The Wild Swans by Jackie Morris
Published by Unbound, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rather than reimagining the story, as most modern takes on fairy tales do, this is very much the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, retold in Morris’ own words, accompanied by her stunning watercolour illustrations. Sticking faithfully to the original text, any small changes and additions feel well placed, fleshing out the characters and adding greater emotional depth by exploring their motivations, especially where the “wicked stepmother” trope is concerned.
It stands fairly unique among the fairy tale canon; our princess very much the heroine of the piece as opposed to a damsel, and the primary focus on familial love over romance, as Eliza strives to outsmart a vengeful queen and save her brothers. It’s not easy to maintain the inherent air of whimsy and magic that comes with a fairy tale throughout a full-length text without it feeling overly twee, but Morris pulls it off. Her prose is simple yet lyrical, the perfect accompaniment to her artwork, which is as ethereal and enchanting as ever.
Coma by Zara Slattery
Published by Myriad Editions, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This graphic memoir recounts a period of 15 days in 2013 when Slattery was placed in a drug-induced coma, after contracting a life-threatening bacterial infection that aggressively attacks the skin and muscle. The account flits back and forth between events in the “real world”, where her husband’s diary entries explain the efforts being made my medical staff to save Slattery’s life, while he looks after their children, and the hallucinogenic nightmares experienced by Slattery throughout her coma as she fights to regain consciousness.
The contrast between monochrome (real world events) and kaleidoscopic colour (Slattery’s nightmares) works really well to emphasize both the bewilderment the author experienced, and the necessary persistence of mundane, domestic life for her loved ones, despite them living through a time of such heightened anxiety and emotion.
Slattery’s story is a great example of how people can rally together during a crisis, and how illness is so often a shared experience. Being written and published some years on from the incident, however, I felt it would have benefitted from a little more reflection on her subsequent recovery, both physical and mental.
Still, this is a striking read that highlights a little-known medical condition, while showcasing the unique strengths of the graphic novel form.