Pat Shand: Grimm Fairy Tales Turns 100!

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A long time back (it seems) I remember reviewing Raven Gregory's Return to Wonderland. That has been my one and only exposure to the Zenescope line of comics. Certainly I've been aware of them. The eye-grabbing covers (yes, I'm male, why do you ask?) have captured my attention on more than a few hundred occasions. But I did not realize what was being built across the various titles. And now that the company is at the stage where their flagship title is nearing its 100th issue, I think it's time I gave this indie publisher some of the respect it deserves.

So a few emails and some time-zone mathematics later, I'm on the phone with Zenescope's Pat Shand, asking all the neophyte questions and trying to get a handle on all these various characters running about the titles as they prepare to kill each other.

When I read Return to Wonderland, I saw it as more of a gruesome, Weird Tales sort of horror with all the requisite "Donnie Darko" overtones. But I didn't realize it was a building block of a much larger structure being developed across the various titles. So what is the "Zenescope Universe?"

All the titles under our "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents" banner exist in the same universe, which we refer to as the Grimm Universe. It's sort of like this mish-mash of certain public domain characters, from horror icons like Van Helsing to the legends of the middle-English stories like Robin Hood, all the way to the fairy tale characters like Snow White and Red Riding Hood, and the Greek gods. It's this big, interconnected world where we have all these characters that people will recognize from stories they read as children, updated for a modern and more adult audience.

Was it always known from the beginning that this was going to be an interconnected universe, or did it develop that way over time?

What's funny is that, when Zenescope started, I was in high school. I remember going into a store and seeing one of the books -- I think it was Return to Wonderland by Raven Gregory, and some of the other titles, in a Spencer's Gifts. I remember seeing those for the first time and wondering what they were, and now I'm working with these people. I'm not one of the founders. That's Ralph Tedesco and Ralph Brusha who've been doing this since the mid-2000s.

I'm fairly new to the company. My first title with them was in 2011, and now I'm a full-time staff writer and editor, so I'm doing a lot of their books now. But I know that their first title together was Grimm Fairy Tales proper, and now that series is going to be publishing their 100th issue this year. It's interesting, because being someone who's come in from the outside, I was a reader first but now I'm very much in the inside. It's fascinating watching what Zenescope was and what it's become.

 

Number 100 isn't the end of everything, I assume, but more of a big bang event that you've been building up to for a while.

Exactly. It's not the end, but a climax of sorts. We've been doing our "Age of Darkness" titles this year, and what that pretty much is -- it's not an event, per se, but it's a collection of titles. Quest is a miniseries under that banner. Code Red is as well. We have all these miniseries that have been loosely connected, and fans have been wondering when these connections are going to pay off. And the answer is, in the "Realms Fall" storyline, which is building toward Grimm Fairy Tales 100, which takes place in the Grimm Fairy Tales Annual, the Realm Knights Special Giant Size, and then finally in [Grimm Fairy Tales] 99 and 100 where it all comes to a head. That's sort of the major climax and what we've been building toward for the better part of a year.

For the new readers who will pick up these titles because they're attracted to annuals or #100 titles, where could they go to get a handle on what they're getting ready to read?

There are great places for that actually. Right now, the first part of the "Realms Fall" storyline is in stores today. It's the Grimm Fairy Tales Annual, it's plotted by me, Ralph and Joe, it's written by Ralph, and that is the first part of the storyline that leads directly toward 100. If you want to get primed for that, it's a great new beginning. It's purposely made to be friendly to new readers. Even though it's part of this climax of what we've been doing, it's also 100% new reader friendly.

There are an awfully lot of characters running about. Is there a website or some sort of encyclopedia that details who they are, where they're from, and who are the good guys and bad guys?

It's funny that you ask. We haven't announced it yet, but we are working on that. It's called The Grimm Fairy Tales Sourcebook, and it's a collection of character profiles, storyline explanations -- just this entire giant art-and-information book that will help readers who are new who want to come in, and it's sort of a gift to the old fans, too. We're going to have artists who we've been working with for years returning to do all these characters for their profiles. So it'll be this big, beautiful -- I believe hardcover -- volume.

