“Joe [Brusha] and I first came up with the idea about a decade ago,” Zenescope co-founder and editor-in-chief Ralph Tedesco told CBR News. He and Zenescope president and co-founder Brusha are self-professed horror fans who wanted to write a comic in the vein of 1982’s “Creepshow,” a film that was a love letter to EC and DC Comics horror titles of the 1950s, like “Tales from the Crypt” and “House of Mystery.”
Inspired, Brusha and Tedesco re-imagined public domain fantasy characters, mostly female and wearing revealing pinup-style costumes. Since Tedesco and Brusha were horror fans, they wanted to flesh out the darker elements that were already in the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales, while adding a modern twist.
“If you’ve read the original fairy tales, you know they’re pretty dark to begin with,” Tedesco said. “So the idea was really to infuse these stories with sort of a ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ vibe.”
The series has grown to incorporate characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Alice in Wonderland” and other fairy tales, with these fictional worlds acting as different realms within Zenescope’s shared universe.
“I think that’s one of the cool things about having an interconnected universe,” Brusha said. “You can have a character from Wonderland cross over into Oz and vice versa.”
Issue #100, written by Brusha & Tedesco and illustrated by Anthony Spay, will feature characters from different locales that comprise a supergroup called the “Realm Knights.” Brusha promises payoffs for long-time readers in #100, with storylines from the past nine years coming to a resolution.
“The main evil character in ‘Grimm Fairy Tales’ right now is called the Dark Queen,” Brusha said. “She’s trying to combine all the realms into one so she can rule over them together.”
The end of issue #100 sees the Dark Queen finally accomplishing her goal, bringing every realm to Earth — and under her control. This leads directly into “Realm War: Age of Darkness,” a 12-issue series launching in July, that explores the consequences of her actions.
“The Dark Queen has basically taken over the all the realms,” Brusha said. “Now, both humanity and the highborn characters, which are the characters that have these powers from fairy tales, are trying to combat her.”
“Realm War” will also show how Earth’s residents, who have been ignorant of the other realms, deal with the newly revealed magical forces taking over their home. “Basically, all the shit hits the fan and now the heroes that are left alive are trying to go fight the good fight,” Tedesco said.
And while “Realm War” deals with the consequences of the Dark Queen’s plan, “Grimm Fairy Tales” #101 acts as something of a soft reboot. “I think it’s a good spot to kind of re-launch the universe,” Brusha said. “We’ll start a new direction and start fresh with some of these characters.”
He said the reason for this was that they realized that once a title hits issue 100, the collective history of its characters could be slightly intimidating for new readers that want to give “Grimm Fairy Tales” a try.
“‘Realm War: Age of Darkness’ will be almost like an alternate universe for 12 issues, and we’ll see how everything wraps up there,” Brusha said. “And at the same time in ‘Grimm Fairy Tales’ issue #101 we’ll start in a new direction and start fresh with some of these characters.”
From issue #101 forward, “Grimm Fairy Tales” features new characters alongside some of the more popular classics, in a world where the Dark Queen hasn’t merged the other realms with Earth.
“It’ll definitely be an easier spot for new readers to jump in and not have to worry what happened in the past 100 issues,” Tedesco said. “They’ll be able to figure out what’s going on pretty quickly.”
“You’ll find out at the end of ‘Realm War’ why there are to different realities and you’ll see the pay off.”
Given the landmark status of a 100th issue, Zenescope reached out to big name artists like Neal Adams to draw the issue’s variant covers. Previously, Adams had illustrated a cover to “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” for Zenescope’s all-ages line, Silver Dragon Books, a licensed comic based on the History Channel television series of the same name.
“I think his quote was, ‘I’d love to draw a beautiful woman,'” Tedesco said. “I wanted it to be a little bit of a Superman homage, where she doesn’t get time to get changed [into her costume]. He kind of put that in there and had fun with it.”
Of course, for all of the publisher’s success and longevity, Zenescope’s art, which frequently features scantily clad (and in some covers, nude) women in suggestive poses has made the publisher a polarizing figure in the comic industry.
“Our point of view was always, we’re going to develop badass female characters, badass female protagonists that can take care of themselves,” Tedesco said. “If you look at our characters, the way they dress as opposed to other female characters in other comics, we don’t see a big difference.”
Despite that assertion, he does admit that some of Zenescope’s more explicit variants, covers designed with a “specific audience” in mind, are “certainly why we get a lot of flack.”
Reaction to Zenescope’s covers and depictions of female characters contributed to the creation of a Tumblr called The Hawkeye Initiative. In late 2012, cartoonist and “Lumberjanes” co-writer Noelle Stevenson offered her thoughts on a way to help curb exploitive portrayals of female characters in comic books with a simple suggestion — “How to fix every strong female character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.”
The comment led to a number fans and creators of comic books to use this rule of thumb: Characters should be able to switch genders and not look ridiculous in their outfit or pose, a theory which fuels The Hawkeye Initiative. Many of Zenescope’s covers and interiors have been featured on the Tumblr, including a cover from “Neverland Hook” #3 that swapped Marvel character Wolverine into the Zenescope character’s pose and outfit.
Telling CBR News he couldn’t speak to what the Tumblr was trying to accomplish since he was not aware of the existence of The Hawkeye Initiative, Tedesco did profess his belief that “for the most part, we feel pretty strongly that our female characters are portrayed as badass female characters. As far as, should a pose be the same as a male and female, it’s hard to say.” The pose and outfit of a character should be based off of the character’s history, he said. “If it’s a female trained in jujitsu, it should look like that.”
“Grimm Fairy Tales” #100 is scheduled for release on July 16, and “Realm War: Age of Darkness” #1 on July 23.