Differences Between Snow White and Its Graphic Novel

The Graphic novel we have chosen is Snow White by Matt Phelan. Matt Phelan tries to incorporate modern society into the fairytale adaptation to appeal to modern readers and convey more realistic ideas. Through this he is able show the effects materialistic intentions have on society compared to the original Snow White which criticised humans extreme infatuations with looks and beauty.

Snow White by Matt Phelan was published in 2016 and is based around a young girl named Samantha White who is the beloved daughter of a wealthy wall street financier. She is given the nickname “Snow” by her late mother who passed away due to an unknown illness. Ten years later, her father remarries a Broadway phenomenon flapper. But when her father dies under ominous circumstances she returns from boarding school, to which she was sent by her stepmother. In her return, she receives a bountiful inheritance, which her stepmother longs to get her hands on. Blinded by rage the stepmother calls in a favour from her former stage hand to murder snow which he can’t bring himself to do. Snow who gets lost in Hooverville is encountered by the seven, a group of diverse street kids who take her in. Step mother disguises as a witch and gives snow a poison apple which she bites and faints. The NYPD investigates and a detective falls in love and kisses her, waking her up from the stepmother's spell. Set in 1928 during the Great Depression era in New York City Manhattan, Phelan constructs the graphic novel as a re-imagining of the classic fairy tale snow white but set in a different context, spanning the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.

The original Snow White, written in 1937 by the Grimm brothers revolves around vain stepmother jealous of her stepdaughters beauty , the wicked queen orders the murder of the young snow white. The huntsman can’t bring himself to kill and warns Snow about her evil stepmother so she takes refuge in a forest, hiding in a small cottage with 7 dwarfs. The queen arrives at the cottage disguised as an old peddler woman and persuades Snow White to bite into a poisoned apple, who then falls into a death-like sleep that can only be broken from love’s first kiss by the prince.

The original version of Snow White is heavily reliant on magic and fantasy where Phelan shifts the tale into a realistic and historical setting without compromising the main ideas of materialism, wealth, power and family. Phelan's illustrations through pencil, ink and watercolor portrays the adaption of the classic fairytale in Cinematic noir. Film noir is a style of American filmmaking that was prominent in the early 1920’s which is distinguished by seedy settings, shadowy lighting and a fatalistic tone. Phelan uses these cinematic elements and tropes to further adapt to the context. Characters in film noir are expressed with specific characteristics. A standard character in this text is the stepmother, the femme fatale. A desirable, hostile woman with suspicious or uncertain loyalties. Her persona often has shades of gray, such as a dark past or moral ambiguity. Most film noir locations take places in New York city. The city is presented as both a glamourous surface through the Ziegfeld Follies on broadway and squalid underbelly.

The setting in NYC is a sense of originality from Phelan Unlike in the Snow White fairy-tale ,which is set in a fantasy-like location with kingdoms and forests with dwarfs. Phelan takes advantage of the use of images along with minimal use of words. This leaves the progression of characters and events in the novel mainly up to the interpretation of the reader. He uses the setting as an opportunity to trap the time period and portraying contextual elements of clothing and lifestyle to add depth and nuance to the text.

The story is set in the winter time. Snow once says, “The snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful… The city is beautiful too it has its own magic” Through huge plate glass windows we see snow covered city tops, Central Park and with large daunting trees. Broadway theatres are full of glamour and lights and we see the poverty of Hooverville, burning of trash cans and Snow’s run from Mr Hunt through Central Park. It’s all authentic 1920’s New York which Phelan successfully represents.

Snow’s traditional glass coffin is replaced by the window of Macy’s which is an upscale American department store chain founded in 1858. The magic mirror is portrayed by ticker tape which is a device that shows stock symbols and numbers to convey information about trade. Fitting to the context as Snow’s father was a wealthy wall street employee, rather than the king of a kingdom. Phelan also uses costumes to indicate the time and society the novel was set in. In this frame, Snow is wearing a vintage frock dress that was predominantly worn by wealthy women in the 1920’s while the detective is wearing a suit. By including all these historical aspects into the text Phelan is able to help the reader get a better understanding of the story by exploring what was common at the time.