Have you had any feedback from readers who are familiar with the original version of characters, who want to know why a certain character is cast as a good guy (or vice versa) when their original story might have suggested the opposite?

The most notable instance of that is our story, Neverland, written by Joe Brusha. The villain is Pan, and the hero is Hook. But the thing about that is that the fans seem to embrace that. We have all these stories about Pan being the hero and Hook being the villain, so it's sort of something different and new that intrigues readers to a more high-concept idea.

People have been pretty willing to embrace change. It's the change where the actual story comes in, because anyone can retell a fairy tale. But we're not going to do an adaptation. We have to put our own spin on these things.

What made me ask is -- and this shouldn't be a spoiler at this point -- but when I reviewed the Annual, there's a scene at the end where one of the clear "good guy" characters is attacked, and the attacker appears to me, by her outfit, to be Alice from Wonderland -- whom I wouldn't expect to be a "bad guy."

Actually, who that is is Cinderella.

Ah, okay. Well, that's still a character a new reader might expect to be on the good side of the fight.

She's a character we've known of for a long time. She was actually featured in the second issue of Grimm Fairy Tales, and it's sort of this dichotomy of bringing the new idea of Cinderella and turning her into a villain, but also she's linked to our hero, Sela, in a way that shows how Sela tries to help people like her, people who are highborns from Myst who have come over to Earth and have this kind of power. But she hasn't always succeeded in that, and she failed to help Cindy. So when Cindy was able to be corrupted, there's this idea that it's also Sela's fault, so Sela's got this guilt of Cindy's sins on her shoulders while also having to physically face the power that is Cindy -- because Cindy, in our world, is a trained assassin. She has this terrific sword, and she's just a badass. So she's also a cool villain and linked to Sela in a way that hopefully has some pathos.

You play a lot with the four known realms (and I assume there may unknown ones yet that may grow the universe): Neverland, Wonderland, Oz... and Myst. I know that Wonderland is public domain, and I've seen people play in Neverland without the Great Ormond Street Hospital's involvement. Has Oz itself become public domain? And the other one that stuck out to me was Myst, because I know the videogame of the same name isn't that old at all.

Oh no, [Myst] has nothing at all to do with the game. It's more of the "Mists of Avalon," which is the fairy tale realm. As far as Oz goes, that's public domain. The things that are not public domain, funny enough, are the ruby slippers. Those we can't have.

Which were never in the book to begin with.

Right. But Oz itself, as well as Dorothy and the whole cast, is public domain.

Are there any characters from these realms that we haven't seen yet that we're going to see soon, either during the current story arc or soon after?

Yes, in fact. I'm coming on as the main writer of Grimm Fairy Tales after 100. I'll be starting 101 and going on. There is a character who we're going to be introducing in 101 -- but his big reveal of who he is won't happen until issue 109 or 110.

I'm an English major, so I'm very fascinated by the older stories -- the old English and the middle English stories; classic Greek plays and such. So I'm going to be trying to ply a lot more of that, and to be introducing characters that you wouldn't know from fairy tales, but you would know from stories that might even be older than those.

Are we going to see more of the Tooth Fairy (introduced in Grimm Fairy Tales #97), because I really felt sorry for her when her story was being told.

Oh sure! I have no plans for her, but I believe she's a character in Joe's "Realm War" series. Joe is writing this series -- it stems out of Grimm 100 -- and it's the continuation of the "Age of Darkness" story. It climaxes in 100, but then "Realm War" is the fallout. Joe's actually working on that right now, and I am under the impression that everything that happened in the issues leading toward 100, including the Tooth Fairy issue, will be part of this, because you saw in #97 that the Dark Queen recruited the Tooth Fairy. And I believe in #96 you see that she is working with more characters in the past. She has this guy Helios, who she now has under her control. So I'm pretty sure that we're going to see these characters as part of her army in "Realm War."