Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Calamity Jack (2010)

Calamity Jack is a story about a boy named Jack, obviously, who is a bit of a shyster. He is always up to one scheme or another... Some kind of penny ante gig for small potatoes. At least he did until he ran afoul of real organized crime. The big power behind the turn-of-the-century metropolis of Shyport is a giant of a man named Blunderboar who frequently visits his mother's little cafe for loaves of bread made out of a special type of flour he imports. Like most customers, the finely dressed Blunderboar is stingy on the bill and literally walks through the restaurant door. For revenge, Jack conspires to break into Blunderboar's tower and liberate some of his wealth. However, that wealth is probably not kept in the tower so much as the floating mansion above it. Desperate for a way in, Jack invests in a mysterious huckster's handful of magical legumes. Riding the resulting gigantic beanstalk to the floating mansion, Jack is able to make off with a Canada Goose before having to hightail it back down. One of Blunderboar's equally huge lackeys is in hot pursuit but Jack manages to chop the beanstalk down and beat a hasty retreat from Shyport.

Sound familiar?

The second of two reimaginings of classic fairy tales, Calamity Jack is a graphic novel by the trio of Hale, Hale and Hale. The first two Hales, Shannon and Dean, are the husband and wife team of writers. The third, Nathan, who is of no relation, is the artist. The story is the half-prequel, half-sequel to their 2008 graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge. After the first chapter summarized above, Jack runs off to the Wild West for the events of that previous story and returns to Shyport with Rapunzel for his final confrontation with both Blunderboar and his own duplicitous past.

Intended for younger readers but enjoyable to all, the world created by the Hales is a charming transcription of the Old World of the fairy tales onto the New World of the Edisonades with some modern sensibilities for measure. The premise, as explained by the Hales, is that the fairy tales are real and all those magical folk emmigrated alongside European colonization. As the tall ships and covered wagons moved West, so did the fairies, ogres and dragons.

But I digress. There is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed inventor, whose naive ideas work intermittently, however our hero is of Native American descent and his mother, aunt and kinsfolk are relegated to Shyport's tenements. The Vaudeville-performing Fairies who befriend Jack and co. are multi-ethnic, with skin every shade of green, purple and blue. Blunderboar defends his floating mansion (which later transforms into a Zeppelin) with Jabberwockies, Bandersnatches and screaming Brownies. The Goose Who Laid the Golden Eggs is herself a Canadian.

The artifacts of this transition are interesting and highly entertaining. Many approaches to rewriting fairy tales take a Shakespeare-like approach of doing the same thing, but with airships or something. The Hales have made a whole new scenario out of them so sufficiently innovative that it even turns recognizing the story into a bit of an intellectual game. Truthfully, I didn't even clue in that it was the story of Jack and the Beanstalk until the magic beans appeared.

Shannon Hale's official website has a page devoted to Calamity Jack with interesting glimpses into the world they created and the creative process that gave rise to it. Click here to visit.


Dean Hale said...

Nice write-up, Cory! I'm glad you picked up on the national heritage of the goose. Love the blog, BTW.

Okie said...

Great review. I really enjoyed Rapunzel's Revenge and keep intending to pick up Jack but other things keep getting in the way.

Thanks for the reminder. :)

Cory Gross said...

Thank you very much Dean! Not just for the compliments but also for the two graphic novels. They are easily in my top 25, maybe even my top 10, of the Retro-Victorian genre. Just plain fantastic!

And I couldn't help but pick up on the goose... I actually found the books in a store in Victoria, BC, when I was feeling extra patriotic ^_^