At this point, the bodice-ripping fairy tale princess is a trope as well established in pop culture as the harmless Disney princess — especially in comics. But with their latest series from Dynamite Entertainment, the writing team of Leah Moore and John Reppion are looking to imbue a gorgeous set of lady legends with the danger and blood of their original stories.
This September, “Damsels” — a new monthly series with art by Aneke and covers by J. Scott Campbell and Sean Chen — ships to comic shops, teaming fairy tale characters Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid (with more on the way) in a fight against a mysterious evil.
CBR News spoke with the husband/wife writing team for their take on the legendary roots of these damsels, the European-esque world they inhabit, what lies behind it and the ways in which their series will and won’t conform to expectations for vamped up princesses and “happily ever after” endings.
CBR News: Like any good fairy tale, the story behind the story of “Damsels” is still wrapped in a little bit of mystery, but we know Nick [Barrucci] and the crew at Dynamite had been mulling over this idea for a while. What was the initial pitch they brought to you, and why did you decide to sign on?
Leah Moore & John Reppion: Initially Dynamite approached us with the idea of something involving a shared fairy tale world in which the balance of power had shifted and the things had taken a bit of a darker turn. It felt like a really exciting and interesting jumping off point for us. The opportunity to use all these iconic, folkloric characters and stories and to do something new with them was too good to miss.
At this point in time, there are a number of ways audiences have been introduced to these tales. Where were the first places you fell in love with them, and what versions have the strongest bearing on how “Damsels” will develop?
Neither of us can really remember the first time we encountered the classic fairy tales, maybe because they were being read to us when we were so young we weren’t yet even fully aware of it. They just seem to be there in your head — to be something that you come pre-loaded with, almost.
We both grew up with a love of writers like Terry Pratchett, Enid Blyton, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, all of who clearly draw influence from fairy and folk tales. Stories like those recorded by the Brothers Grimm (many of which were already hundreds of years old when they collected them) are just as much a part of the bedrock of epic fantasy as Norse and Celtic mythology, and they’re really all just parts or versions of the same archetypal tales.
We’ve gone back to the Grimm Fairy Tales and other early versions of the classic stories for our source material for “Damsels,” but, of course, we’re still informed and influenced by lots of other stuff. There’s quite a bit of British and European folklore mixed in too since the place this first arc is set is very European.
The world we meet in the book is a combined one — a place where all of these stories from various cultural backgrounds brush up against one another. Where in the overall timeline will we be meeting our ladies? Can we presume that the basics of their legends have already been told? Are they living in a world of “Happily Ever After” yet?
In issue one, we have the beginnings of an historic compact between the three great Kingdoms of Perrault, Caumont and Villeneuve. Perrault’s reigning monarchs are King Aurore and his Queen Talia, who he awoke from a hundred year slumber back when he was just a Prince. The Perrault Royals have journeyed to Caumont to meet with its rulers, King Persine and Queen Rapunzel and discuss the alliance. So, we’re maybe a decade or so into the “Happily Ever After” of the Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel tales, although things aren’t entirely happy to be honest.
At least at the start, the story focuses on “Rapa” who comes from the Rapunzel story in a sideways manner. Why has she become the de facto lead, and what will readers see in her character that carries them into the wider world you’re building?
Rapa is the character who gives us our perspective on the world of “Damsels.” She’ll ask some of the questions the reader wants to know the answers to and we’ll learn more about the other characters, and exactly what’s going on, as she does.
The Little Mermaid is the second major player in our initial trio of damsels, and from the look of it, she leads a decidedly different life on land than she does in the water. What makes her the agent of change, so to speak?
The mermaid is one of the few non-humans in the Kingdom of Caumont and as such she sees things — including Rapa — a little differently. She has a different perspective on what’s going on to the people of the Kingdom and is able to at least try to explain some things to Rapa.
Finally, Sleeping Beauty will be around for this first story. She’s perhaps the most recognizable and most glamorous of the initial trio. How does that status that her story plays in the real world impact how you’ve approached her in this group dynamic?
Sleeping Beauty is perhaps one of the most passive heroines in Fairy Tale — cursed as an infant, asleep for a hundred years, woken by a Prince who she marries. She doesn’t really do much for herself in the traditional version of events, but we’re certainly going to see a different side to her in “Damsels.”
On the villain side of the equation, classic fairy tales have often had somewhat stock bad guys compared to the very specific plights of any given damsel — wicked queens/stepmothers, giants, etc. How did you solve this problem in the series?
Once it becomes clear exactly who the enemy is, what they’re up to and what’s a stake, it’ll be plain why our heroines have no choice but to stand against them. Sorry to be so oblique, but we’re still trying not to give too much away!
There’s a wide difference in background for many of the classic fairy tales, both in country of origin and author. I noticed a few nods to the latter category with names like Caumont and Perrault popping up. In what way did the specific histories of the tales you’re drawing on and the lives of their authors help you build the series as you see it?
Most of us don’t even know who wrote, or at least first recorded, these wonderful stories we seem to take for granted so naming the three Kingdoms in honour of (author of “Le Petit Chaperon rouge”) Charles Perrault, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (author of “Persinette”) and (author of “La Belle et la BÃªte”) Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve seemed like a nice nod of recognition. The French names fit in well with the pan-European type setting, too.
We’re not drawing on the lives of the authors particularly, no. It’s more a case of acknowledging some of the people who gave us, and millions of storytellers before us, these wonderful characters to play with, reinterpret and project ourselves on to.
The book is called “Damsels,” and while its apparent that you’re not focusing on the “in distress” part of that particular cliche, it seems like you get to ride that comics line between the fun of the cheesecake tradition and the dangers of going a little overboard into T&A territory. What do you make of that challenge? Was there anything you built into the series specifically to ward against more exploitive takes on these women characters?
The “sexy” Fairy Tale thing has become a pretty familiar trope now, especially in comics. It’s not something we’re going to be kicking against in an aggressive fashion any more than we are the whole classic Disney princess thing. These are accepted, familiar, ways in which the old tales have grown and evolved, and we expect the reader to bring those ideas with them when they read “Damsels.”
Hopefully, what’s going to happen is that people will anticipate one thing and get another — they’ll have their expectations confounded somewhat — and that will make the series more interesting.
Finally, you’re working with artist Aneke on the series who’s likely brand-new to most of your readership. What have you seen in her work that’s lined up well with your hopes for the series?
Aneke is a hugely talented female artist from Madrid, Spain and her work is absolutely perfect for the series. She has a wonderful European BD style which can incorporate bouncy, cartoony elements — it keeps things really fresh and fun stopping the whole thing becoming too stuff in its moments of Epic Fantasy. She’s really brought the world of “Damsels” to life and we count ourselves extremely lucky to have found her.
“Damsels” #1 ships in September from Dynamite Entertainment.