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Dossier thématique

Reimagining the Grimms’ Fairy Tales: New and Familiar Perspectives in Austrian Picturebook Illustration

Marlene Zöhrer

Résumé

Three case studies on the illustrations of Lisbeth Zwerger, Linda Wolfsgruber and Renate Habinger – as well as Michael Roher – show to what extent Austrian fairy tale illustration rediscovers the old and established, finds the familiar in the new and yet breaks with the iconographic tradition.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Vanessa Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed), (...)

1The number of fairy tales illustrated by Austrian artists is negligible compared with the popularity and the large number of illustrated editions of the Grimms’ fairy tales published in the German-speaking book market since the beginning of the 21st century. It seems that there are several different factors limiting Austrian production. To a certain extent, one could speculate about some sort of anxiety of influence on young artists, caused by the fact that Austrian illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger has been so frequently honoured internationally for her reimaginations and interpretations of fairy tales and other classics over the past 40 years. On the other hand, as noted by Vanessa Joosen, “various artists seem to feel challenged rather than put off by the abundance of former fairy tale editions”.1 In that respect, young illustrators might be highly motivated to create their own versions of the Grimms’ tales. More reasonable and significant than personal preferences or the reluctance or interests of illustrators, however, seems to be the book market and publishing scene itself. The comparatively small Austrian market is part of a much larger German-speaking sales market, which includes Germany, Switzerland and Austria. This means that readers can choose from the whole German-speaking production when looking for a picturebook edition of the Grimms’ fairy tales. Therefore, Austrian publishing houses compete with German publishers, as well as international publishing houses that have a long tradition of publishing fairy tales. Not only do Austrian artists – newcomers, as well as highly respected illustrators – have to find their place alongside Lisbeth Zwerger but also next to Binette Schroeder, Bernadette, Nikolaus Heidelbach, Sebastian Meschenmoser, Katrin Stangl, Susanne Janssen, Klaus Ensikat, and Janosch, to name but a few. Similarly, there is a large swathe of international artists to compete with, such as Adolfo Serra, Benjamin Lacombe, Gerda Muller, Kveta Pacovská or Shaun Tan, whose books have been translated or re-translated into German.

  • 2 For an overview that goes back further, see Katrin Riedl: in her essay, she compiles Austrian fairy (...)
  • 3 V. Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, op. cit., p. 475.
  • 4 On the German-speaking book market, newly illustrated reprints are much more common than rewritings

2Between 2000 and 2018, at least nine picturebooks with Austrian participation have been published, essentially showing two discrete ways of handling the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales.2 On the one hand, there are volumes that “reprint the entire text […], without any major cuts or revisions of style and content”.3 On the other, there are more-or-less innovative postmodern rewritings, as well as picturebooks, which play a kind of intertextual game with fairy tale motifs.4 As with artists from other countries, Austrian artists use both familiar and new ways of reimagining the Grimms’ fairy tales. Even though the number of Austrian Grimm picturebooks (i.e. those picturebooks on the German-speaking market that have been illustrated by Austrian artists) is small, interesting examples of a productive and illustrative approach to the Grimms’ tales can be found among these rare publications, as will be demonstrated in the following case studies.

Lisbeth Zwerger’s story of ambivalences

  • 5 J. K. Rowling, Die Märchen von Beedle dem Barden, illLisbeth Zwerger, transl. Klaus Fritz, Hambur (...)

3Not only is Lisbeth Zwerger one of Austria’s best-known and most popular illustrators; she is also one of the most internationally successful contemporary illustrators of children’s classics and fairy tales. Her work also includes tales from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and the recently published Die Märchen von Beedle dem Barden (The Tales of Beedle the Bard)5, based on the Harry Potter universe created by J. K. Rowling.

  • 6 See Silke Rabus, “Lisbeth Zwerger”, in Stiftung Illustration (ed.), Lexikon der Illustration im deu (...)

