THE BOOK OF BALLADS

Charles Vess, Author, Neil Gaiman, With, Sharyn McCrumb, With
Charles Vess, Author, Neil Gaiman, With, Sharyn McCrumb, With with Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Sharyn McCrumb et al. Tor $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7653-1214-3
Reviewed on: 11/29/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-7653-1215-0
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Ballads were little known to the literate world until the 18th century, when scholars began writing them down. Since then, they've received attention from folklorists, folksingers and, now, cartoonist Vess (Stardust ; Rose ). Vess and his collaborators put a little meat on the ballads' often bare-bones stories, adding fantastic elements not in the originals ("Barbara Allen"), giving them modern settings ("Twa Corbies"), sexing them up ("Savoy") and otherwise putting their own mark on them. Vess approaches them with an appropriately elegant style. His exquisitely detailed art delightfully recalls the Pre-Raphaelites here, Aubrey Beardsley there and elsewhere Winsor McCay or Gustave Doré. The best stories involve passion, whether celebrated ("King Henry" and "Savoy") or cautioned against ("The Demon Lover" and "The Three Lovers"), though even the least effective stories are still beautiful. "The Three Lovers" is especially noteworthy; in it, Vess makes clever, subversive use of comics language, presenting a story that pretends to be a play (complete with proscenium arch). "Tam Lin" may be the collection's consummate piece. In it, Vess goes for straight illustration, with each illustrated page facing a page of verse. Here Vess reaches the peak of his art, standing proudly with the 19th- and early 20th-century illustrators who influence him. (Dec.)

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