powers and critiques of the role that monarchies have played traditionally in folklore. Also using monarchy as an allegory for more modern day powerful structures and powerful figures. I think a lot of that comes out in these stories too. Using fairytale tropes but not necessarily the actual text of literal fairy tales themselves and finding ways to spin them out into new directions from both a queer perspective and also, you know, my grubby socialist self coming through these stories too.

Challenging what was once unchallenged in original stories. Like, there is a king. Monarchs will stay. There’s none of that. But I guess you fire the first shot in the first story against that.

MG: Yeah, absolutely, haha. I do kind of have a funny story about the selection of “The King’s Forest” as being the first story in the entire collection because me and my editor, Gina Gagliano, we did actually have a conversation about how do we order the stories in this collection. It’s kind of like making a mixtape or something, and you got to have the right flow between all of the different entries in here. My initial thought was like, okay, whatever story we we pick, it can’t be “The King’s Forest,” because the forest is the only story that straight up opens with a child committing murder on, like, page 20. That’s too much. People are gonna be turned off by that.

But Gina’s perspective on this – which I’m very grateful for it, I think that she was correct – was “No, this is going to be the thing that sort of sets the stage for the other stories that you’re telling. It’s making a very strong and immediate declaration that this is the ethical perspective of these stories and this is what you’re getting into in this collection. So you can decide right now if you want to keep reading these stories, or if you’re like, Nope, I’m out. I guess I love stories about kings too much to watch them get murdered by children in the text of these pages.”

To be fair, it is the implication of murder.

MG: Yes! Yes, yes. I guess we do not actually get to see the arrow pierce his body. It is just implied by the direction of the arrow.

I really love the way that’s handled, by the way. I saw that and I was like, that’s perfect. You don’t even need to…I guess for anyone who hasn’t read it, which if this interviews going up beforehand-

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MG: Spoilers.

Spoilers. Was that one of the ones that was done for one of your comic book date things?

MG: Yes.

God, that made me sound like an 80 year old man. I keep wanting to say “Free Comic Book” days.

MG: There’s so many comic holidays that have the same basic title, like there’s 24 Hour Comics Day and there’s also Hourly Comics Day and people mix those up all the time.


MG: So, yeah, the construction of that story at the end, where it’s just the character pointing the bow up, and then the next page is the bow but angled up so you know exactly where it’s going. It’s kind of perfect and I think it gets to one of the things that makes this collection so good, is your use of implication and subtext and letting people read into it. That’s so important for stories and for making an audience feel involved in the story. They’re being told it, but also, they’re a part of it.

MG: Yeah. And I think with that page in particular, with the ending shot that’s just the arrow being pointed up…something that I really love about comics is that because it is a visual narrative format that is relying on, in most cases, not necessarily photo realism but rather a – I don’t want to say this come across like an asshole – but a pared down version of visuals and a deliberate and very purposeful level of simplification that’s going into the visual style.

I think that that deliberate simplification pairs really well with allegorical storytelling in particular, because if you think about like that image of just the arrow going upwards, that is paring it down to like the absolute essence of what the meaning is of that image. It doesn’t need any additional bells or whistles, all I need is the reader to focus on the implications and the meaning of that single image, that single arrow, and the direction that it’s pointing, because that is all that is relevant here from a storytelling perspective.

Any amount of like background or like additional photorealistic detail or whatnot, it would distract because this is about treating that image as a very important symbol, in a way, of the character choice that has been made here and the character transformation that this child has gone through. That’s really all you need.

And that’s one of the beautiful things about comics is that when you’re boiling things down to their essence like that, you can really not just create very powerful images out of very simple building blocks, deceptively simple building blocks, but when you’re boiling it down to its essence you are allowing more room for the reader to approach it from an allegorical and a symbolic perspective, where they’re thinking about what are the different layers of meaning that are invested in this image, in this moment, right here. That’s, I mean, that’s one of the things that I love about comics just as a medium, the fact that we can do this. So yes, I was very glad that I was able to pull that off in that story and that people have very strong to that final image, for sure.

As you were saying before, has it been this big divide in terms of people who are like “this was a perfect ending” and people who are like, “No, how dare you?”

MG: Yes, there is a very clear divide in terms of readers reactions, I will say, most people, at least who have commented on this, have said that they like the ending because I think they understand why I made that choice and why would kind of weaken the ending of the story if I like drew out further pages and tried to find a different ending further out in this story. You know, maybe you could do more if you were trying to make a movie or something where you’re like, I’ve got to fill two hours of screen time, but no, if it’s a 20 page comic and you’re trying to tell something short, that’s the moment to end it. So most people have felt positively about that ending but every now and that I do still get emails from readers being like, what happens?!

