Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Vol. 1:
Once Upon a Time

by Serena Valentino, FSc
(Slave Labor, 2005)

It would be easy to recommend Nightmares & Fairy Tales for the art alone. Truly glorious black-and-white throws dramatic scenes into high relief as atmospheric grey washes bleed down stretched alleys and through skewed doorways. Characters boldly sacrifice their realism for emotional resonance. A woman's neck may stretch out farther than her ribcage, or a child's round head might rest squarely on her sloping shoulders, while ribbon and hairstyles swirl around in art nouveau glories. Characters already drawn to distortion are further deformed in every panel for horrific or comic effect with no respect for the laws of anatomy or their own bodies.

Twisted as they sometimes become, none of FSc's strange beauties ever loses their distinctive appearance. Moving between medieval castles and modern streets as their tale requires, FSc's pictures form a delirious dreamworld around the hapless stars of Nightmares & Fairy Tales.

But there are tales here, spoken through the haunted soul of the doll Annabelle at the behest of writer Serena Valentino. There are some familiar stories, like a certain put-upon housemaid with socially climbing stepsisters, and a beautiful young girl made the unwitting competitor with her stepmother's beauty. These old stories follow their set patterns enough to be recognizable, but break free in the most important ways. More intriguing are the new tales, of possessive vampires and bleak charity wards, that peek through the comforting land of fairy tales. All are watched by the unbreakable stare of Annabelle, trapped in the sad role of powerless guardian over each of the girls she meets. Hers may be the most disturbing story of all, with no flourish to mark her beginning and the end of her tales hopefully far away.

Bleak and beautiful, Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Vol. 1: Once Upon a Time delivers its haunted stories with a rare synthesis of art and writing, wrapping a long night's dreaming in the confines of one neat trade paperback.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 20 August 2005

Buy it from