Nursery Rhyme Comics and Fairy Tale Comics, Fable Comics is an anthology in which brilliant cartoonists were each assigned one of Aesop's Fables to reimagine in their own particular style. The result is a smorgasbord of 28 little edifying (?) tidbits of story with bright (or dark, as the case may be) illustrations that is tons of fun! Because each story is in a different style, it keeps things fresh and interesting. Parents who care deeply about raising culturally (for a given value of culture) literate children might well want to seek this out for its friendly rendition of the fables; comic-loving readers of all ages will appreciate the stories as entertaining comics (they are both suitable for the young, and appealing to the old).
Chris Duffy, the editor, kicked off the blog tour yesterday at School Library Journal; that interview is a great place to learn more about the book as a whole. Each subsequent day of the tour will feature a different artist and their fable. It's my pleasure to welcome here today James Kochalka, whose fable assignment was "The Fox and the Grapes." That's the one where the fox wants grapes that are out of reach, can't get them, and goes off in a huff of "they probably weren't any good anyway/I didn't really want them." James Kochalka has a number of books under his belt, some for grown ups and some for kids, his most recent work for kids being the Glorkian Warrior series (the first book of which is The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza). He did a really bang up job with his fable, and I enjoyed it lots!
Here are my questions for James, in purple (to go with the grape theme), with his answers in black (not deliberately meant to echo the frustration and negative energy of the fox).
Did you get to pick the story yourself, or were you assigned it? Were you familiar with it enough to start your own version of the top of your head, or did you read up on all the various incarnations of it? (I just was reading up on it myself, and was interested to find that it is, according to one academic, a model of "adaptive preference formation..."
Chris Duffy, the editor, assigned the story to me. I didn’t do any research at all, I just went entirely on my own memory of the classic Fox and the Grapes story. I know I must’ve read a few versions when I was a kid, but I didn’t try to look them up. I just went from memory.
Also, I find the Fox and the Grapes story-equivalents popping up in real life all the time, in my own reactions to things and others' reactions to things. That’s why it’s a great story… it’s “true” in a human sense.
I did have to do a little research on grape vines, so that I could draw them right.
Was this your first fox? (not because it looks like a "first fox" but because maybe it was your first fox, and you were glad to finally have the opportunity to draw a fox.....)
I’ve tried a couple times in my life to draw foxes, but this is the first fox that I ever drew that I was happy with. I’m definitely looking forward to drawing more foxes. I have an idea for a character called Banana Fox… I even wrote a theme song for him.
Did you find it hard to work with a pre-set text? How did you go about making it your own story? (I appreciate that you did your best to help the fox get the grapes by giving him a jet pack. Was the jet pack in your mind from the beginning, or was did the idea come to you en route?) Was it more "work" than creating something all your own from scratch?
It was easy, really easy, and a joy to write and draw. I just used my vague memories of the story, and started drawing. Really, all I ever start with when I begin writing a story are these sorts of vague feelings, so it felt exactly like writing one of my own stories.
I didn’t feel at all like I was adapting an existing story. I knew that Chris Duffy wanted me to go full Kochalka-style on it. If I had to do a straight retelling of the story, it would’ve felt more like a “job.” But being free to do what I wanted, I felt energized.
I threw the jetpack in there because I knew it would be exciting… I’m pretty sure it was an impulsive decision.
I am impressed that you are the First Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. How did this come about? Do you get to keep the title for life, or are there other cartoonists in Vermont trying desperately to push you aside?
I am no longer the current Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont, but I will always be the FIRST Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. Ed Koren, the great New York cartoonist famous for drawing fuzzy monsters at cocktail parties, is the current Laureate. I’ve loved his stuff since I was a kid. We have many other cartoonists in Vermont worthy of the title, so I expect we’ll see more in the future. It’s a 3 year appointment.
I have a photographer friend who wanted to be named the Photographer Laureate… there currently is no such thing… and he was asking me like, how do you make it happen? But the truth is, you don’t go out campaigning to be honored, it just doesn’t work like that. It just falls into your lap.
How did it happen for me? Well, I guess the Center For Cartoon Studies nominated me and then the state legislature made it official. It wasn’t a huge deal at the time, but it’s become more important since that first day. It’s the best part of my “bio.”
Vermont is a cool state!
Do foxes actually like grapes?
Probably? But I hear that grapes are poison to some dogs, so maybe they’re poison to foxes too. But I have no idea for real… I haven’t researched it at all. I’ve seen dogs eat grapes and they didn’t even get sick or anything. I bet foxes LOVE them. And jetpacks too.
Thank you so much, James Kochalka!
Here's a list of all the stops on the blog tour, which also serves as a list of all the contributors and their fables.
And thank you, First Second, for the review copy of Fable Comics!