The graphic novel Snow White focuses on two main themes, Materialism and family. Just like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Phelan’s version of Snow White revolves around the theme of family and love. In both novels, Snow loses her mother and her father remarries a spiteful woman who wants to hurt Snow. When her father dies, she is left with no real family and is forced into hiding in order to save herself from her stepmother. Yet through the graphic novel the time period allows Phelan to be able to re-imagine some elements of the story in a new way, more appropriate to the context. For example, in the graphic novel, Snow encounters seven boys who, just like her, have no family instead of seven dwarfs. Even though they are somewhat reluctant to accept Snow at first, they eventually form a familial bond.

Phelan modifies the characters to fit in with the Depression era NYC setting and adds underlying themes such as child homelessness, to give the story more realistic and modern features. The protagonist, Snow, is shown as carefree and naive at the beginning of the novel. She is dressed in all white which shows her innocence and obliviousness to evil. Her characteristics do not differ significantly compared those possessed by snow white in the original version. Both of them have soft facial features and shown as beautiful women with kind hearts.

Phelan replaces the 7 dwarfs with a multicultural gang of orphaned boys. This provides a more complex storyline as Phelan incorporates global issues of youth homelessness. Portrayed by their ragged clothing, lack of space when sleeping and abandoned warehouse locations as shelter. Which is very familiar with the city during this period of pre great depression which gripped New York with poverty and desperation. , “you ain't around here, are you.?”

The Prince of the fairy-tale, who delivers the true love's kiss to wake snow white from the wicked spell her stepmother casts on her is instead represented by a NYPD detective. This gives the novel a modern twist and makes the story more realistic to contemporary readers. The detective also further adds elements of cinematic noir as a standard film noir often has a private eye or detective as these films often originated from the dark crime genre. The essence of detective and film noir conveys a mood of misery and menace.

Another prominent theme in the Graphic novel is materialism. Snow’s stepmother is a caricature of greed and materialism. Her actions are cornered on the greed for money and wealth. She was the star flapper of the ‘Ziegfeld Follies’ who then married Snow's father for his riches and assets. Flappers represented rebellious youth, who wore shorter skirts, bolder makeup and hailed materialism. They were the ultimate consumers. When Snow's father suddenly dies from an “illness” the stepmother expects his wealth would go to her and is bewildered and angered at the news the snow will receive three-quarters of his estate. Driven by her materialistic beliefs she plots to kill Snow and steal her inheritance. Unlike in the original snow white, where the evil stepmother has the motive to be the “fairest of them all”, Phelan adapts the story to fit a more modern and a money driven society. This allows readers to take a different meaning from this novel compared to the fairytale. This panel from the text shows the materialistic intentions that the stepmother has. Confused and angry facial expression of the stepmother compared to Snows sad facial expression: they contrast each other which shows the difference in relationship they had with snow's father - SM married him for his money and therefore is angered when she doesn’t get most of his wealth.

Phelan portrays the stepmother with features that are generalised as evil and associated with other common fairy-tale villains. She is drawn with sharp facial features that contrast with Snows. She has thin arched eyebrows and elongated salient eyes which are commonly used when depicting antagonists. Her hair is sharp and jagged while snow has soft curls, showing the stepmothers unnatural and artificial demeanour. The shading also adds to the stereotypical good and evil roles as the stepmother is shaded darker in comparison with Snow. Towards the end of the novel, when she disguises as a witch, her malevolence is highlighted through darker shading of her face and background.

A key element that Phelan uses to convey emotions is colour. Phelan uses colour to highlight key elements in the story. The beginning of the novel is filled with silent movies like vignettes. Moody gray sepia panels carry the story forward, punctured by splashes of red. Used strategically to add drama to the story. Watercolor illustrations break out of loose panel structuring; sharp lines and shadow heighten tension. From the butchered heart to the blood on Snow’s mother's Handkerchief and the bright red poisoned apple. These contrast with the dark monochrome background which pulls the reader's attention to it and shows its significance to the novel. The lack of colour at the start of the book and transition to colour reveals Snow overcoming her hardships and regaining her sense of belonging and family. The last scene is done entirely in warm, gentle full colours watercolours conveying tones of happiness as Snow, the detective and the seven are seen with faces of pure joy.

To conclude, Snow White the Graphic novel is a charming re-imagination of the classic fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Matt Phelan transplants the story to a Jazz age and Depression- era New York City by incorporating historical elements and themes with the minimal use of text and colours. The adaptation of context not only changes the characters themselves but also the focus of the novel. While the original fantasy story is focused on the obsession of beauty, the graphic novel is concerned with the materialistic intentions of individuals. Both novels highlight the presence of good and evil in society however the forms they are presented as differ in each context. 

07 July 2022
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