4Zwerger started to illustrate fairy tales in the late 1970s. Despite the fact that her artistic style and pictorial language has changed significantly over the years, she has maintained her characteristic way of handling stories and tales: a way of creating complex images for particular parts of the story.6 Within her illustrations, Zwerger offers a view of the narrated world that is always driven by apparent contradictions. Her paintings are delicate yet determined and unyielding, romantic yet pragmatically clear, enchanting yet realistic at the same time. As Silke Rabus points out, Zwerger:

  • 7 Silke Rabus, “Lisbeth Zwerger”, op. cit., p. 2 [translated by the author].

has never seen herself as a free artist, but always as an illustrator in the literal sense of the word […]. With incomparable grace and conciseness, [Zwerger] captures the magical nuances of the fantastic and dreamlike, the multi-layered mutes of her ambivalent heroes and virtuously stretches the scale between the beauty and the evil, the humorous and the tragic.7

5Zwerger places herself and her art at the service of the text in order to reveal its possibilities of interpretation, ambivalences and fields of tension as a means by which to make them visible to the viewer. These techniques are also apparent in the picturebook edition of Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Bremen Town Musicians), published by minedition in 2006. For her reimagining, Zwerger uses fine, detailed watercolour illustrations with soft, nearly dissolving outlines. This kind of colouring and design is typical of the artist’s current visual language and work.

Illustration 1: Book Cover of Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.

  • 8 V. Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, op. cit., p. 474.

6One of the most striking characteristics of Zwerger’s fairy tale illustrations is the fact that she breaks with the “iconographic continuity”.8 By focusing on different scenes, moments or aspects than her predecessors did, Zwerger consciously breaks with the established iconographic tradition of presenting the well-known tale of four ageing animals who outwit some dreadful robbers. Furthermore, of course, this new perspective on the narrated world is one element that makes her reimaginings unique. Zwerger’s illustrations of Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Bremen Town Musicians) accompany the slightly adapted tale, as published in 1857 within the Große Ausgabe der Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales: Large Edition); her work contains no anthropomorphised animals wearing clothes and playing instruments such as the guitar, trumpet, kettledrum or violin. Even if she does refer to this traditional iconographic idea within the last illustration of the picturebook by showing the instruments lying on the grass in front of the animals’ new home, Zwerger does not stretch the iconic image of the donkey, dog, cat and cockerel on the surface of the visual storyline. It is only the inner title page and the back cover that present a picture of the dog and cat playing the drums and kettledrums on the donkey’s back. Even here, however, Zwerger does not reproduce the well-known and sometimes kitschy iconography by quoting popular key scenes or visual clichés. She draws the animals in a stylised but realistic manner and does not use the image of the traditional “animal pyramid, as in the sculpture by Gerhard Marcks (1953) in front of the Bremen City Hall. On the contrary, the pyramid comprising donkey, dog, cat and cockerel is another element that Zwerger playfully adapts and undermines when she shows the different stacking attempts of the animals both in the visual narration and on the front and back covers.

Illustration 2: The Bremen Town Musicians looking for the right structure for their pyramid. Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.

  • 9 For a comprehensive overview of illustrations of the Grimms’ fairy tales, see Regina Freyberger, (...)

7Moreover, Zwerger’s robbers do not correspond to common clichés or iconographic fairy tale traditions, as established in the 19th century. Zwerger’s robbers are neither hook-nosed nor full-bearded, they do not look run-down or “shady”, and they do not wear pistols, guns, knives or swords as do those known from the pictures of George Cruikshank (1823), Oskar Herrfurth (about 1930), Fritz Kredel (1941), Klaus Ensikat (1995), Gerda Muller (2014) or Markus Lefrançois (2014).9 In fact, there are only very few hints of possible raids, indicating that the men shown in the picture might be robbers. All in all, the five men (the sixth is only displayed in part) look rather ordinary and lazy as they sit at the round table, eating and sleeping. Their clothes are clean and do not resemble medieval or ancient garments, such as those seen in other illustrations of the fairy tale by Nikolaus Heidelbach (2004) or Gabriel Pacheco (2020). Thus, at the moment when the four animals arrive at the robber’s cabin and the cockerel asks what the donkey sees inside the cabin, Zwerger’s interpretation of the donkey’s view seems modern and rather timeless in style and composition. Judging from the robbers’ clothing, the furniture and the objects in the room, the scene can be placed approximately in the second half of the 20th century. However, it is not possible to establish a reference to a precise decade.

Illustration 3: Robbers, shown in the interplay of light and shade, dynamics and stillness. Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.

  • 10 See S. Rabus “Lisbeth Zwerger”, op. cit., p. 2 [translation by the author].