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It’s funny too because one specific type of letter that I tend to get a lot from, I think, especially younger readers, and this is not to like talk down to younger readers for having this reaction. It’s understandable that they are curious and want to know what happens next. But they oftentimes frame it to me when they’re asking me about the ending and they’re like, I’m not asking you to draw additional pages, I just want you to tell me and tell me personally what you think happens after that arrow is unleashed at the king. Just tell me. You don’t even have to draw the comics, you don’t have to post it anywhere, I just want to know in your brain what you think happens after this moment.

And the weird thing is, as an author, I don’t know what happens after that moment because I made a purposeful decision to stop the story at that point. As a storyteller, I’ve said everything that I wanted to say in that story once I hit that moment right there. So if you think you could pluck the rest of the story out of my brain, it doesn’t actually exist in there, because I very purposefully decided this is when the story ends, and whatever happens afterwards is up to debate.

So yeah, that’s an interesting thing and I do tend to get that question mostly from from younger readers, but I think they are seeking a type of narrative completion that maybe is a little different from what older readers are approaching stories like this looking for. But again, I’m sure that these are generalizations and actual individual people’s opinions will be all over the map, regardless.

Do you think that there’s there’s been a shift in the way stories are told, in terms of the way narrative closure happens, in the last however many years or because of different mediums or whatnot? Or do you think it’s, at least in this case, more of a deeper connection to the story itself from the the people reading it? Like putting more of themselves in there, like I need to know and seeking that external closure as opposed to an internal closure?

MG: This is a good question. I don’t know if I could generalize about the broader literary landscape and trends in terms of how stories are ending. I do think that people on an individual level will tend to have different preferences. Some people really like stories that feel very neat in their conclusions and where every possible plot thread has been wrapped up and we have all the answers to everything that we were wondering about in this story. It has all been tied with a nice, neat little bow and we’re good to go from there. And I think other people appreciate the ambiguity of having some things left unsaid, some things that are left untied at the end of a narrative and some room for their own imaginative input as readers into what the lives of these characters are going to look like after the story has hit it’s end.

I guess it’s probably obvious from this collection that I fall into the second camp very much so. I really love a storyteller who knows confidently when to end their story and can make the call about what things they’re going to nail down for the reader and what things they’re going to leave unsaid or leave up to the readers’ own feelings and imagination and what they are bringing into the story themselves. I like the collaboration between of storytelling between the author’s mind and the readers mind. I like knowing that where the story ultimately lands in each readers individual experience of it is kind of a synthesis of the author saying what they want to say about the story, but also the reader bringing in their own perspective, their imagination, and allowing that to influence their reading of the story and leaving a little bit of empty space for the reader to bring more of themselves into the reading of the story.

I think it can often bring more richness and more complexity to narratives, compared to trying to nail every single beat down in a very concrete and specific way. But again, these are, at the end of the day, this is a personal preference question and I’m certainly not going to say that people who prefer their stories to be more neatly wrapped up at the end are, like, wrong or bad for feeling that way. Just, you know, different styles of stories that appeal to different people.

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I think “The Fish Wife” is a really good example of this that is different from “The King’s Forest” in that, I felt there was a lot of ambiguity in the ending, but other people might think, no, no, this is what happened. Like the story leads you in one very specific direction but when I was reading, I’m like, this could go any number of ways, by the way it’s presented and I’d love that. I love how you kind of bring what your previous worldviews are a little bit to it, your previous experiences, but the story can also change those in the same way.

MG: Yeah, “The Fish Wife” is another one where I was a little bit surprised by the reader reaction to it because the vast majority of people, I think, interpret it as a very straightforward happy ending where it’s like, “Yes! They’re together. They’re gonna be cool mermaid moms. They’re gonna raise the children underwater and it’s gonna be great.” And when I was writing it, I was much more so on the side of this can be read either way, like maybe she straight up does get eaten, like literally, because the whole story hinges on that metaphorical shift between being eaten in a literal sense and being eaten in a symbolic sense of giving your heart up into a family and a relationship and moving into a new loving space.

For me as a storyteller, the thing that felt important in that in the final shot of “The Fish Wife” was just that the the older woman at the center of the narrative, whatever is happening to her – whether she’s being, you know, transformed into a mermaid or whether she’s being devoured by the children – she’s got this beatific smile on her face. It’s a happy ending for her and we, from her expression, understand that she is getting a sense of fulfillment out of this, which is the thing that she was after this entire story, even if we don’t necessarily know 100%, what that fulfillment is. Those are the kind of ambiguities that I like leaving on the page as a storyteller too because it it feels more rich when you’ve got that little question that’s still sitting there at the heart of the story.

