When one thinks of mystic story weaving, a talking crow may not be the first narrator that comes to mind. In Caitlin Kiernan’s newest graphic novel “Alabaster: The Grimmer Tales,” this is just the case. The three-chapter novel offers a story including mystery, adventure and suspense, all within brightly animated boxes.
The first chapter “The Mermaid of Black Hammock” opens with a talking crow telling a story to a boxcar full of oddly humanistic looking rodents. The unnamed crow recounts a tale of a girl named Dancy Flammarion and her journey to Florida for some unspoken mission. Along her way, Dancy is accompanied by a strange ghost who acts as a sort of sidekick throughout the story. After stopping in a strange town called Black Hammock, which is rich with sea-themed monuments, Flammarion becomes pugnaciously involved with a mysterious woman who attempts to hinder her travels with bribery and violent harassment. The crow reveals that the waters of Black Hammock birthed the strange woman, who made a dangerous deal with a sea witch to change from siren to human in a barbaric ritual. With some struggle, Dancy manages to defend herself against the siren in a twist of fate.
The second chapter “Blackbird” opens with a change in scenery; a single astronaut working to man a large ship. After pleading over a radio system to an unresponsive “Oma,” she lands on a mysterious planet with talking animals and debris from a ship similar to hers. The girl is revealed to be Flammarion, who is trapped in a bizarre alternate-universe version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” After struggling through an encounter with a white wolf and a technical difficulty, Flammarion reboots the system, and shakes off the mysteriously familiar holographic figure hanging over her shoulder.
The third and final chapter “White As Snow” weaves the feathered story-teller into the plot, as he reconnects with the ghost from the first chapter who is now in human form. The siren from the first chapter also makes an appearance and a bizarre murder-suicide follows, but not in a predictable fashion. The view pans out to show the narrator finishing his tale to a now-empty car, and flying off, bringing the book to a close.
The pieces of “The Grimmer Tales” are crafted with obvious care, but unfortunately the story-telling leaves much to be desired. In conjunction with the beautiful illustrations, the development of the plot was mostly implied, which makes the read difficult for new comic book readers. A message was never made quite clear throughout the story, and neither was a theme. The entire three-part tale sort of comes out of nowhere, with an unmistakable disjointed quality throughout.
The images were violent where needed, but never too over-the-top and gory. Every frame was aesthetically pleasing and consistently detailed, with a style reminiscent of more organic cartoons, rather than the classic superhero standby. Additionally, the creators included a playlist before each chapter informing the readers of what they had listened to while making that section of the book. That aspect was interesting, as the artists had a decently wide-spanning musical taste, which was obviously reflected in the obscurity of their work.
Overall, the comic was elusively entertaining in that I was never able to fully wrap my head around what exactly was happening. The general feelings were apparent in every few frames, but I enjoyed the journey despite the confusion and intangible plotlines.
If you’re looking for a read that truly makes you think, while also supplying brightly colored visuals, “Alabaster: The Grimmer Tales” is the book for you. However, if you are unfamiliar with comic books, this might be a bit of an advanced place to start.