8Furthermore, in this example, another crucial aspect of Zwerger’s artwork is demonstrated: her specific use of the interplay between darkness and light, as well as her precisely choreographed compositions that often present a stage-like impression. These accurate compositions draw their “dynamics from the tension between surface and detail, pale space and decoration, colour and form, as well as movement and stillness”.10 In this case, the robbers are sitting in a dark room; the only source of light is a small lamp placed on the table. Therefore, everything beneath or beside the table is immersed in defused light. The few objects on the table (including cutlery, a soup bowl, a piggy bank and pocket watches) are evocative of a still life, while the spilt wine on the white tablecloth gives a feeling of dynamism and bears witness to a lively get-together. The robbers themselves seem to oscillate between stagnation and unrest. The chosen detail of the scene, which, towards the right-hand side, reveals only the robber’s shoes and red socks, is a typical example of Zwerger’s way of creating allusions to what remains hidden from the viewer and of opening up the pictorial space. Despite the design of the pictorial space, which resembles a theatre stage, certain areas elude the viewer – leaving him or her in the dark – while they are creating space for interpretation at the same time. Thus, blanks are created in the picture, whereas unambiguous and guiding interpretations of the fairy tale are undermined.

9In other sections of the book, the stage-like impression of Zwerger’s pictorial spaces is not created by the design of an interior space but derives instead from the use of wide space in combination with the arrangements of props, as well as slightly modified repetitions. For example, she shows an external view of the robbers’ house, slightly reminiscent of a doll’s house, in two different scenes from an almost identical perspective and with almost identical framing. While the house stands like a scenery on a stage, framed by meadows and woods, the mood, light and actions shown in the illustrations change: the changes that occur between the two situations are particularly noticeable (even though there are several pages in between) due to the repetition and the play with details, which are emphasised by the careful use of props and the tension that is created through the almost identical repetition. The first situation shows the house with its lights on in twilight and the shutters at the front of the house closed. To the left of the house, the four animals are climbing through a window into the house (the donkey’s head is already inside and no longer visible to the viewer), while on the right-hand side, four robbers are fleeing the house (of the fourth robber, only the raised hands can be seen). Three double pages later, the same house can be seen again, in the sunshine and with open shutters. Quite satisfied and calm, the dog, cat and donkey look out of the windows while the cockerel sits atop the roof. On the grass in front of the house, musical instruments are presented. While the first scene takes place in semi-darkness and the static of the house contrasts with the robbers’ movements towards escape, this dynamic is erased in the second scene. No movements take place: the house, bathed in sunlight, appears peaceful and quiet. To build her visual narration here, Zwerger once again uses the effect of light and shade, different perspectives and arrangement of the pictorial space, alongside a combination of emptiness and realistic representation.

Illustration 4: The robber’s house in twilight (left) and in sunshine (right). Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zweger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.

10This combination of dynamics and statics and the resulting field of tension is typical of Zwerger’s current style and can be observed throughout the entire picturebook, within individual images and across page boundaries. An interesting variation of this narrative style can also be found in the introduction of the protagonists and their individual fates at the beginning of the fairy tale, as well as in the scene in which the four animals forge their plan to drive the robbers out of the house. Here, Zwerger finds a narrative style achieved by integrating small narrative image sequences into an otherwise statically composed image space that focuses entirely on the animal in question. As Zwerger places the ageing animals on a uni-coloured background, visualising their story in smaller illustrations above their heads, she creates the illusion of the animals telling their own story to the viewers. Above the tired donkey whose strength is fading, there is a small donkey sleeping in bed. The other miniatures show the dog who is getting too slow for hunting hunted by his master, the old cat who is not catching mice anymore is caught by her mistress and the cockerel is anticipating his end in the soup bowl.

11All the aspects mentioned above characterise Zwerger’s pictorial language and make her work recognisable and distinctive. Her reimaginings of fairy tales, as well as other classics, undoubtedly stand out from other visual interpretations that are more oriented towards their predecessors and visualisations that have become iconographic. Zwerger’s pictures are characterised by an individual approach to the text that attempts to work out its ambivalences or enable new perspectives on the narrative. Meaningful tensions are emphasised or created through the pictures’ design. In so doing, she does not turn away from traditional key scenes – these are also found in her fairy tale books. However, Zwerger’s clear, sometimes sober imagery takes away any tendency towards belittlement, kitsch or trivialisation; she strives for a naturalistic, though stylised, representation that is not bound by a certain fashion or tradition, thus creating the impression of an illustration that is both modernising and timeless at the same time.

