Review by Frank Plowright
Given that the earlier books in this series adapting fairy tales featured dragons, fairies, giants and witches, it would seem the creators contributing to Sirens had to search more diligently for their source material. Archaia have stretched the boundaries for the theme, but again present four excellent artists largely unknown to the comic reading public.
More so than any other story in the series to date ‘The Mermaid and the Fisherman’ has a tragic melancholy at its heart. It’s also the first to have a writer, Bartosz Syztybor, separate from an artist, Jakub Rebelka, but such is their synthesis you’d never know if both weren’t credited. Syztybor takes the interesting route of drawing exact parallels between the Storyteller and his dog, and the tale he’s telling, which is a morality fable about never being content with what you have. Rebelka’s cartooning conveys the strong emotions all the way to a great ending.
The ancient Chinese fairy tale adapted by Chan Chau may have also been the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s original origin as being shaped from the clay of the Earth. Here the shape changing Nuwa is creator of all humanity in a bid to ease her loneliness. It’s an interesting view of human frailty, but one considerably removed from the theme of Sirens. The art is simple cartooning, and very effective, while also maintaining a Far Eastern look. Despite that, among an exceptionally strong selection this is the weakest story due to the distanced approach, the emotional connection with Nuwa never strong.
Sarah Webb’s superb drawings have the look of book illustration about them, with charming children and a lovely depiction of seaside conditions where the danger can appear rapidly and without warning. With the moral of the story introduced by the Storyteller at the start, there is some predictability about how ‘One Spared to the Sea’ plays out, but Webb ensures it doesn’t conform entirely to expectation by the convincing introduction of childhood fears. The ending is nicely understated, explained visually, and very satisfying.
Aud Koch’s inspiration is the Germanic legend of Lorelei, the mysterious woman who sings by the riverside and gives beautiful gold rings to some Rhine fishermen. While many people may know Lorelei’s name, far fewer know her actual story, which Koch supplies confidently, applying a variety of artistic techniques. He incorporates beautifully composed ornate portraits, scratchy landscapes, abstractions, simple cartooning and storytelling montages, and by restricting the colours to a washed out blue and orange he gives a unique atmosphere. Lorelei’s is a far more disturbing story than it first seems, but Aud’s artistic subtlety throughout ensures this isn’t explicit.
The Jim Henson’s Storyteller collections are all artistic treats for anyone able to appreciate a broad range of styles, but even within that company Sirens stands out as having an outstanding selection of art. Additionally three of the four stories are excellent, and the second only downgraded by virtue of the company, certainly not poor. Five volumes in, and this is the best Jim Henson’s Storyteller to date.