Like, do we know what happened here? Is this the thing that happened, the thing that I think happened, or what information is the author keeping from us to allow for different types of readings to become equally valid in how we interpret this story.

I guess that’s kind of what I was talking about when I was thinking about the synthesis of the author’s brain and the reader’s brain. Every reader is going to have their different interpretation of this but as an author, my job in a way is to kind of make room for all of those different interpretations and to have every one of those be a potentially valid reading and have evidence in the story that could point you in whatever direction you as a reader tend to feel drawn towards.

Whatever else is happening though, it is, I guess, a happy ending. Because she wants something at the beginning of the story and by the end of the story, she has gotten that thing that she wants, and we just don’t 100% know what it is.

I think what was interesting on that, when we were talking about happy endings earlier, and I think just put together: these are cautionary tales but not for the protagonists in the same way. Whereas in a lot of Grimm’s fairy tales or whatnot the protagonist is the cautionary tale, like “you should not be like the protagonist.” But here, the cautionary tale is about other things than what the boy who cried wolf did, or Red Riding Hood trusting her grandmother, or who she thinks it’s her grandmother.

MG: Yeah, when there are critiques that are being logged with these stories in a cautionary fables type sense, it’s much more often aimed at the social fabric at large, rather than the individual characters themselves were kind of caught up into these situations. That was a very deliberate choice that I made with the stories is wanting to have compassion for the feelings and the needs of these characters.

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I think especially for stories which are all about queer people and queer people who are oftentimes in situations where they’re longing for something, queer people who are seeking romantic fulfillment or family connections or community of some sort or just acceptance on a straightforward level for the kind of people who they are, it would feel mean and insincere of me as an author to punish those characters for wanting those things, when actually the things that are at fault are the social structures, the political structures, the monarchy, and all of the layers of meaning associated in there.

Finding a way to give the characters what they want in a transformative way, which is aiming the critique at larger social structures that kind of created that need that they had in the first place, rather than putting the blame on them as individuals. I was thinking a lot about cautionary tales when I was writing these because so often when queerness or transness or anything approaching queerness or transness was depicted or commented upon in a lot of classic fables, it was kind of in a cautionary fables sense, where it’s like “Don’t do these things, because this character did these things, and then they were horribly punished for it.” Also a lot of more contemporary horror movies take that tactic to, or they’re also oftentimes modeling themselves after cautionary fables in a way but expanding on them in a different sense. That’s a different topic.

But yeah, I wanted to approach these stories with more compassion for the main characters and to find a way to give them the thing that they needed, even if the thing that they need at the beginning of the story is not something that they’ve fully articulated even to themselves, but they find a way to get it by the end.

What are some of the fairy tales that you really did enjoy? Even if, you know, there were things structurally about them that you’re like, Feh. Who needs the monarchy?

MG: One that I think is a fun comparison to make to this collection is there is an actual classic fairy tale out there called “The Goose Girl.” It is very different than “The Goose Girl” that I wrote and to be entirely honest, I was not actually aware of the original “Goose Girl” fairy tale at the time that I was writing my “Goose Girl.” So all of the parallels are kind of weird coincidences in a way but there are a lot of interesting parallels when you look at those two stories in tandem.

They are both about a relationship between a princess and a peasant girl. In the case of the original “Goose Girl,” it’s a servant girl who makes an attempt to kind of usurp the role of the princess in the original tale and is punished for it because, you know, God forbid any peasants do any peasant uprisings here. So kind of by accident, my “Goose Girl” is that but in a weird mirror alternate universe where the moral positioning of the allegory has been switched, where the peasant girl does, in a lot of ways, usurp power from the princess who is trying to pursue her romantically, nut the story treats that as a good move on her end, it is a successful thing that she’s doing, and it is going to make her entire community and herself like a much better and healthier place to be, thanks to the fact that she was able to pull that off.

So both of them are kind of accidentally stories about movement between classes and whether we want to celebrate that or punish that and also what people in the peasant class who find a way to move up the ranks, what their goals are with that. What their priorities are, and what their reasons for doing that, which is explored in a very different way between those two stories.

But again, it’s funny that those are like accidental parallels because I didn’t even bother to read the actual “Goose Girl” until I started getting comments from people being like, “Oh, this is such an interesting inversion of the original ‘Goose Girl.'” And I was like, is it? Then I’d look it up and go “Oh! Okay.” Little things like that have been interesting to find out about as a storyteller, even if they were weird coincidences.

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It’s the power of oral storytelling.

MG: There you go. This is what we think about when we think about Goose Girls.

Do you think that’s going to be the name of your collection of nonfiction essays? “What We Think About When We Think About Goose Girls.”

MG: That would be a very good title for one. I’m going to have to save that.