Renate Habinger’s and Linda Wolfsgruber’s game of intertextuality

12The second example es war einmal. Von A bis Zett (2000; Once Upon a Time. From A to Zett) by Renate Habinger and Linda Wolfsgruber differs in many ways from Lisbeth Zwerger’s fairy tales illustration style, as it is an example of a postmodern fairy tale rewriting. By transcending boundaries in several ways, es war einmal (Once Upon a Time) is not the rewriting of a specific fairy tale; strictly speaking, it does not even tell a story. Rather, it is designed as an ABC-book and based on the idea of an intertextual game with numerous fairy tales, as well as children’s classics such as Max und Moritz (1865; Max and Moritz), Pinocchio (1881) and Struwwelpeter (1845; Shock-headed Peter).

Illustration 5: Book Cover of Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.

  • 11 The extraordinary process of the book’s creation is probably the reason why the book is exceptional (...)
  • 12 Jens Thiele, “Luchs 159”, Die Zeit, 3/2000, 08.11.2019, URL: https://www.zeit.de/2000/13/200013.kj- (...)
  • 13 See Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provi (...)

13Linda Wolfsgruber and Renate Habinger, both (similarly to Zwerger) highly respected and award-winning illustrators created this book together, which means that the artists both illustrated each page of the ABC-book, using mixed-media. Through simultaneous painting, drawing, sketching or stamping and in the mutual dialogue between the two artists, not only are images of the letters of the alphabet created but, within the dialogue that is opened here, the images thus created inscribe themselves into the dialogical and polyphonic history of the quoted fairy tales.11 The dialogical development of the illustrations is not always apparent; sometimes it is even difficult to tell who illustrated which part of a picture. In some cases, the artists answer this question within the pictures (in others, it remains unanswered) as well as answering the question of which fairy tales it is that the double pages quote and reshape. Overall, the results of this joint working process range from extremely harmonic to wild and impulsive – even, at times, antagonistic. No two pages of this book look the same: no hint of a fairy tale resembles another. Some pages seem overloaded with clues referring to the fairy tales quoted; others, in contrast, appear empty, spare and cryptic. The combination and entanglement of the well-known fairy-tale motifs give the book “a floating fragmentary character, serious and unserious at the same time”12. It is this fragmentary character that challenges the readers (or viewers) and activates a process of creating meaning within the pictures and finding the stories behind the illustrations. Habinger and Wolfsgruber play an associative game wherein motifs and citations are deliberately switched or rearranged. It is an intertextual game of hide-and-seek based on fairy tales as part of the stock knowledge of our culture. Hide-and-seek is a game known from works such as Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes (1982), Allan Ahlberg’s Ten in a Bed (1983), Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man (1992), Yvan Pommaux’s John Chatterton détective (1993; John Chatterton Detective), David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs (2001) and Luigi Malerba’s Pinocchio con gli stivali (2001; Pinocchio in Boots). Habinger and Wolfsgruber use this game with both marked and implicit intertextual references as the basis for their ABC-book. For this purpose, visually and typographically designed elements are selected and presented according to their initial letters. On the page for the three letters H, I and J, for example, the fairy tale and the race of “Hare and the Hedgehog” is brought to mind by the image of the two hedgehogs celebrating on the podium. The letter K refers to the fairy tale of “Puss in Boots” (Katze, Kater/Der gestiefelte Kater), but also quotes the tale of “Hansel and Gretel” (Hänsel und Gretel) with the lettering “knusper, knusper knäuschen”, as well as the popular puppet conflict between Kasperl and the crocodile.13

