Editor’s Note: I first saw Suburban Fairytales at NYCC waaaay back in October, and the creator, Francis Bonnet reached out to me for us to review it. Through some medical emergencies and bad timing, the book ended up falling to the wayside until about a month ago when I apparently assigned it to TWO writers, both of whom have come through in top style this week with reviews AND with contrasting reviews at that. So I’m posting them both! Because I can do that. You can read what we liked and didn’t and hopefully then go check out the comic for yourself and make your own decisions. Let us know who you think said it best. Thanks to Francis Bonnet for his patience and we hope you, dear reader, enjoy BOTH these reviews!
Review #1, Matthew Horowitz
In this newspaper style comic about fairy tale characters, “living happily ever after” translates directly to “growing up in the suburbs.”
Created by Francis Bonnet, and available online three times a week at three panels a time, Suburban Fairy Tales has miniaturized and modernized the heroes and monsters of European folklore in to high school students. The translation of archetypes goes rather smoothly. Frog Prince is an Everyman misfit that knows he could be Prince Charming if only he could get a date. Pinocchio doesn’t seem concerned so much with becoming real as becoming normal, so that he can make excuses to the world and lie to himself. Humpdy Dumpty is a habitual risk taker with a skateboard and shell piercings, the Big Bad Wolf is a schoolyard bully, Red Riding Hood an unappreciated hard worker at war with her own femininity, Rapunzel a queen bee in a small hive.
And of course, there is the Little Piggy. The trembling ball of caucasian colored dope, which is perhaps the most poignant metaphor for the human condition to be found in this comic. He lives the life of the victim. The teachers (who are, of course, witches) fail him, for he never studies. His body betrays him, for he gorges himself on instant gratification. And the Big Bad Wolf eats him, for again and again instead of lighting a fire in the hearth of his sturdy brick house, he opens the front door and lets the wolf in. While Frog Prince wants to be a somebody, and Pinocchio just wants to be anybody, Piggy wants to be Homer Simpson, and is well on his way. Does this little piggy get even? Not by a long shot, and he has only himself to blame.
Ultimately what Suburban Fairy Tales strives for and achieves is charming simplicity. The art is clean and expressive. Nowhere does Bonnet fail to utilize economy of line or space, allowing for sympathetic characters in easily told stories. Stories that deal with neither the sturm und drang found in the original fairy tales, nor the harsh realities that lie outside of a privileged childhood; but still provide reliable gags, likable characters, and some pleasing insight.
Review #2, Anthony Rosen
Some people think I’m strange for getting a kick out of the funnies. I showed my friend this review and their first reaction was “What’s the funnies?”, and I thought that was strange. Are some people really that adverse to one of the most popular showcases for comics still available in print?
I grew up reading collections of Foxtrot, Dilbert and Garfield. Times were good. Laughs were had. Every once in a while I’d learn some life lesson that actually stuck with me. There’s no denying the importance of the daily comic strip to the evolution of comics as a whole either. Without those first few collections of dailies hitting the newsstands back in the 20s and 30s, the medium would probably have developed quite differently. Even today, some of the best loved comics are those that appear in the funnies, and of course we can’t forgot that webcomics are, by in large, an evolution of those daily strips. Suburban Fairy Tales: This Little Piggy Gets Even belongs to that last genre of comic, the MWF web strip, but belonging to that genre and earning the right to be mentioned alongside the greats are two separate feats entirely.
Suburban Fairy Tales shtick is that all your favorite fairy tale characters have been transposed to a modern suburb for the purpose of commenting on our contemporary life. Each character has been given a makeover in that regard. The Frog Prince is now a teenager with self-confidence issues due to his curse. His best friend is Pinocchio, a cynical outcast incapable of lying. Little Red Riding Hood is the overachieving A+ student and Rapunzel is the most popular girl in school. It’s a setup with potential, to be sure, but ultimately the comic feels like it’s failed to truly grasp the strengths of its own characters and often struggles with its comedic timing.
Suburban Fairy Tales is legitimately funny. Sometimes. And without justifying mediocre jokes, I’m comfortable saying that the patterns and formula that This Little Piggy Gets Even revels in have been used to great effect in other strips. Reading the funnies for so long, and actively enjoying them, has gotten me accustomed to those lulls. Writing and producing a strip every day, especially when you’re doing it yourself for little to no profit isn’t exactly the must creatively conductive process. So when you become a fan of something like the funnies you make accommodations for those lulls and learn to revel in the occasional greatness.
Sometimes an easy joke gets made (you know, because it’s easy) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Mondays are going to deliver depressing Garfield, Marmaduke will inevitably dick someone over with his gigantic-ness, and Dagwood is probably gunna get in trouble with his boss because that guy is a dip. You’re either attached to these characters enough so that you’re able to groan and let those tired jokes slide, waiting it out for the funnier strips, or you’re just not fit for the funnies. Of course, that very specific if you’re attached is the first indication of the biggest fault in This Little Piggy Gets Even.
I’ll cut to the chase here. If you’re not already a fan of Suburban Fairy Tales, this collection isn’t going to win you over. Art that’s not especially eye-catching, gags that have been made elsewhere, and characters that don’t really endear themselves all that effectively are all the hallmarks of this collection. I can see potential with this series, but by the end of this collection of 280+ strips, I couldn’t remember more than 2 that I really enjoyed.
One of the more interesting aspects of Suburban Fairy Tales is that since it is an online publication there is no editor to step in and say “whoa, hey, little racy for the Monday morning edition.” Instead, every once in a while you’ll happen upon a tampon joke, or a strip where one character eats another. It’s a little bit of a shock, going by how tame the rest of the jokes are. In a way those shockers were little delights, a nice subversion of familiar tropes that gives the comic a spark of life and distinct flavor. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between.
It’s possible that these characters have been fleshed out since the original publication of these strips online, back in 2008. It’s possible they’ve become more endearing and the gags have gotten consistently more funny. But even if they have, that doesn’t make this collection any more desirable for non-fans of the series. This collection is strictly for those fans who love the characters, know the setting, and aren’t looking for something mold-breaking.
A review copy of This Little Piggy Gets Even was graciously provided to Spandexless for review by the author.
Matthew is a lover of Comedy and Tragedy in all of their forms; particularly the forms of Comic Books, Theater, and Hip-hop. When not passing himself off as an actor or writer, he works with the mentally afflicted in New Haven, CT.
Fighting style: Swag-Fu
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Secondary weapon: Pocket Comb
Anthony writes about a lot of things, but he thinks comics are the ginchiest so he’s happiest when he’s writing about those. Spandexless thought his stuff was swell enough to show to other people, and he thought that was pretty neat. There are currently no other places on the internet to read what he writes, so if you like his stuff you should either read spandexless as much as possible, or mail him a big bag of money with a dollar sign on it, a top hat and a monocle.