Strange and frightening things befall the princesses of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The protagonist of “The Goose Girl” has her identity stolen and her single ally—a talking horse—sent to the knacker. Maid Maleen is locked in a tower until all her food runs out, forcing her to dig her way out. The queen of “Trusty John” agrees to sacrifice her children to bring her husband’s servant back to life. It’s grand to see that Willow, the runaway princess of Irma “Aimo” Ahmed and Allison Pang’s gorgeous Fox and Willow follow in this tradition, dealing with murderous strangers and melancholy ghosts along her flight from a dark past.
Fox and Willow is a blend of dark fairy tale and manga-inspired epic, one that takes just enough trappings from each column to spin an engaging story. Willow is a kind-hearted princess on the run from something involving a mysterious man with a dark smile. Like the Goose Girl, Willow has an animal as her sole companion, though he’s much more mischievous than the Goose Girl’s Falada. Gideon is a fox spirit, one who usually takes the form of a red fox whose barking only Willow can hear, but who can also appear as a man with a pair of fox ears atop his head. On the run from the authorities, and with no means of acquiring food or shelter save for begging, Willow finds a mill and Jessa, a milliner’s daughter who offers her a meal and a bed for the night. But Willow’s gracious host may have less than hospitable plans for the girl and her fox.
Pang and Ahmed are careful to paint Willow as a plausible princess. She’s strong-willed enough to have survived this long on the road without resorting to theft, but she’s no well traveled adventurer. She doesn’t know how to catch or find her own dinner, and she is so weary when she arrives on Jessa’s doorstep that she is vulnerable to the other woman’s wiles. We get hints over the long first arc that Willow will survive on the road not through physical strength or martial ability but thanks to her character and the skills she learned as a princess.
There’s a touch of humor to the relationship between Gideon and Willow, who spar like an old married couple, but the fairy tale current runs clearly underneath. Ahmed’s palette of soft pinks, browns, blues, and grays gives the comic a moody, dangerous edge, one perfect for deep and dark forests and ghostly visitors and strangers with bad intentions. It also makes for a nice contrast between this dark and dirty world and the bright but shadowed memories of Willow’s past. It’s going to be a delight to unravel the mystery of what cast Willow from her position of privilege, but based on the first 90 pages, it will be even more fun to see what other fairy tale horrors Willow and her fox will encounter.