With December came the very last of the Jim Henson series The Storyteller: Witches. (*sob*) Creator Jeff Stokely brought us a beautiful adaptation of a classic Baba Yaga tale from Russian folklore. Vasilissa the Beautiful is more commonly known as the folktale “Vasilisa the Fair” or “Vasilisa the Brave,” and if you are unfamiliar, it is essentially the Baba Yaga version of Cinderella (minus some talking mice and pumpkins). As with most Russian folklore, specifically Baba Yaga tales, it tends towards the darker side (which is awesome) and this comic doesn’t disappoint. This particular comic was adapted from a script intended for the Storyteller TV show that never got used, making it feel particularly close to the TV series.
Now Baba Yaga happens to be one of my favorite witches, so I must say I had very high expectations for this comic. Additionally, once I discovered they were doing Vasilissa, my expectations raised even higher. Vasilissa is one of my favorite Baba Yaga stories (I love the witches ‘solution’ to her family troubles). Much to my delight the comic was very well adapted. There are some minor changes, of course, and they did shorten the overall story quite a bit. This version ends with Vasilissa returning home from the witch and skips all the princey bits. This is fine, really, as those bits aren’t really the exciting action packed part of the story, anyway.
As mentioned previously, the Vasilissa issue was based off of a script from the show that never made it to production. This really shows in structure and feel of the comic. For example, as in the show, there are occasional breaks in which we leave the story and go back into the Storyteller’s home. During these breaks the dog and Storyteller will often interact. This gives the Storyteller something to play off of and helps him spin out the morals for the story. I always found this a charming way to remind us that we are being told the tale in the oral tradition. The dog character is often utilized to help highlight a part of a story, or to act as the child that would be listening to and learning from the tale. This was the only comic in the series to really use the dog character, whom I find to be important to the structure.
Unlike the previous issue, in Vasilissa the Beautiful you have no doubt what this story is about, or how it fits into the theme of the series. The witch here is obviously an integral part of the story. Utilizing a well known witch from folklore was a good choice to reinforce the theme as well. Vasilissa, yeah, that’s nice, I wanna see the witch! I had only one minor problem with the plot. A small section of the original folktale, the part with the horsemen, was moved from the beginning of the story to the end of the story in the comic. This caused it to lose a bit of exposition that explained the scene, but it can be overlooked fairly easily. Overall the writing and art were fantastic. The drawings were very detailed and fitting for the setting, and the colors were exceptionally well done. Naturally it had a bit of a darker feel. The interpretation of Baba Yaga was very cool and unique, she was a bit reminiscent of troll like to me (again, no objections). I did hope to see the house a with a bit more obvious chicken legs and human bone fence, though.
The Storyteller may perhaps be one of Henson’s lesser known works, but it is one of my favorites. Traditional folktales were often a bit dark. They were cautionary tales and ways to pass lessons and morals on to the next generation. Basically, it was perfect for Henson whose works, while often aimed at children, didn’t shy away from the dark and dangerous. This comic series was a great interpretation of the show and his work. It was greatly enjoyable to have such a creative series, and I loved that they had a new creator each month to bring a unique perspective culture or theme. I am so sad to see it end, but I do hope Boom! and Archaia considered doing another run of The Storyteller in a different theme. I cannot recommend The Storyteller: Witches enough, go check them out.