Charles Vess’ The Book of Ballads: A New View on Age Old Stories

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Guest Writer: Stonie Williams

Art – Charles Vess
Writers – Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Elaine Lee, Sharyn McCrumb,
Delia Sherman, Jeff Smith, Lee Smith, Midori Snyder, Jane Yolen

13 masterful and exquisite ballads. Tales retold and reimagined in ways that enhance the story. Elevating the stories for more modern sensibilities. The Book of Ballads brings a new view to age-old stories.

Charles Vess has always been on a level on his own. His super-hero comics have brought a gravitas to the stories you rarely see in the genre. I’ve seen him work in other mediums. Such as a book Neil Gaiman children’s book called Instructions. Vess’ artwork is always jaw-dropping. He puts a kind of life onto the page that is hard to describe. Seeing the artwork with your own eyes is essential.


Panel from The Book of Ballads © Charles Vess

Panel from The Book of Ballads © Charles Vess

nd he goes above and beyond for Book of Ballads. Each character has a distinct personality right there on their faces. Before you even read a word, a story is being told. Even the background and scenery seems to have an attitude and story to tell on its own.

Vess’ art is the vehicle for these stories but you can’t read this and not give credit to these fantastic authors. Award-winning writers that span decades of work. Comic book writers like Elaine Lee, Neil Gaiman and Lee Smith stand next to more prose inclined writers like Jane Yolen and Emma Bull. Their work has a natural flow next to ballad veterans like Sharyn McCrumb.

This book overflows with haunting stories. Tales like Thomas the Rhymer, The False Knight on the Road, Tam-Lin, and The Daemon Lover. They tell haunting, lovely tales that stick with you long after turning the page.

Each story is a glimpse into the era. You see the fears that they held. The superstitions and traditions that were important to them. The art is what immediately grabs your attention. The detail and emotion Vess portrays speaks to you.

The storytelling takes these tales and gives them power. Turns them into something leaves you with a chill. The long lost lover that returns with an undeniable temptation. Or a familiar ghost that lures the innocent off their path. Some of the stories tell morals. Even if the moral is that people can be stupid and make bad decisions.

Panel from The Book of Ballads © Charles Vess

Panel from The Book of Ballads © Charles Vess

The layout of the stories change and keep things interesting to read. Sometimes like a comic book, it then morphs into a picture book-like medium. Some of the stories a little lighter, like The Galtee Farmer. It gives you a break from the ethereal and strange. Instead, opting for a bit of comedy and tomfoolery.

Fans of many different genres are sure to find something to fall in love with. There is some mild nudity, including and a few sex scenes. Nothing graphic, but definitely not for the younger crowd. With classic stories told in new and exciting ways coupled with some of the most beautiful artwork you’ll find anywhere, The Book of Ballads is definitely a must-read.

Until next time, happy reading!

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