14The mixed-media illustrations in es war einmal (Once Upon a Time) are mainly drawn, painted, stamped, written and collaged in black and white on a beige-brown background. There are only two letters presented on a black background – and the additional blue or red colour is only used three times. As the usage of colour is very targeted, it also controls the perception of the individually designed pages. The variations in colouring draw attention to and highlight individual elements, as is apparent from the letter B, which is an example of the additional use of the colour blue. In this case, the first letter of the colour and the colour itself also match. For this reason, both the B in the upper left corner of the double spread is written in blue, as is the caption of one of the picture elements: the illustration shows a bed with an oversized blue beard on it labelled “Bluebeard” (Blaubart). The word Blaubart is visually divided, as it is written in two colours: blue for Blau (colour blue) and black for Bart (beard). The blue hairpiece on the bed is a clearly marked reference to the fairy tale of the same name, which is contained in the first edition of Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), as well as in numerous other versions by different storytellers, including Charles Perrault and Ludwig Bechstein. Besides “beard” and “bed”, on the double spread for the letter B, there are two different wells (Brunnen: the left well is marked as “drawn by Renate” and the right as “drawn by Linda”), a bowl of porridge (Brei) and the Bremen Town Musicians (the fairy tale is clearly marked by the words Bremer Stadtmusikanten presented next to the animal pyramid). The fairy tales of “Blaubart” and “Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten” are clearly marked and recognisable by the lettering; however, the bed, porridge and wells are cryptic and vague as they are selected on the basis of their initial letter B. In this case, the viewer’s knowledge of fairy tales is needed to identify the implicit references. However, es war einmal (Once Upon a Time) also works as an ABC-book without all references being discovered and decoded.

Illustration 6: The letter B offers numerous allusions to different fairy tales such as the Bremer Stadtmusikanten, Der süße Brei or Der Froschkönig. Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.

15It is not only the implicit intertextual references that activate the reader’s fairy tale knowledge, as demonstrated in the example of “The Bremen Town Musicians”. The animals in the pyramid drawn by Habinger and Wolfsgruber look quite different from what Zwerger presents in her picturebook version (discussed above). Donkey, dog, cat and cockerel appear repulsive, unfriendly, quickly drawn, sketchy and not at all realistic. What they have in common with Zwerger, however, is that they also break with the iconographic continuity, as they do not stack the animals on top of each other in the familiar order: Habinger and Wolfsgruber swapped the positions of the dog and cat on the donkey’s back. In addition, the cat is bigger than the dog, which gives it a higher level of effectiveness – or even aggressiveness – in this representation. Apart from this, the pyramid appears to be an unstable construct, since the animals do not stand on each other’s backs but, rather, are loosely arranged as though jumping in anger. While the order of the textual narrative is clearly undermined by the swapping of the cat and dog’s positions, the free space between the animals can be understood as a dynamic moment that visualises the moment of the attack on the robbers. In any case, however, the reader must be familiar with the fairy tale or its traditional iconographic representations to recognise and react to the variation.

  • 14 Most other letters are designed to be much more open, associative, playful and enigmatic – they lea (...)

16Even in the concluding example – the letter W – that goes beyond the mere naming of the referenced text, the riddle game remains an element central to the illustration. The letter W is presented in three positions: next to a small forest (Wald) drawn in the lower-left corner, four stamped clouds (Wolken) that spread across the double page in the upper third, and a wild wolf (wilder Wolf) whose body nearly fills the whole page and is comprised parts of the handwritten fairy tale of “Rotkäppchen” (Little Red Riding Hood). By using the form of a calligram to create the wolf’s body (only the head and tail are drawn with a brush), this example builds a strong connection between the presented letter, the motif of the big bad wolf and the text of the fairy tale cited.14 From the calligram, the viewer can see directly which fairy tale is being referred to. However, gaps must also be filled here by the reader, since only the beginning of the fairy tale is quoted – up to the first meeting of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf.

Illustration 7: The letter W stands for Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.

17One distinctive element is the integration of the additional colour red, as well as the position of the letter W, as it is also integrated into the calligram. As the first letter of the word “Wolf,” it is written within the cited text and placed approximately at the height of the animal’s heart. The word “Wolf” is written slightly larger than the rest of the text, as is the word “Rotkäppchen” (Little Red Riding Hood). Next to the letter W, only the tongue, which hangs a long way out of the mouth of the (eyeless) wolf, is painted in red. The interpretations of this could go both in the direction of a joyful smacking of the lips or in that of a completely exhausted wolf. In both cases, however, it emphasises the wildness of the wolf, as suggested by the name (wilder Wolf – wild wolf), noted next to the animal’s tail. Another idea that can be associated with the red tongue is that of language and storytelling. In a fairy tale, the wolf only exists through narration. In the given case, the narration is literally visualised and self-referentially thematised, since the wolf's body comprises the text of the fairy tale. In this way, Habinger and Wolfsgruber’s illustration stands in a constructive dialogue with other illustrations of the fairy tale, which either trivialise the wolf, sexually charge it or stylise it as a beast.

