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Other Ever Afters makes fairy tales subversive, kind, and a whole lot weirder.

In others forever, Melanie Gillman’s new collection of graphic novel fairy tales queer people find happiness, community and kindness. It feels almost revolutionary, updating traditional fairy tale customs, using fantasy and folklore as a space to imagine something better than the familiar binary of good versus evil that often defines fairy tales as we know them today. . Beautifully illustrated and totally unique, Others always after feels like a heartfelt yet fun antidote to happily ever after regulars. As Gillman told Polygon in an interview to celebrate the book’s release, that’s exactly the point.

Others always after began its life in 2016, with a fairy tale created for the 24 Hours Comic Day, an annual shared collective challenge for comic creators. “The first time I did one, it was like a joke,” says Gillman. “There was a local group of cartoonists in Denver, where I was living at the time, and we were going to get together and do a 12-Hour Comic Book Day, which is essentially the same as 24-Hour Comic Book Day, but cut short. half, since we like to sleep and we don’t want our dolls to fall off”.

During the planning for that community meeting, Gillman began envisioning the first in her series of queer fairy tales, “The Fish Wife.” “I thought, I could do a 12 page comic in 12 hours! And I decided to make a little comic in the style of a fairy tale about a mermaid who falls in love with a depressed middle-aged peasant girl, and then they get married, and it’s great!

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four panels of

Image: Mel Gillman

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Gillman’s comic went viral in the comics communities, and not just because of the dark, memorable yet warm twist on the understanding of mermaid and monster fables. The way Gillman shared the story with his followers helped fuel the response. As with most 24-Hour Comics projects, Gillman posted the pages one at a time on Twitter, in a thread that allowed people to “watch live” as the story progressed. Gillman did not expect the great response from readers that he followed.

“People really liked the story a lot, and they also really enjoyed being able to see it update live over time,” says Gillman. “It’s like a condensed and very reduced webcomic. In any case, I got a very good answer. I was like, Oh hell, I’ll keep doing this, then!

Gillman’s queer fairy tales became something of a 24-Hour Comic Book Day tradition. “Every year, he would try to create a little romantic fairy tale comic, something he could do in a day or two. And he would post it live.”

the seeds of Others always after had been seeded, but the book wasn’t born until 2019 and the success of Gillman’s comic Hsthete. That story introduces readers to the titular Goat Goddess, the deity of mishaps. After a young woman seeks out Hsthete to break off her unwanted engagement, the Goat Goddess designs a new kind of happily ever after. It’s a perfect example of what makes Gillman’s imaginative stories so special. Hsthete caught the attention of Random House, which “slipped on [Gillman’s] DMs” and suggested creating a collection of new queer fairy tales.

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A block of four panels from the comic

Image: Mel Gillman

The idea aroused great enthusiasm in Gillman. “The idea of ​​turning it into a classic-style collection of fairy tales, the kind of thing you’d find on your grandmother’s bookshelf when you visit her, really appealed to me,” he says.

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So Others always after was born, collecting all four of Gillman’s original 24-Hour Comics Day stories and three entirely new ones that had “never been seen on the internet before.”

Gillman’s fairy tale comics have been published online (Gillman says they will continue to be available as web comics) and printed as fanzines, sold at conventions and shows. But they have never been available in book form. For Gillman, the new format offers more context and they can’t wait for readers to experience how the stories relate to each other when published together.

“I think the thematic connections between stories become much clearer when you can sit down and read them in one place,” they say. “I also thought a lot about the book’s introduction and conclusion, to illustrate some of the thematic concepts that tie the collection together as a whole.”

Those themes are at the core of what the stories do in Others always after very powerful. While Gillman was interested in creating fairy tales, they wanted those stories to be a space of compassion and escape, rather than traditional grim moral warnings. “Many fairy tales are cautionary tales,” they say. “I like it, Oh, here’s a character who did something bad and then got punished for it. I think as queer people, we already have a lot of that. Maybe it’s bad to be such a person. And maybe you should have made different choices. And now we’re going to read about the ways the universe punished you for your choices.

Gillman had no interest in berating comic book readers. “As a storyteller, he wanted to have a more compassionate slant in the way he was structuring these fairy tales, especially since they all focus on queer people and the relationships and communities that queer people build with each other,” he says.

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Four vignettes of

Image: Mel Gillman

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“So instead of punishing any of these characters for very understandable human wants and needs, I often tended to blame more on the social structures around them, to point to ways that the societies around them are failing them, or maybe they’re not structured in a way that allows them to thrive as queer people. They have the right not to be punished for their own needs and their own character flaws. And they have the right to go out and find better places for themselves.”

The search for the protagonists of a place where they belong and can prosper is key to many of the stories in Others always after. “I think one of the themes that connects a lot of these stories is not just a longing for queer romance and queer sexuality, but also a longing for queer community and a search for new ways of living in community that extend beyond of the family unit, or partners, or something like that,” says Gillman. “Looking for larger social landscapes that are supportive and beneficial to these characters. So yeah, overall, I’m just taking a much more compassionate look at these characters and their lives than you often see in a lot of fairy tales.”

Others always after is charming, but the stories also have the recognizable tropes and satisfying story logic that normally make fairy tales so engaging. The collection really does look like it could become a staple collection of fairy tales on readers’ shelves, alongside the volumes of the Brothers Grimm and their timeless tales.

Gillman can hardly contain his enthusiasm for that idea. “Oh God, that’s the dream right there,” they say. “I would love for some copies of these books to still be around decades from now and for people to find them on the shelves of their parents or grandparents. Every once in a while, when I walk into an old bookstore, I love to go to the shelf of the 20th century fairy tale collection. Perhaps one day my book will end up there in dusty old volumes, decades in the future. If that ends up happening, I would be very happy.”

The cover of Melanie Gillman's Other Ever Afters book, with a series of fairy tale characters in a montage around the title.

Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales

Prices taken at the time of publication.

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Once upon a time… happily ever after turned out differently than expected. In this new collection of queer, feminist fairy tales, you’ll find princesses, mermaids, knights, waitresses, children, and wise old ladies who have been forced to sit on the sidelines in classic stories taking center stage. A magnificent collection in graphic novel format from a Stonewall Honor-winning author and artist.

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