Where do you see the power of morals in fairytales in modern day stories? Do you think all stories need to have some sort of moral at the end? Do they need to have a moral core? Does the genre kind of work on a different set of rules?

MG: I think almost every story at least has an ethical perspective on the things that it is telling and that can oftentimes be sort of a window into the author’s mind, though I think it’s an oversimplification to say like, based off of this story, the author clearly believes this! That is a cudgel that has been used very erroneously in my opinion to bash storytellers on the internet for saying things that people think are bad opinions to have and that is clearly not the author’s intent, so I’m not going to go that far here. I do think that authors often bring in a certain amount of their principles and their ethical perspective to the fiction that they write. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

But I also don’t think that every story needs to end very clearly on a simplified educational teaching point, which is kind of how a lot of fables have been treated in the past where, especially for cautionary fables, it’s like: “Here is a story about children who lied and then bad things happen to them and the moral of that story children is that you should not lie.” It’s kind of like parents who need a way to issue corrections to their children and decide to do it in a really ham-fisted way of telling a narrative about children who do bad things and then face consequences for them. I definitely shy away from doing that in my storytelling.

That goes back to the thing we were talking about earlier about how for me as an author, when I am critiquing something from a moral standpoint, I’m much more interested in critiquing people in power or power structures broadly, rather than critiquing the moral flaws of main characters who are dealing with needs on a human level, which are understandable for them to have and were also oftentimes stuck in terrible situations that are not their fault. Rather than nitpick at the moral principles of those main characters and their own, you know, human flaws that they have, I’d rather look at the fabric of the landscape that brought them to that point and talk about that as being a thing which needs some critique.

I guess if I’m writing cautionary fables, like the main character of the cautionary fables is like the government rather than, like, the individual characters who are at the forefront of these stories. And certainly if any allegorical kings want to read my stories and be like, “Oh, shit, like, here’s a story about me fucking around and finding out,” then I’m fine with that.

So the stories are more about people either pushing back themselves or being pushed to work outside of the things that are putting them in situations that are…not immoral, with all the connotations that word has, but that undermines their life.

MG: Structurally flawed in a way, yeah.

Yeah. Undermines their personal happiness. Undermines their ability to grow and be prosperous and find other ways of living, I guess.

MG:Yeah, yeah. Something else that I was thinking about a lot with this collection is, I feel like I have a utopian perspective as a storyteller in a lot of these fables, where they’re kind of about imagining alternative community structures and alternative ways of living, that would be more supportive and more positive for, in particular, queer people who are at the center of all these narratives. That is kind of a utopian vision in a way. It’s sort of imagining, what if we were able to structure our little fable landscape in a different way? Sometimes I worry that that is a thing which feels like maybe a tiny bit shallow because it’s imagining more perfect worlds that straight up are not going to exist within our lifetimes, not realistically. None of these stories are about promoting realistic solutions to actual societal problems that exist in the world.

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I also think the point of like utopian fairy tales in a way is not necessarily to propose specific types of public policy that are going to make the world a better place but rather about giving readers an imaginative canvas where they can sort of say “Yeah. If we did upturn certain things, or reorganize our communities in certain ways, I could imagine a life for myself that would be more happy and more fulfilling without me myself needing to change in order to better survive the societal problems that I am encountering every single day.”

So it is a fantasy in a lot of ways. And it’s a fantasy of utopian community structures and how they would better support queer people but I think that maybe that has a use in its own weird way too – giving readers sort of an escapist outlet for being able to imagine that on their own ends, even if it’s not a practical solution.

I mean, in some ways original fairy tales could be and were often utopian visions within the confines of what could be imagined. At least what we have still. I don’t know. I’m sure there were people who were imagining things that were not the monarchy but what remained and what survived were stories about the benevolent and the good king who learns to be better and then do all the right things and and everything’s perfect forever and ever.

MG: Yeah, yeah. I think so many of them too, especially the romantic fairy tales, the utopian vision was specifically: “Well, what if you, individual peasant girl, got to marry the prince and then you get to buy into all the like perks of being a part of the power structure that is oppressing everyone else in your country, but you individually are going to be just fine.” That’s kind of the utopian vision that a lot of them had. I guess that’s sort of the thing that I was trying to up end in a way in these stories.

Like, no, we’re going to question that element of the romantic, marriage based fairy tale of buying into that system of power to benefit yourself individually, rather than trying to use whatever advantages you have in that situation to upend the whole thing. “Goose Girl” is probably the best, clearest example of that principle in action, of using one of those situations where a monarch wants to marry you, peasant girl, in order to upend things as best as you are able to using the advantage that has been handed to you.

Join us in a week for part two of our conversation featuring craft, more fairy tales, digging deep into colored pencils, and the difference between dark stories and edgy stories.

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.