Michael Roher’s fairy tale of being different

  • 15 Roher’s first picturebooks were published in 2010: Elisabeth Steinkellner, An Herrn Günther, mit be (...)

18Compared to Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber and Lisbeth Zwerger, the artist who created the last example – Michael Roher – rather seems to be a newcomer, even though he has already made a name for himself on the German-speaking book market in recent years.15 In Prinzessin Hannibal (2017, Princess Hannibal) Roher illustrates a story written by Melanie Laibl.

Illustration 8: Book cover of Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.

19The story of Prince Hannibal, who would rather be a princess, is teeming with puns and quotes in both the text and illustrations. Just like the ABC-book es war einmal (Once Upon a Time), it is a fairy tale rewriting but, in contrast to the latter, Prinzessin Hannibal (Princess Hannibal) has a narrative coherence. The picturebook uses narrative tradition, motifs and stereotypes to create a new tale. Within the story, various princesses can be (re)discovered when clichés, stereotypes and traditional gender roles  as well as familiar fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen to the Brothers Grimm – are mixed up.

  • 16 See Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Rohrer, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.
  • 17 Ibid. (translated by the author).

20Told in a playful manner and with a slightly chatty tone, topics such as transgenderism, self-fulfilment and self-determination are taken up in a rather timeless or respectively time-transcending fairy tale setting. This postmodern intertextual game serves as a framework for further discussions on current issues – such as the neglect and incomprehension of parents who are always busy with their work. In this instance, the royal parents are too busy for Hannibal’s needs and wishes, which they call “Firlefanzflausen” (nonsense ideas). Even if the parents do not really look busy or indispensable in Roher’s pictures, their son is too considerate to disturb them in their “Thronangelegenheiten” (affairs of the throne) or in learning the “französische Fächersprache” (French fan language).16 Instead, the young prince seeks advice from his seven sisters. Each sister is as different as their respective pieces of advice to Hannibal and yet all of them have a clear idea of how to become a princess. These pieces of advice derive undoubtedly from different fairy tales, as they advise their little brother to live with the dwarves in the woods, sleep on a pea, kiss a frog, let his hair grow into a useful climbing rope or to sacrifice his heel for the perfect fit of a glass slipper. This advice, however, proves to be of little use or is not to Hannibal’s taste. Finally, however, when talking to the twins Feodora Flohrentina Funkia and Genoveva Grizella Gerania, he realises what to do to become a princess on the outside, too. This thought comes to him like a flash and with an allusion to Andersen’s fairy tale “The Star Money”: “as if a sulfur wood had been ignited in him. One that shone brighter than the noblest stone on his father’s crown”.17 Hannibal borrows several items from his seven sisters so he can dress himself up as a princess and, in the end, Hannibal amazes everyone at the ball with her gifted quadrille dancing skills. Through the intertextual game, which imitates narrative strategies, echoes typical sentences and phrases and refers to well-known fairy tales, it is shown that fairy tales – and, consequently, traditional notions of gender – offer no solution to the young prince’s wish. This fairy-tale picturebook thus contributes to the discussion on gender roles and identities in a humorous way, to which Roher’s illustrations make a major contribution.

  • 18 See e.g. illustration of Maja Dusíková (1997), as well as various so-called supermarket editions.

21Roher’s mixed-media illustrations, which combine collage, painting and drawing, are dominated by the colours black, blue, beige and red. He mixes various styles, techniques and perspectives to create papercut-like impressions that portray Hannibal’s story in a lively manner. Roher’s illustrations complement and comment on the verbal text by interpreting, expanding and explaining the intertextual references. By displaying the prince up on a high medieval tower of red bricks and showing him in a pose as if he is trying to let his hair down, Roher illustrates the problem that Hannibal’s hair is far too short to function as a ladder. This illustration is also an explicit reference to traditional illustrations of Rapunzel.18 However, Rohrer does not quote or reproduce any other specific illustrations or paintings of his predecessors, preferring to rely on allusions. In contrast to Zwerger, however, Roher clearly refers to the idyllic tradition of fairy tale illustration; for example, in the design of scenery and clothing and of course in illustrating such iconographic key scenes as Hannibal kissing a frog on the well (“The Frog King”). Not only does Roher quote these iconographic key scenes to support the intertextual allusions, however: he also breaks with them by mixing them with unexpected elements, thereby bringing together medieval and modern times. For example, the king speaks on his mobile phone while he is painting his toenails and the queen’s pearl diadem shows the logo of Batman.

