Gertrude is one sick, twisted, murderously-narcissistic individual.
But then the odds are pretty good that you would be too if you’d tumbled into the sugar-drenched delights of Fairyland, where fauns and Giggle Giants and sentient moons and stars romp, at the age of 6 and spent 30 years trying to get the hell back out, with the magic key that could make escape possible proving maddeningly elusive.
The demented, green-haired protagonist of Skottie Young’s deliciously-warped excursion into the suspect delights of wonderment and storytelling merrymaking, I Hate Fairyland, Gertrude has been sent loudly and viciously mad (no such thing in her lexicon of daily, spleen-venting fury) by an inability to find the key that will open the door that will take her back to her pink rug-adorned, plush animal scattered bedroom where at the tender age of 6 she wished she could be in Fairyland forever.
Be careful what you wish for huh Gertrude?
For now, Gertrude, ostensibly a “guest” in Fairyland, is a 37 year old trapped in a kid’s body, all violence, aggression and murderous intent who only wants to get home, a prospect complicated now by the fact that she doesn’t even know what home will be like.
Will she revert to being a 6 year old? Will she stay as she is in which watch out parents? Or will she, as seems increasingly likely, never get there at all, rendering all that fevered conjecture moot?
It’s enough to do anyone’s head, and Gertrude’s is well and truly done in and showing no signs of recovery any time soo, if ever, much to the dismay of her jaded Fairyland companion Larry Wentsworth III, who is bound to her until she finds her way home, and Queen Cloudia, the ruler of Fairyland who rightly views Gertrude’s psychopathic murderous rampages as a threat to Fairyland’s general candy-coloured bonhonie and bliss.
If this all sounds weirdly bleak and a tad too dark for you, Young manages to make it all hilarious, dementedly, fantastically funny.
So funny in fact that when you come across zombie fauns – yep it’s The Walking Dead meets cute pan-pipe playing half-human, half-goats and it’s brilliantly over the top twisted as you might expect – or cute pink teddy bear-like creatures ripped the hearts of our fearsome dragons, you can’t help but laugh out loud at the imaginative absurdity of it all.
What makes the take of a violent psychopathic 6 year old/not 6 year old so profoundly entertaining is the way Young perfectly balances out-and-out technicolour insanity with some good old fashioned heart and soul.
Not too much mind since this is a grand postmodern fairyale-subverting pic that rightly calls into question many of the sweeter-than-sweet qualities we have ascribed to Fairyland in the post-Disney era, many, if not all of which were not present in Grimm’s dark, all-too-real tales of life in more magical times.
In fact, in playing an epic game of subvert the hell out of fairytale tropes, writer/artist Young, ably assisted by colourist Nate Piekos, gleefully puts many of these squeaky clean “Wish upon a star” (too late – they’re all dead now) to a timely death, injecting some good old fashioned bleakness back into all those happy tales of fairies and lands made of icecream and sherbert and teddy bears gamboling along.
The world of I Hate Fairyland very much looks the part, with trippy, imaginative lands and colourful, garrulous creatures, but as Gertrude continues her blood-soaked path home, and even for a time sits upon the throne (how is best not revealed her but suffice to say it works out badly for our diminutive psychopath as most things do), you realise that beneath all that eye-searing colour and sugar-coated utopian idyll lies a dark, beating heart.
Could it be that it’s not only Gertrude who’s on the far side of reasonable, kind humanity but a whole lot of other, ostensibly lovely denizens of Fairyland? Could the good, luminously bright characters of Fairyland be the ones who corrupted the young girl in the first place?
It’s all a bit chicken and the egg but oh what fun Young has with his incredibly rich premise, taking us from cute to nasty to fluffy to a thousand kinds of cruel, often on the same page and always with winning, crowd-pleasing effect.
It may not be your grandmother’s idea of a fairytale, but there’s a fair bit you’re great-great-great-great grandmother would have totally got with the life is ferociously nasty/salutary lesson/humourous vibe of I Hate Fairyland.
The trick with any postmodern subversion of much-loved tropes is making it as entertaining as the original.
There’s no point in being clevely subversive if all you succeed in doing is being unremittingly bleak and negative; once your limited array of sniping jokes is depleted, people quickly turn away, repelled by what is essentially a thoroughly-disagreeable one trick parody pony.
Where I Hate Fairyland succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly, is the way it manages to make this alternate take on the fairytales we know and love, and many we don’t but wish we did, such a gloriously entertaining entity in its own right.
The depth and breadth of the various lands and characters in Fairyland is such that even when Gertude, in another of her murderous fits of pique, lays waste to this group of people or this picturesque village, you’re rapt with wonder and beguiled by the shared transportive colourful fun of it all.
Sure there’s a dark undercurrent, and not just when Gertrude is out and about, but all around is a world so lushly pretty and fairy floss beaitful that you can well understand why other kids like perpetually-upbeat Joy and dragon-garbed Duncan find falling into Fairyland, initially at least, as such a giddy departure from their earthbound realities.
In other words, Fairyland may be dark and flawed and more than a little broken, but it’s also freaking delightful, colourful and blissfully eye-appealing and that makes all the darkly subversive, bleakly twisted moments work like a charm.
It’s clear that Young’s masterful approach has struck a chord with the first issue attracting a 8.6/10 from 21 critics at Comic Book Roundup and subsequent issues selling every bit as strongly, with the third collection of Gertrude’s viciously comical adventure out this last week.
Not everyone will want their fairytales with a side order of bile and a banquet of death and mayhem, but if you’re willing to play with convention, all while gloriously embracing it in a wry and amusing way, you’ll find a great deal to love and laugh about I Hate Fairyland, the tale of one little girl, a place that has more going on than meets the gaudiness-assaulted eye and which is the perfect balance between who we are, who it might be fun to be and that awkward place in the middle where most of us end up, like it or not.