The other day I stumbled across Sarah and the Seed, ostensibly a web-comic. I’d say it’s less a comic, as such, and more a picture book in comic form. I suppose the vogue term is graphic novel, which I’m into in some contexts, but honestly, can’t we also embrace the humble picture storybook? I love storybooks. Stories! And pictures! They’re wonderful.
This one, in addition to being beautifully rendered, is a retelling of a traditional Japanese fairytale; the story of Little Peach, or Momotaro, a baby boy found in the hollow stone of, well, you guess which fruit. One of my favourite books as a child (Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden) involved another re-imagining of this story.
Re-tellings and -workings of old, recognisable stories are something I am particularly interested in, and fond of. It’s such a deliberate act of acknowledgement that, in the human brain, few ideas are actually new, and all of them are generated within a cultural and historical context. Even the most radical idea does not occur suddenly and out of nowhere; it is the next link in a(n often traceable) chain of thoughts, melded with a specific temporal context which makes it new and unique, but not without a past. I have a soft-spot for stories in particular that acknowledge this overtly; sometimes I think this awareness even fosters more original work than the more common denial. After all, in science we only advance on the back of knowledge already acquired. I don’t think art is necessarily so different, here.
Plus, those stories you find told and re-told are the ones with a kernel which ‘rings true’ – or rather, a central precept which can be easily aligned with mainstream values. This doesn’t just mean these stories are easy to relate to for many people; it means these are the ones we should think about most, examine most critically. They are the stories built around the social values we take for granted, because most old stories were designed to teach social values.
When we examine and re-tell and re-work them, it’s an act of imagination with potential real-world consequences. Like a thought-experiment to re-imagine the world we live in. Red Riding Hood kills the wolf, instead of the Huntsman; Hansel and Gretel die and the Witch lives; Sleeping Beauty wakes up and tells the Prince he’s just not her type. Fairytales are a beautifully gentle, insidious way to suggest revolutionary actions, don’t you think? Plus, who wants a little red book full of dense wording when you could have a gorgeous picture book?
All images by Ryan Andrews, www.ryan-a.com.