Illustration 9: Prince Hannibal trying to turn into a princess. The frog’s kiss does not help either. Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.

22Roher’s approach and method of mixing intertextual and inter-pictorial elements are particularly clear in the scene in which Hannibal asks his fifth sister, Eleonora, for advice. On a black background, Roher places the reading siblings on a white sofa in front of a shelf in which, in addition to numerous books, there are many things to be found: a record player, for example, or a boot (the boot of “Puss in boots”, perhaps?), folded cranes, a red bird in a cage, a crystal ball, a remote-controlled car, a watering can, the drawing of a penguin and a loden hat. Like the reading lamp, which is placed next to the sofa, these items give a clear indication that Prince Hannibal’s story is situated in the present – or, at least, at the end of the 20th century.

Illustration 10: Prince Hannibal and his sister find out about Cinderella’s slipper. Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.

  • 19 The princess wears the same glasses, has the same haircut as Angelika Kaufmann (*1935) and even her (...)

23While the items on the shelf open up avenues for allusions and speculation, the references on the sofa are more explicit: Princess Eleonora, who bears a striking resemblance to the Austrian contemporary illustrator Angelika Kaufmann,19 reads to her brother from “Aschenputtel” (Cinderella). The title of the fairy tale is clearly recognisable on the blue cover of the book (thus completing the intertextual allusion awoken by the text) stating that Hannibal must wear magical glass slippers to become a princess, just as Cinderella did:

  • 20 Ibid. (translated by the author).

No reason to let grey hair grow, the fifth in the family tree calmed him down. Theoretically, Eleonora fancied, one could just as well try these magical glass slippers that turn into a princess. As long as they fit like a glove. For which, if necessary, a piece of heel can be sacrificed.20

24The sister explains that the glass slippers can help Hannibal to become a princess. However, knowing the fate of the stepsisters, she adds that a piece of the heel must be snapped off if necessary, to make the slippers fit like a glove. The reference to the fairy tale is made explicit in the text by outlining its content. However, unlike in the scenes described above in “Rapunzel” or “The Frog King”, no key scene is quoted in the picture. Instead, the pretext is marked and displayed in the form of a book with a visible title inscription, thus guiding the reader on the right track to the cited fairy tale and maintaining the intertextual game.

Rediscovering the old and finding the familiar in the new

25Although there are relatively few fairy-tale picturebooks illustrated by Austrian artists, the results are quite remarkable. This is probably mainly due to the fact that the picturebooks are not fairy-tale duplicates but postmodern rewritings or, as in the case of Lisbeth Zwerger, reimaginings of the original Brothers Grimm tales. Zwerger, who is famous for her fairy tale illustrations, has been able to assert herself over her competitors on the German-speaking book market due to her almost classic illustrations. Her pictures offer new approaches to the texts and, in this way, also stand out from iconographic traditions of fairy tale illustration that have existed since the 19th century. As Zwerger has been an established name in the world of illustrations since the late 1970s, it is not surprising that other artists have turned to the form of rewriting instead of illustrating the originals. Habinger and Wolfsgruber, as well as Laibl and Roher, chose a playful approach to fairy tales in order to create new and humorous books. Both picturebooks use fairy tales and other stories as the basis for a game with (usually) clearly marked intertextual references that should be revealed to and understood by the readers.

26What the three examples considered here have in common is the fact that they break – each in its own way – with the iconographic continuity in fairy tale illustration and thus enter into dialogue with previous illustrations that resemble the dialogic, polyphonic nature of fairy tale history itself. In conclusion, it can be stated that reimagining the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm in Austrian picturebook illustration in the 21st century is about rediscovering the old and finding the familiar in the new.

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Notes

1 Vanessa Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed), The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks, London/New York, Routledge, 2018, p. 473.

2 For an overview that goes back further, see Katrin Riedl: in her essay, she compiles Austrian fairy-tale illustrations since the end of the Second World War. Katrin Riedl, “Die Bebilderung der Kinder- und Hausmärchen in Österreich seit 1945”, in Martin Anker, Anke Harms, Claudia Maria Pecher, Juliane Schmidt (eds), Grimms Märchenwelten im Bilderbuch. Beiträge zur Entwicklung des Märchenbuches seit Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 2015, p. 81-110.

