For the third time in 15 years, Sony (and now Marvel Studios) decided to start over the Spider-Man franchise with a much younger lead actor, a much younger Aunt May, and a new cast of supporting players and villains. Thankfully, Spider-Man Homecoming didn’t kill Uncle Ben for the umpteenth time, but Peter Parker is back in high school and again beginning to come to terms with his great power, as well as the responsibility that it comes with. The producers and directors of the Spider-Man films like sending the pop culture icon (he’s practically the Mickey Mouse of Marvel Comics) back to high school even though the main universe version of Peter Parker graduated over 50 years ago in 1965’s Amazing Spider-Man #28, which also introduced the unfortunately (and alliteratively) named villain, Molten Man.
I think the reason for this is that some of the greatest Spider-Man stories came in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen, and others’ Ultimate Spider-Man, which featured a teenage Peter Parker and ran from 2000 to 2011. This series skillfully used the superhero genre to tell a coming-of-age story focused on Peter’s relationship with his family, friends, and eventually other heroes, like Human Torch and Kitty Pryde, instead of just having him punch and “thwip” at things. It even successfully and powerfully killed off Peter and replaced him with the Black/Latino teenager Miles Morales, who is currently Spider-Man alongside an older Peter Parker in the main Marvel Universe.
Honestly, you should just drop everything and pick up a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man “Power and Responsibility” from your local library, bookstore, or Comixology if you want to get into Spider-Man, but if you prefer stories of Spidey’s college or young adult days from a variety of eras, including some groovy stories by his creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, here are ten comic book storylines you should check out before watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 for the millionth time:
10. “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” from Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973)
“The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is a crucial two-part storyline not only for the character of Spider-Man, but also for superhero comics as a whole. Written by Gerry Conway (who was only 20 at the time.), penciled by Gil Kane, and inked over by John Romita Sr and Tony Mortellaro, it features the triumphant return of the Green Goblin/Norman O, the only supervillain who knows that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Armed with this knowledge, he kidnaps Gwen Stacy and drops her off the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man tries to save her with his webs, but ends up snapping her neck in the process in one of the saddest uses of sound effects in comics. The next chapter is dedicated to a quest for revenge against Green Goblin while he ignores his friend, Harry Osborn, who is all alone and withdrawing from LSD. Spider-Man engages in a brutal battle with the villain and almost kills him, but the Green Goblin ends up being impaled by his own glider in a scene that appeared in the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man, and Spidey walks away empty, sad, and alone.
You can feel superhero comics growing up overnight in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 as Gerry Conway and Gil Kane make the red and blue spandex-wearing, joke-cracking Spider-Man the vehicle for his girlfriend’s death. In previous storylines, Stan Lee and Kane had killed off Gwen’s father, George Stacy, but he was a police officer in the line of duty. Gwen’s death was senseless and sudden, and led Spider-Man to behave more violently and callously, starting with assaulting his cop buddy instead of having his usual friendly chat. Kane, Romita, and Mortellaro depict the fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in harrowing close-ups, with the hero confessing his love for Gwen after every punch. You can feel bones cracking with each rage-filled blow, and after the battle, Spider-Man looks like the sad figure that Steve Ditko originally drew him as, instead of John Romita’s big man on campus. What makes this “final” fight scene even more brutal is the fact that Spider-Man is recovering from the flu, and is barely at half strength.
However, what makes “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” a dated storyline is that Gerry Conway and Gil Kane killed Gwen Stacy solely to increase Spider-Man’s man-pain and add some darkness to his heroic, soap operatic journey, as well as possibly set up a romance with the vivacious redhead, Mary-Jane Watson. Gwen barely speaks in the storyline, and she is just there to play the role of victim. Her death opened up the potential for darker superhero stories with life and death stakes, but also set a bad precedent for killing off female characters to further a male hero’s story.
Luckily for fans of Gwen Stacy (whether in the old comics or Emma Stone’s performance in the Amazing Spider-Man films), there is now an alternate universe of her affectionately known as “Spider-Gwen,” co-created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. Spider-Gwen has her own comic book and is a superhero in her own right with a really rad hoodie costume.
