I’ve long been fond of old myths and fables and non-Disney adaptations of them. Thus when I come across a comic that has the feel of the fables of old, I quickly devour them. Saijiki Stories (comprised of Autumnside and its sequel Winterside) is one such mythic adaptation, taking elements of various myths (such as myths on why crows are black and the various legends about wolves) and mixing them into a new venue that in some ways creates a new myth for future generations. Nor does cartoonist Leanne Opaskar just rehash old stories; instead, Saijiki Stories takes familiar elements and weaves them into entirely new tales.
The first chapter of Saijiki Stories, Autumnside, is your basic adventure quest. It tells the tale of a young girl named Mala and her pumpkin-headed companion Jack Bales who have come across a glowing floating rock. After bringing the stone home to Mala’s mother, who doesn’t know what it is, she and Jack go off on a quest to discover what this stone is. The story follows a classic three-part format, with Mala facing three trials and encountering an antagonist (who seeks to stone for itself) three times as well. The conclusion of Autumnside is very reminiscent of several myths I’ve read (and which I won’t spoil for new readers) and wraps up nicely.
The second chapter of Saijiki Stories, Winterside, continues along the same venue as Autumnside. It continues Mala’s adventures, and several characters from Autumnside appear in the new story. Interestingly, Mala’s companion for Winterside is the Crow Paradigm Karasu, partly because Jack (being a sentient mobile vegetable) can’t go outside during the winter. Instead of a floating glowing rock, the quest this time about is finding the witch Baba Yaga (of Slavic folklore), who has been causing the winter to be especially harsh. Much as before, the story has three trials for Mala; to find Baba Yaga’s three lodgers (though the first has not yet been found at this time).
Saijiki Stories remains a fairly stylized story, using a classic frame storytelling structure. Despite the predictability of its primary plot structure, the imagination behind the retelling of classic myths and folklore and the characters themselves help keep the comic from becoming cliché. The art may be simplistic compared to some older comics, but the simplicity works within the mythic framework of the story. The only real flaw (if you can call it one) is the pacing of the story; I found the archives to be slow in places, and some readers may find the slow pace annoying when they finish the archives and start waiting for updates. But these are relatively minor aspects to a comic that shows considerable imagination and is a refreshing break from the Tolkienesque fantasies and the multitudes of dramatic fiction out on the web.