Andy Weir (writer), Sarah Andersen (illustrator), Alison George (colors)
July 9, 2019
Ten Speed Press
Time and time again, writers explore the what-if’s and rhetorical epilogues of iconic, fantastical worlds in classic literature. How did Alice’s experiences in Wonderland affect her? How does Dorothy Gale fare back in Kansas after leaving the wonderful world of Oz? These questions are certainly not new.
Cheshire Crossing is essentially a crossover fanfiction that puts together three of the most well-known girls of classic literature to cope with their otherwordly experiences and discover the greater powers they harnessed previously unknown to them. But that said, something like Cheshire Crossing is inherently not a new concept.
Written by Andy Weir of The Martian fame and drawn by the acclaimed Sarah Andersen behind Sarah’s Scribbles, Cheshire Crossing was initially a webcomic originally posted in 2006. (Weir even did the art himself.) The series was later published on the Tapas Media platform with brand new art from Andersen in 2017, and now it can be purchased in physical form from Ten Speed Press.
In Cheshire’s Crossing, Alice of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland adventures, Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Wendy Darling of Peter Pan association are admitted to a boarding school where they must learn to awaken and control their world-crossing abilities. The school is not only a space to train themselves, but it is also a guise to observe and research their potential powers.
At first, the three girls butt heads. They are each resigned to their own form of stubbornness, rebellion, and have grown resentful from the traumas harbored from their respective experiences. Soon enough, they realize their differences are more complementary than clashing when they are forced to return back to the magical worlds that shaped them. As a threat looms across worlds due to the dangerous team up between the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook, the girls must work together while chaperoned by a mystery nanny who has powers of her own.
The three protagonists—Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy—attempt to depart from their original iterations: all the more rebellious and nonconformist, they have grown deeply self-aware and critical to the experiences they had to endure without the guidance of adults. But the same can be said for how Alice was depicted in works like American McGee’s Alice and Tim Burton’s approach to the character in the eponymous Disney live-action films. The same can be also said for Dorothy Gale who, in recent iterations, has become more of a deliberate hero that saves Oz when on the call. It has been so expected for these girls to be more proactive against the societies they came from, it all feels shallow and doesn’t feel so empowering anymore. One would have to wonder why Weir decided to revisit this particular series from 2006. The characterizations and re-interpretations of the cast departed from their source material are honestly not that new or interesting.
With the slight exception of Wendy Darling, who is depicted as more tomboyish and has departed from English girl archetype contemporary to J.M. Barrie’s original novelizations, the young female protagonists don’t have much of a personality that makes them stand out—even to each other. The villains also suffer a huge lack of dimensionality, but a lot of that can perhaps be faulted to the reader being limited to the protagonists’ perspectives.
But as stated up front: Cheshire’s Crossing is a crossover fanfiction. Fanfiction is a genuine, literary art and art is difficult. In some ways, working with pre-existing media can be more difficult, having to challenge a creator’s original intentions while balancing the work with your own new material.
Despite all of that, Cheshire Crossing does have some interesting ideas that could be fleshed out more. There is a huge potential for some of its original characters and the concept that all these literary worlds connect in some singular way is intriguing.
In an interview with SYFY WIRE, Weir discusses how he has made fanworks and countless comics for years. Weir makes it clear this work was not good—and admittedly, it shows—“but that didn’t stop [him]”. His success post-The Martian influenced his decision to revisit old work and he would later reach out to Sarah Andersen through the admiration of her work to collaborate.
Andersen’s art is striking and surprising. In Cheshire’s Crossing, she shows off her capabilities to demonstrate a more refined, colorful art style that is not typical to the minimalism in her gag comics about adulting culture and relatable memes. As opposed to the simple shapes that entirely make up the short, wide-eyed character in Sarah’s Scribbles, the characters of Cheshire Crossing are vibrant and full-bodied.
Creative liberties have been taken with the starring girls, in particular. Alice seems to be more based on the dark-haired, real-life inspiration that is Alice Liddell. Dorothy is a departure from Judy Garland’s portrayal in the 1939 film adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, sporting a more bookish look with a darker complexion. And most different of them all, Wendy has outgrown her pajama dress to fit into a top and pants suited for adventure with a lighter haircut. Some of these liberties are apparent in Weir’s design decisions in the original webcomic, but it is clear Anderson has made additional changes of her.
Cheshire Crossing is severely undeveloped. That said, the whole effort of it is truly admirable and demonstrates fanfiction’s spirit. With a clear, obvious hook for a sequel, perhaps there is room for improvement as the series moves forward.
If readers are seeking Weir’s serious insight in science fiction or Andersen’s gaggle of jokes, they will certainly not find those things in Cheshire Crossing. If readers are also seeking something innovative with its gaggle of iconic characters, they will also unfortunately not find that in this comic. If one were to at least know beforehand that this work was wrought out of passion coming from a younger, pure-hearted place, then they may just be able to find something inspiring at its crossing instead.