9. “Torment” from Spider-Man #1-5 (1990)
For better or worse, Spider-Man in the late 1980s and early 1990s is defined by the work of Canadian writer/artist Todd McFarlane, who would later go on to create Spawn and co-found Image Comics and McFarlane Toys. In 1990, McFarlane was such a popular artist at Marvel Comics that he got to write and draw his own title simply called Spider-Man. The first issue of the title sold 2.5 million copies, as McFarlane attempted to marry the hardboiled narration and grim cityscapes of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns with his personal interest in horror stories. What follows is an intense, style over substance, and “edgy” story called “Torment,” where McFarlane tells of Spider-Man tracking down one of his old villains, Lizard, who has become a beastly serial killer manipulated by Calypso, a mysterious sorceress. Also, Mary Jane Watson-Parker hits the club while this is going on.
Even if the storyline drags on for an issue too many, McFarlane’s artwork has a unique style to it. There’s also no real resolution to the plot, and it’s more of a “dark night of the soul” mood piece showing what Spider-Man’s life would be like if he was separated from his friends and family. It’s obvious that McFarlane hates drawing human beings, but loves monsters and cool architecture, so he spends most of the time showing Lizard stalk the streets of New York like a reptilian killer in a slasher flick. There is a retelling of his origin about midway through the arc, but there is no trace of Curt Connors, or any kind of humanity, in the Lizard. McFarlane’s take on Spider-Man is more arachnid-like than that of his predecessors (except for Steve Ditko), so it’s fitting that “Torment” centers around a primal ritual conflict between two humans that have adopted the identity of or (in Lizard’s case) become animals. McFarlane’s art and rat-tat-tat captions bend and flow as Spider-Man is infected with Lizard’s poison. Any time Spidey uses his webs in combat or to swing around New York City with his big eyes popping is poster worthy, and he knows it.
If you want to know what comics were like in the 1990s without drowning yourself in bullshit X-Men or Youngblood continuity, “Torment” is worth taking a look at. It’s also just exciting to see Spider-Man transported from the sunny streets of New York and quip-filled battles with colorful supervillains to being dropped smack-dab into a New York City horror wasteland, caught up in a battle to survive after he spends Spider-Man #1 acting super confident in all aspects of his life. This edgefest pairs well with The Crow soundtrack if you want a double dose of 90s dark superhero nostalgia. Todd McFarlane definitely succeeds at putting his personal stamp on an iconic character that often defaults to a “house” style.
8. Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5 (2005)
Dan Slott has been the lead writer on Spider-Man’s flagship title, Amazing Spider-Man, since 2008, but arguably some of his best work with the webslinger came in this fun miniseries that focused on the relationship between Marvel’s first two teen heroes, Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Each issue is drawn by Ty Templeton (Batman Adventures), with help from inkers Drew Geraci, Nelson, Tom Palmer, and Greg Adams, who do an excellent job pulling off the different art styles of Marvel Comics, including the work of Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby and Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko. Each issue is set in different time period for the characters, and it’s fun seeing Spider-Man going from being a student in high school to actually teaching it, while Human Torch hasn’t gained a single ounce of responsibility to go with his great power.
Spider-Man/Human Torch has its serious moments, like when Spider-Man is dealing with the death of Gwen Stacy, but it’s flat-out funny too. The characters are in on the joke, like when Spider-Man busts out laughing when he faces Paste Pot Pete, who was Human Torch’s nemesis in his not-very-high-selling solo series that came out in the 1960s, or when Torch cracks wise about a lot of Spidey’s rogues being senior citizens, like the seriously decrepit Vulture. If you’ve flipped through old comics from the 1970s, Spider-Man/Human Torch #3 is a heck of a hoot, with a plot centered around the Spider-Mobile and Hostess fruit pie ads that ends with Spider-Man and Torch being utter trolls and doing donuts on the side of the Daily Bugle. As the series progresses, Spider-Man and Human Torch go from laughing at each other to laughing together, although the practical jokes persist into adulthood. Who can resist the old web or flame on the hand trick?
