Snow, Glass, Apples
Colleen Doran (artist), Neil Gaiman (writer), Val Trullinger (flatter)
Dark Horse Comics
Disney has mastered the art of reimagining fairy tales to the point where many believe their versions to be true to the originals, but it’s always a delight to find reimaginings that twist the story in entirely new directions. First published as a prose short story in 1994 and then collected in his anthology Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples embraces the darkness of the original rivalry between a princess and her stepmother, and gives a monstrous reasoning for Snow White’s pale skin and blood-red lips.
Turning the stepmother into the protagonist, Snow, Glass, Apples introduces a young woman who falls for a widowed king. Their love and passion are unmatched and they rule the kingdom well. But as her stepdaughter grows, so does the child’s dark influence over the king, to the point where the queen must take matters into her own hands.
Colleen Doran’s art in this new comic book adaptation is an exquisite tapestry, with each page worthy to be mounted on every wall. The art steals the spotlight to the point where Gaiman’s words are an almost unnecessary distraction. Doran’s work flows like prose itself, telling the story in delicate details that guide the eye on a winding journey. In the afterword, she credits 20th-century Irish artist Gary Clarke as the inspiration for her art. The homage is an astounding tribute. Her reverence for Clarke’s work is evident in every finely crafted panel and her attention to detail reveals her care for the subject matter itself. Though Clarke’s work is far more intricate than Doran’s, it is perhaps only because Doran is bound by deadlines that she hasn’t challenged herself to take each page to such heights. In the backmatter, her process notes share that there were many times when she had to let go of a page design in order to eventually reach the finish line.
Colour is a powerful tool here as well, with Val Trullinger supporting Doran in the imagery. The two female characters counter and feed off of each other with cool wintery colours versus the queen’s spring warmth. The king’s colouring mutates between them as the influence of one is exerted over the other, accentuating the story’s arc as they fall into each other’s snares. But it’s the vivid, throbbing, blood-red colour that binds them all, from Snow White’s lips to the beating heart that hangs above the queen like the Sword of Damocles.
When it comes to graphic novels, Colleen Doran’s name ought to be much higher on the list of artists whose work elevates the medium to new heights. It is fitting that Dark Horse has published Snow, Glass, Apples as a hardcover, because such stellar work deserves no less than the best presentation.