3 V. Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, op. cit., p. 475.

4 On the German-speaking book market, newly illustrated reprints are much more common than rewritings.

5 J. K. Rowling, Die Märchen von Beedle dem Barden, illLisbeth Zwerger, transl. Klaus Fritz, Hamburg, Carlsen, 2018.

6 See Silke Rabus, “Lisbeth Zwerger”, in Stiftung Illustration (ed.), Lexikon der Illustration im deutschsprachigen Raum seit 1945 (LdI), München, edition text+kritik, Richard Boorberg Verlag.

7 Silke Rabus, “Lisbeth Zwerger”, op. cit., p. 2 [translated by the author].

8 V. Joosen, “Picturebooks as adaptations of fairy tales”, op. cit., p. 474.

9 For a comprehensive overview of illustrations of the Grimms’ fairy tales, see Regina Freyberger, Märchenbilder – Bildermärchen: Illustrationen zu Grimms Märchen 1819–1945, Oberhausen, Athena, 2009.

10 See S. Rabus “Lisbeth Zwerger”, op. cit., p. 2 [translation by the author].

11 The extraordinary process of the book’s creation is probably the reason why the book is exceptional within the respective work contexts of the two artists and cannot be classified within a continuous development, as seen with Zwerger.

12 Jens Thiele, “Luchs 159”, Die Zeit, 3/2000, 08.11.2019, URL: https://www.zeit.de/2000/13/200013.kj-habinger_.xml (translated by the author).

13 See Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.

14 Most other letters are designed to be much more open, associative, playful and enigmatic – they leave questions and hints unanswered.

15 Roher’s first picturebooks were published in 2010: Elisabeth Steinkellner, An Herrn Günther, mit bestem Gruß, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, Jungbrunnen, 2010; Michael Roher, Fridolin Franse frisiert, Wien, Picus, 2010. As mentioned above, in 2013, Roher published a collection of humoristic and parodistic fairy tale rewritings, Wer fürchtet sich vorm lila Lachs (Who is Afraid of the Purple Salmon). These modernising rewritings were undertaken by Roher, as well as by his partner Elisabeth Steinkellner, and are accompanied by cartoon-like ink drawings by Roher.

16 See Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Rohrer, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.

17 Ibid. (translated by the author).

18 See e.g. illustration of Maja Dusíková (1997), as well as various so-called supermarket editions.

19 The princess wears the same glasses, has the same haircut as Angelika Kaufmann (*1935) and even her facial expressions remind one of the illustrator. In Austria, Kaufmann is very successful and has received many awards. This visual reference can be read as a homage to the artist.

20 Ibid. (translated by the author).

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Table des illustrations

Légende Illustration 1: Book Cover of Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 301k
Légende Illustration 2: The Bremen Town Musicians looking for the right structure for their pyramid. Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Légende Illustration 3: Robbers, shown in the interplay of light and shade, dynamics and stillness. Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zwerger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 185k
Légende Illustration 4: The robber’s house in twilight (left) and in sunshine (right). Brothers Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians, ill. Lisbeth Zweger, Kiel, minedition, 2006.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 145k
Légende Illustration 5: Book Cover of Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 114k
Légende Illustration 6: The letter B offers numerous allusions to different fairy tales such as the “Bremer Stadtmusikanten, “Der süße Brei” or “Der Froschkönig”. Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 304k
Légende Illustration 7: The letter W stands for Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Renate Habinger, Linda Wolfsgruber, es war einmal. Von A bis Zett, Weitra, Bibliothek der Provinz, 2000.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 440k
Légende Illustration 8: Book cover of Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Légende Illustration 9: Prince Hannibal trying to turn into a princess. The frog’s kiss does not help either. Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 208k
Légende Illustration 10: Prince Hannibal and his sister find out about Cinderella’s slipper. Melanie Laibl, Prinzessin Hannibal, ill. Michael Roher, Wien, °luftschacht Verlag, 2017.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/6674/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 197k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Marlene Zöhrer, « Reimagining the Grimms’ Fairy Tales: New and Familiar Perspectives in Austrian Picturebook Illustration », Strenæ [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2021, consulté le 28 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/6674 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.6674

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Auteur

Marlene Zöhrer

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Schellingstraße 3, 80799 München, Allemagne

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