Spider-Man/Human Torch is a fun way to learn about the history of Spider-Man and Marvel Comics in general without digging through hundreds of old back issues or Wiki summaries. Each issue has a thrilling action plot, from stopping Cold War super apes from sabotaging Mr. Fantastic’s lab, to helping Black Cat pull off a tenderhearted heist to get her dad’s lucky lockpick back, and there’s plenty of banter between Human Torch/Johnny Storm, Spider-Man, Peter Parker (who is usually in the background as a photographer), and their supporting casts, including Human Torch’s legion of girlfriends (I totally forgot he dated She-Hulk for a while in the 1980s). With a winning sense of humor and clean, expressive art, Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and company turn decades of Marvel continuity into a tasty comic book treat and a heartwarming story about how friendships develop as people age. It also might make you miss the Fantastic Four comics…
7. “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)
One thing that makes Spider-Man such an endearing superhero is his underdog status. He might have the proportional strength and speed of a spider, as well as genius intellect, but Spider-Man has money problems, constantly gets his ass handed to him by supervillains, and can barely hold down a job. In other words, he’s a lot more relatable than a guy who dresses up like a rodent and has a butler. A classic story that shows Spider-Man’s determination in the face of unbeatable odds is the two-parter “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from writer Roger Stern, artists John Romita Jr and Jim Mooney, and colorist Glynis Wein. In the comic, the Juggernaut and his accomplice, Black Tom Cassidy, are looking to forcibly add the psychic, clairvoyant Spider-Man supporting character Madame Web to their criminal gang. Because all the other superheroes are otherwise occupied, Spidey is the only one standing between and the total destruction of New York City.
“Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” is basically a fight comic with a few simmering Daily Bugle subplots to keep the story down to Earth (Peter Parker has a rival photographer named Lance Bannon who is stealing his assignments, and is quite the misogynistic douche). Romita Jr, who would later draw the universe-shaking World War Hulk, excels at showing the sheer extent of destruction that the Juggernaut wreaks on New York. Three-ton wrecking balls, old collapsing buildings, and even a gas tanker truck are no match for the Juggernaut, who snaps Spider-Man’s webbing like it’s flimsy string. Until the final few pages, where he happens upon an ingenious solution to finally defeat the Juggernaut without the help of a last-minute Professor X psychic blast, Stern, Romita Jr, and Mooney put Spidey on the defensive, which is just good for drama.
If Home Alone were a superhero movie, it would be “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” although Spider-Man has a sense of responsibility to go with his traps and jokes. The comic is the triumph of creativity and heart over brute force, and Spider-Man’s everyman nature is on full display as he quickly runs to the Daily Bugle to get a voucher for some photos after being brutally beaten by an unstoppable villain. Roger Stern easily balances Spider-Man’s life in and out of costume, while John Romita Jr is a true master of making disaster movie-type situations personal, so this story holds up 30+ years later. Plus, there’s the general novelty factor of seeing one hero defeat a villain that the whole X-Men lineup could barely beat.
6. “Confessions” from Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)
As I mentioned earlier, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man series is the gold standard for Spider-Man comics, but if you only have time to read one Ultimate Spider-Man, it should be this standalone story that single-handedly sold me on the romantic pairing of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson after Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst had less than searing chemistry in the Spider-Man films. In this issue, Peter tells Mary-Jane, who is his best friend and soon-to-be girlfriend, that he’s Spider-Man, and also that he has feelings for her. It’s more of a slice of life story than a superhero one, filled with awkward teenage dialogue and facial expressions (the comic gets even more awkward when Aunt May almost gives Peter “the sex talk”), but there is also the pure joy on Mary-Jane’s face when she realizes that her friend is a freaking superhero. Sure, the Daily Bugle doesn’t like him, but wouldn’t it be exciting if someone close to you could cling to walls, swing from building to building, and avoid rush hour traffic in New York?
I really like Bendis and Bagley’s approach to Spider-Man’s dual identity in “Confessions.” As Peter says in this issue, he wears the mask so that Aunt May and his friends aren’t targeted by his enemies, and so that he isn’t nabbed by the U.S. government as an experimental super soldier or something. He wants to help everyday people in his own way. However, being a teenager is tough enough without compounding it by keeping such a great secret from everyone, so it makes sense that he would confide in someone he cares about. Mary-Jane is totally okay with him being Spider-Man, and is happy that he is upfront with her after bailing on a date with her for secret superhero reasons. There is a real honesty and self-awareness to Bendis’ writing, and he definitely cares about Peter Parker the person just as much as Spider-Man the hero. He also relaxes the quips a little bit and uses silent panels and beats to let Peter and Mary-Jane process this big moment in their lives.
