I think it’s easy to forget that the stories told by the Walt Disney corporation were originally meant to instill fear into the children hearing them. Rapunzel lost her hair and became pregnant while her prince went blind; Sleeping Beauty awoke from her slumber because her newborn children nudged her; and Snow White made her evil queen dance with scorching iron shoes until she fell over dead. It is from this vein that Becky Cloonan and Lee Loughridge‘s BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE graphic novel draws from. It carries on the tradition of grand fairy tales, yet not in the modern day sense. These stories don’t necessarily have a happy ending. They’re little flights of fancy, allowing the imagination of those reading them to truly roam free.

BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE’s Small Tales with Big Impact

What I find to be a trademark of fairy tales overall is their ability to tell a lot with little. They’re not these long, sweeping epics; they’re a series of smaller stories that capture the hearts of those reading them with fairly cookie-cutter protagonists. There are three stories in this graphic novel. Each one of them contains a fairly predictable twist, but they’re enrapturing nonetheless. Something about seeing a tale with an ageless quality play out as one expected reads satisfying in its own right.

Courtesy of Image Comics

The first story is about a werewolf hunter. You’d think that by keeping the kingdom free of werewolves he’d be revered by the townspeople, yet he does not appear so. The second story involves a young squire sent into this haunted marsh with a castle in it by his knight the day before a battle. The last reads almost as a mystery, as two young lovers appear to fight against the clock as a mysterious figure wishes to draw the man back to sea. Each of these stories appears self-contained. They begin and end as any fairy tale would, with the simplistic setup and the dark ending. As such, it’s hard to say the writing is complex. It sets the perfect tone for the stories being told and, honestly, that’s much more important.

READ: Interested to see the creative inspiration behind BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE? Check out our interview with Becky Cloonan!

If the characters or setting read as this deeper lore, like something from GAME OF THRONES, it would no longer be a fairy tale. While these stories aren’t recommended for younger readers for their mature content, anyone could theoretically understand their messages. It’s been a few days since I’ve read them myself, yet I still recall each plot with extraordinary detail. These qualities made fairy tales of old great, and the fact that this tradition continues in this author deserves celebration.

Visualizing a Fantasy Realm

I appreciated the overall rough appearance of the comic. The artist abstracted the human form enough so the reader could distance themselves from the characters, yet still identify the characters as human. These protagonists do not look like any human we know, but they still read as characters of the story. The artists really play up abstracting the scenery as well, which again gives the entire comic a feel for the fantastical. I really felt the dramatic weight of this during the dream sequence in the third story. The artists melded the panel space with images of the ocean waves crashing against the protagonists. This imagery made me feel the emotions of the characters through truly beautiful art.

Courtesy of Image Comics

I really enjoyed perusing through the concept art found at the end of the issue. It showed how much planning goes into composing a story such as this one. One does not simply write a graphic fairy tale; the art must match the simplistic story. Therefore, I’m glad they chose these abstractions to represent people. The one thing I did not enjoy as much were the darker colors of the comic. It fit the tone, yet made it hard to see what went on in the panels at times.

READ: Interested in more stories by Becky Cloonan? Check out our review of THE PUNISHER #1

Rennaisance of Fairy Tales?

While properties like ONCE UPON A TIME exist to modernize old tales from childhood, the actual fairy tale itself seems destined to remain in the realm of children’s literature. Yet stories like BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE give hope that modern myth-making may rise once more. BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE hits comic shops on the 26th of July.

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