Dark and twisted fairy tales have seen resurgence over the past few years with films like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and TV shows like Grimm. Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose’s “Porcelain: A Gothic Fairy Tale” fits with the trend. But what’s most enticing about this graphic novel is how the creators build their own gothic fairy tale from the ground up rather than re-imagining a classic. Read and Wildgoose craft a world that, while limited, has is no shortage of magic. “Porcelain” captures the essence and wonder that is often found in the best children’s stories, while managing to add a sufficiently dark undertone that comes to a head in the final pages.
WRITTEN BY: Benjamin Read
ART BY: Chris Wildgoose
COLOURS: Andre May
PUBLISHER: Improper Books
Porcelain borrows conventions that you’ll recognize from the many Disney flicks and storybooks you encountered as a child, but adds the gloomy sensibilities of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Read sets the tone right off the bat, bringing you into the misfortunate world of a group of street children who are looking to break into the porcelain maker’s estate to swipe some riches. The bravest street urchin makes her way over the massive stonewall and falls headfirst into a world that is far more enchanting than she could ever have imagined. Naturally, the mansion holds some sinister secrets.
Once inside, she meets the “wizard”, an alchemist who brings his porcelain creations to life. Despite our orphan’s initial dishonorable intentions, the burly inventor takes her in as his own, becoming her “uncle”. Although this set up may be familiar, it’s what comes after the initial set up that gives “Porcelain” its originality.
About halfway through the tale, Read pulls the rug out from under your feet, revealing just how creepy these magnificent white porcelain creatures truly are. When they begin to sing and beg for the orphan’s friendship, the story morphs into something else entirely, earning its title as a “Gothic Fairy Tale”. Read’s vision comes to life after the midpoint as the darkness comes out of the woodworks. When the Orphan stumbles into the one room that she was forbidden to enter, she realizes that there is far more to these porcelain creatures than their beautiful white shells.
The final act is by far the most interesting, but it’s also the most problematic. Read has a great magical twist that really adds to the story, yet it is left in the shadows, and never fully explored. Some of the elements of magic go unexplained, and it’s hard to tell if it’s because the creators want to maintain an air of mystery, or if they just don’t fully understand it themselves. The crux of the story lies on the secret seals and paints that hold the porcelain figures together, but, unfortunately, these secret powers are not expounded upon.
The repetitive nature of the dialogue becomes cumbersome in the final act as well. I understand Read is trying to stay true to fairy tales with his repetition of words and phrases, but the amount of times the inventor repeats the word, “child” becomes distracting.
As with all fairy tales, there’s a morality lesson buried beneath the surface. Read does a good job of not preaching, while still getting a message across through character and plot design. As the book continues, the story comes full circle and the orphan has to deal with the consequences of her rash decisions and the betrayal of Uncle.
Chris Wildgoose’s art is fantastic and it carries the book from beginning to end. He captures the mood and essence of the scary, yet elegant world in a matter of panels. His creature designs are as gorgeous as they are creepy. Most astonishing are his extravagant backgrounds. Every single panel brings you to a new place in the porcelain maker’s grandiose estate, making the limited setting feel expansive and tangible. Wildgoose captures the essence of innocence with the orphan, but juxtaposes it with the underlying gloom of the mansion. Wildgoose is a great graphic storyteller and I wish some of the panels were less dialogue-heavy so the art could shine through.
This is a book filled with a passion for fairy tales. While the storytelling is a bit rough around the edges at parts, it does not take away from the world or the tone of the graphic novel. “Porcelain” is a tale straight from the heart of two creators who have a fondness for dark fantasy worlds. Read and Wildgoose successfully bring together delight and dismay for an enchanting, yet tragic tale.