Ultimate Spider-Man #13 is one of the finest pieces of character-driven superhero writing, and the entire plot is Peter Parker having a conversation with Mary-Jane, then Aunt May. It’s a shining example that Spider-Man is at his best when his stories have some slice of life to go with the webslinging and supervillain fights. Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t just a great teen superhero comic – it’s a damn good teen romance book too, and Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary-Jane as a friend and/or girlfriend throughout the series is often more exciting than his fights against Doc Ock or the Green Goblin.
Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred
If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.
After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.
GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?
Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.
Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)
I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!
How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?
When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel.
Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?
I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel.
Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?
Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!
You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.
Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?
We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!
What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?
It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.
TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?
We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter.
What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?
I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling!
Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?
Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too.
Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons.
Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics?
If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together.
If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?
I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!
Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!
Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.
TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.
Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.
Artist Boya Sun Talks Teamwork in ‘5 Worlds’ and ‘Chasma Knights’
This year’s DesignerCon serves as another reminder of how much it’s grown. Originally called Vinyl Toy Network, it now includes a wide variety of art and design, with exhibiting booths for various kinds of 3D and 2D art like sculpture, plush toys, prints, clothing, and books. Among them was Boya Sun, one of the artists behind the 5 Worlds graphic novel series. Sun’s booth featured his work in the form of small sculptures, riso prints, enamel pins, stickers, zines, and copies of 5 Worlds, as well as a slim concept book for the graphic novel series.
While at his art-filled booth, Sun took the time to chat with Goomba Stomp about his work in comics and collaborating with others.
5-Way Collaboration in 5 Worlds
Starting 5 Worlds after graduation, Sun feels that working on the series has made him better at comics.
Described as a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars, 5 Worlds follows a star athlete, a boy from the slums, and a clumsy Sand Dancer Academy student while their worlds are plunged into peril.
“They have three books out right now,” Sun says. He adds that the series will contain five books in total.
With five impending volumes in a series called 5 Worlds, it’s fitting that the main creative team behind it is a 5-person band: Sun, his fellow artists (and former classmates) Xanthe Bouma and Matt Rockefeller, and writers Alexis and Mark Siegel.
Sun shares that 5 Worlds started with the Siegel siblings, recounting how they were looking for illustrators. They ultimately found Bouma, Rockefeller, and Sun, and then sent them the story bible.
Describing their working relationship as a “5-way collaboration” of artists and writers, Sun is grateful for the partnership.
“It takes the stress away,” Sun says. He explains that if he’s weaker in an area, his teammates can come and help.
Unifying the Art
Sun further explains the art process behind 5 Worlds. Since the series is rooted in fantasy and worldbuilding, he and the other artists start with a few months devoted to concept art and sketches that cover aspects like different planets and new costumes.
When designs are finalized, the art team splits the script evenly, and each of them gets a section to pencil.
“Our styles work pretty well with each other,” Sun says.
Sun also praises Rockefeller for inking all the pencil drawings, making them look “seamless” and more unified. Bouma and Sun handle coloring together.
While the concept art for 5 Worlds is often a mix of traditional and digital work, Sun says it’s different for pencilling, inking, and coloring.
“The final production’s all digital,” he says. Sun adds that making a 5 Worlds book can take about 9-10 months. The team tries to create one book per year.
Refining Ideas on Chasma Knights
Sun worked on another graphic novel with a smaller team: just him and writer Kate Reed Petty. Together they made Chasma Knights, a tale about living toys that can fuse with people and grant them new powers.
For Chasma Knights, it started with Sun. He had the original idea, and tried to develop it for a TV show or a book. But at the time, Sun was busy with other projects, and he felt less experienced with writing.
Mark Siegel, also founding editorial and creative director of First Second Books, helped Sun with early development on Chasma Knights. Sun says that since they already had a working relationship through their collaboration on 5 Worlds, Mark Siegel was interested in more of his projects. (Sun remarks that while working on 5 Worlds can be time-consuming, it isn’t a full-time assignment, and he can do other projects too.) Mark Siegel ended up connecting Sun with Petty for help on writing Chasma Knights, and later First Second published it. (5 Worlds is published by Penguin Random House.)
