Using the entire original text of the short story, Colleen Doran has adapted Neil Gaiman’s haunting short story “Snow, Glass, Apples” as a graphic novel, with the horrific retelling of the classic tale of Snow White being brought to life by Doran’s unbelievable illustrations.
I was extremely excited to check this one out, but I should mention something up front: Neil Gaiman is my favorite author of all time, but the short story that this graphic novel adapts never quite landed for me in the way it does here. Much of this is due to the long game the story plays, teasing out its classical inspiration before laying it all out in the terrifying closing moments. That’s not to say I don’t care for the story; I think it’s brilliant. This adaptation just makes the strongest bits even better with artwork that is simultaneously gorgeous and gut-wrenching.
However, in the visual medium of comics, this story has found more room to breathe, taking the reader along for a gorgeous and frightening ride. Much as she did with her adaptation of Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge,” Doran’s visuals lend an even more otherworldly feel to the fantastical story. Elements that are touched on briefly or merely hinted at through the text become plain to see: the dwarves are now misshapen familiar to the vampiric princess, the prince has a terrible appetite that no living woman can satisfy, the Queen is fair and just, but falls victim to how easily lies can become legend.
There are also interesting uses of space throughout the illustrations. The castle is always depicted as vast and opulent, with massive interior rooms and gorgeous architecture, yet the Queen is always seen somewhere in the middle of these rooms or off to the side, never quite feeling as though she belongs there. Even in the end, as she’s huddled in the middle of a giant pit, she always seems somewhat apart from everything else in subtle ways. She’s isolated from her inherited kingdom and her subjects, who will eventually come to see her as the cold manipulator of folktales.
The placement of each box of text is perfectly calculated, taking us through the flowing illustrations and pages without clearly-defined panels with ease. It’s the perfect marriage of visuals and narrative, allowing the illustrations to spill into one another without ever seeming messy or contradictory.
The ultimate result is an adaptation that somehow manages to flesh out the original story without adding any text. It retains the original tale’s ambiguity and tone, while still delivering a satisfying book that enriches the source material. Plenty of stories have done the “classic fairy tale with a dark twist” angle, but few do it so splendidly. The final pages will stay with you for a while.
Also included in the book is a wonderful series of early illustrations and concept art for the piece, as well as several examples of Doran’s creative process. We get to see the different stages of putting the book together, from rough sketch to lushly colored final product, as well as Doran’s thoughts on translating the story to a visual medium.
It’s interesting to see how she puzzled through some of the more adult aspects of the book, wondering how much to show and how to properly sell the more horrific moments without coming across as being too over the top. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain that will be of interest to anyone immediately after reading the main story.