Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales: North America an Interview with Editors Kate Ashwin and Kel McDonald

People sit on couches and around a coffee table. A banner behind them reads "Two Spirit Circle"

After visiting Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales anthology series is moving to North America. Featuring 100 pages of entertaining and educational stories, The Woman and the Woods and Other North American Stories — now on Kickstarter — explores the stories, passed down through generations, of the people who have inhabited Turtle Island since time immemorial.

Yesterday we spotlighted artist Alina Pete who provided the cover for this anthology and also curated the list of contributors sharing their stories:

  • “As It Was Told to Me”, a creation tale that shows that the world needs good and bad to exist, which is written and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, a transgender Odawa illustrator who has facilitated the creation of illustration projects such as the 2020 “Trans Awareness Week.”
  • “Chokfi,” the story of the trickster rabbit, who is jealous of Otter’s fur coat and tries to steal it, by writer Jordaan Arledge, a trans Chickasaw comic writer and the founder of Arledge Comics, and artist Mekala Nava.
  • “White Horse Plains”, a cautionary tale about greed that comes from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, as told by Rhael McGregor, a Non-Binary/Two-Spirit Métis comic artist and animator from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  • “Rougarou” by Mystery Solving Lesbians writer Maija Ambrose Plamondon and Métis-based artist Milo Applejohn, about a werewolf-like creature that haunts the Métis communities.
  • “Agonjin In the Water” by the non-binary, Ojibawe artist Alice RL, about a girl whose tribe is suffering from a drought and finds a Mishipeshu while searching for water.
  • “Woman in the Woods” by the Cuban Taíno artist and storyteller Mercedes Acosta about a curious girl who sees a mysterious figure in the woods at night.
  • “Into Darkness” by Izzy Roberts, a Michigan-based illustrator and a member of the Navajo Nation and Kinyaa’áanii clan, about a creature so dangerous and scary that no one dares utter its name.

Pete joins Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales editors Kate Ashwin and Kel McDonald for this entry into the series, with the other four volumes available as part of the Kickstarter. Though McDonald and Ashwin have managed the previous Kickstarters for this series, this time, they have teamed up with Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics, who is republishing the previous volumes with gorgeous new covers.

For this project, you’re working with Iron Circus who will also be republishing the previous books. What else does Iron Circus bring to the table for you?

McDonald: While Kickstarter has been a great help to indie comic artists and writers, there is still a distribution barrier for anyone self-publishing. Our primary target audience is children. Since children don’t browse the internet looking for small press books, we couldn’t grow the series without getting them into libraries and schools. Iron Circus republishing and collaborating with the series in the future, helps us get the book into places kids can get it easier.

Ashwin: Spike is a Kickstarter legend with a solid decade’s worth of quality campaigns under her belt. I don’t think there’s anyone else quite like Iron Circus in comics today, they’re a constantly rising star, and it’s an honour to be working with them on this! Also in a practical sense, their distribution is top-notch, meaning we can get these books into more libraries — that sort of thing is quite difficult to manage when you’re just a two-person team, and it’s always been important for us that kids are able to get their hands on these books, so knowing they’re out there being read a lot wider is just terrific.

Your stretch goals focus on ensuring that your contributors are compensated for their work. Why is this important to you?

Ashwin: Both me and Kel are also indie artists, so we know exactly how much work goes into putting together a comic. It’s lots. It’s SO much. You simply can’t undervalue the time and expertise and experience every single contributor is bringing to the table- without them, there’d simply be no book, so it only makes sense to want to pay them back as much as possible, and Iron Circus’ bonus structure really does help with that!

McDonald: Comics as an industry has an underpayment problem. While smaller publishers or indie anthologies might not have the money to pay a large page rate from the get go, I think it’s only fair that the contributors share in any financial success the book has. The book is succeeding because of their work. Without them there isn’t a book.

As you explore the world through these stories, what are some of the lessons in the cautionary tales that have really stood out for you?

McDonald: One thing I love is in all volumes there has been an emphasis on compassion. Being compassionate to strangers, animals, and the land. In each volume, there are always a couple of stories where while on a journey being compassionate rewards the protagonist where a previous traveler’s selfishness harmed them. In this volume in particular, you have a couple of stories about a young protagonist offering friendship to something otherworldly or inhuman. I appreciate them reaching out to something outside your group. And I’m glad that stories like that have popped up in all regions.

Ashwin: A thing that’s always struck me is the universality of some of these tales. Every culture has a set of core morals that it imparts through stories, and so many of them are surprisingly similar — there’s always a trickster who will change their form to surprise the unaware, or a hero smart enough to talk their way out of trouble, or a grim warning against treating others poorly, that sort of thing. Seeing the way different peoples have interpreted these ideas while still keeping the central themes has been really fascinating, and rather enlightening where human nature is concerned.

Are plans underway for where the series will go next? Can you share any hints?

Ashwin: Think we’ll stick in the Americas for now, but perhaps a little less north….!

McDonald: We already have a lineup for a South America volume thanks to that volume’s guest editor Alberto Rayo. I don’t want to say who is in the lineup because things happen and people have to drop out. But most of them have turned in scripts and are gonna start drawing. It will be on Kickstarter around this time next year.

You can learn more about The Woman and the Woods and Other North American Stories on Kickstarter.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.