“She was very receptive of my ideas in the collaboration,” says Sun when recalling his partnership with Petty. He adds that Chasma Knights had topics that interested both of them.
Working with a writer like Petty had been enjoyable for Sun. He says that he presented his ideas to her, and she “took them, digested them.” When he had been on his own, he found it hard to narrow down ideas. In contrast, Sun found it helpful to talk things through with a writer.
Although they finalized the plot together, Sun says much of the world of Chasma Knights was invented after the scripting stage, when it was time for him to illustrate it.
While Petty hinted on her website that she has a new project with First Second, Sun shares that he’s developing a pitch for a graphic novel that he intends to write and illustrate by himself. Of course, this is going on while he continues to work on 5 Worlds. Sun says that the fourth book of the series will launch in May 2020.
A Lost Comic?: Remembering Emily Carroll’s ‘Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter’
The internet has the potential to be an archive for a phenomenal amount of information and creativity from countless people who share their work. But it’s not an automatically foolproof archive. Take for instance the poignant short webcomic Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter by Eisner-winning author-illustrator Emily Carroll, now missing from her website without comment.
It’s unfortunate, and raises questions. One possibility is that it no longer fit the tone of Carroll’s growing portfolio. She has always been renowned for her horror comics. Her chillingly imaginative His Face All Red put her on the digital map in 2010, grabbing the internet’s attention. She entered traditional publishing with her horror anthology Through the Woods and When I Arrived at the Castle. In contrast, Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter doesn’t terrify; it doesn’t even creep you out a little. It sticks out of Carroll’s horror portfolio as an innocuous anomaly. Without it, her body of work becomes more apparent in its bloodcurdling intent.
But part of the unique appeal of Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter stemmed from the fact that it was so different from the rest of Carroll’s work. It was fascinating to see her art in a softer context. Her line work soothed instead of horrified. This short webcomic was ultimately a charming love story with fairy tale overtones.
It starts with the goddess Anu-Anulan in love with the silver hair of a mortal woman, Yir’s daughter. Anu-Anulan shapeshifts into three different disguises — a crow, a child, and a warrior — to trick Yir’s daughter into giving up each braid of her hair. But when the goddess has them all, she realizes it wasn’t the hair she loved. Without a disguise and finally as herself, Anu-Anulan meets Yir’s daughter, whose name is Yorenn. The goddess shows Yorenn that she has made the moon out of her silver hair. In the end, the mortal woman reciprocates Anu-Anulan’s love, and they live a full life together.
Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter had the rhythm, philosophy, logic, and language of a fairy tale. It even had repeating lines that were thematically reversed toward the end. But it was also a fairy tale that told a new story with nuance and deeper characterization. How the goddess realized her true feelings for Yorenn was approached with thoughtful and subtle execution, deftly moving from playful whimsy to a dawning self-awareness of a more down-to-earth love. There was a tender montage of the couple living a normal life, celebrating the small moments that build and maintain a relationship.
“I wanted to show that they ended up in love, but that love needed to include moments that were both mundane as well as passionate—and simply showing a panel of them old together at the end wasn’t enough,” Carroll told The Comics Journal in a 2011 interview when discussing Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter. “And I also wanted to show that it’s not just a single sweeping romantic gesture that makes a love story, it’s also the everyday moments (like having a meal, or taking a walk, or just having a laugh together) that can mean just as much.”
Besides Carroll’s interesting discussion of Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter in The Comics Journal, other snippets of it fortunately still exist. There are screenshots of some scenes on old blog posts that recommend it. It’s part of a TV Tropes page about Carroll, and it’s included in a scholarly article from the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics. There’s even a YouTube video that almost preserves the comic in its entirety, only lacking the very last part. These traces are also a sign of the impact that Carroll’s fairy tale romance left behind, ranging from suggestions for a good story to academic study.
Although Carroll is a master at crafting horror in comics, she also produced one of the best love stories with Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter. She packed so much meaningful storytelling and heartfelt emotion in a succinct and elegantly drawn tale. The whole thing felt like a snapshot of fairy tale logic meeting raw emotion, which then forged a new balance between each other. This short comic held the mythic quality of a goddess and a mortal falling in love, and then contrasted it with the domestic flow of their relationship in practice. Whether or not it will ever resurface in its original form, Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter persists as a fond memory.
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