Cheshire Crossing review
In 2011, Andy Weir published The Martian on his personal website, making the book available to readers free of charge. It took the literary world by storm, thanks to Weir’s novel approach to distribution, and the pains he took to ensure that his story of a man stranded alone on Mars would be as scientifically accurate as possible. The book was picked up by a publisher and became a smash hit, eventually being adapted into an equally well-received Ridley Scott film, starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and about a dozen other fantastic actors.
But before Weir broke big with his novel, he dabbled in various forms of literature. His short story “The Egg” has became a popular moral parable, and he even wrote a few of his own webcomics to boot. One of those was Cheshire Crossing, wherein Weir combined the stories Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into one sort of shared meta-narrative, exploring the effects of each adventure on their respective heroines.
Putting it simply: it’s like X-Men or BPRD, but with Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice Liddell as dimension-hopping superheroines.
Weir wrote and illustrated the story, which was and still is available to read on his website. Given his newfound fame with The Martian, though, Penguin Random House approached Weird with an offer to publish Cheshire Crossing as an official graphic novel. Weir clearly accepted, and Sarah Andersen was brought on board to re-illustrate the serial, the results of which are available today.
So that’s the story behind the making of Cheshire Crossing, which we’ve been provided a copy of for review. All told, the ideas are better than the execution, but it’s still executed pretty well.
And man, what a great idea it is. It’s a formula that’s proven successful with series like Fables and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the great thing about taking classic literary characters and giving them a twist is that there’s so much material there that you’ll never run out of ideas. In Cheshire Crossing, Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice have effectively stumbled upon a type of multiverse, which in itself opens up so many more doors for future stories. The book certainly ends on a cliffhanger, promising more adventures, and while I’m not sure where Weir wants to take this story I’m definitely intrigued.
Weir’s main strength is in taking his core idea and keeping it from feeling exploitative. This could have easily been a story that explored the dark side of mental institutions or the oppression of females in the early 20th century. To be fair, those are perfectly valid themes that should absolutely be explored and written about, but it’s not necessary here. This is, frankly, a fairy tale with a modernist edge, and that’s all it really needs to be. “Take a high concept and see where it takes you” seems to be Weir’s modus operandi, and for the most part it works.
The book has two shortcomings that never threaten to derail it, but do keep it from true greatness. For one, for as many characters and worlds are involved, it still feels relatively small. Skimming through Weir’s initial webseries, it doesn’t seem like he made many updates from when he originally published it over a decade ago, and it isn’t really high stakes, nor is there a sense of immediacy. In general I liked what we got, and Weir puts some unexpected twists on the characters that hint at potential development, but it feels more like the opening act of a larger story than a tale unto itself.
Some of the writing is a bit too… modern, as well. There are some metatextual jokes that are just too on the nose, like Dorothy realizing that Glinda used her to do her dirty work and Glinda awkwardly tries to get out of the conversation. As for the girls themselves, Alice in particular talks like a 21st century teenager at times, and the three protagonists let slip some slang that surely wasn’t around in the early 1900s. Wendy says to Alice at one point “I’ll force-feed you that sodding pinafore,” which feels consistent with the time, but then they’ll let out swears and curses that are fairly anachronistic.
At least, I assume they are. I don’t know. I was not a teenage girl in 1910, so I’m just guessing here.
Then again, it’s clear that Weir isn’t taking things too seriously, and just wants to have fun telling this story. There are some really sharp, funny lines all throughout as well, with the trio’s caretaker (who, unless I missed her being named, I’m about 98.7% sure is supposed to be Mary Poppins) deadpanning “accidentally killing one person is misfortune. Accidentally killing two is just sheer carelessness!”
And then there’s the romance between the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook, which is just delightful. Honestly, I loved the side characters as much as I did the leads, and Weir and penciler Sarah Andersen really wring some great comedy out of the supporting cast. There’s a gag late in the book between Tinker Bell and the Cheshire Cat that I’m still laughing about, it’s so unexpected and ridiculous, and Andersen’s simple, clean style allows for some truly impressive visual storytelling. Assisted by Alison George, Kayla Bickers, and Dojo Gubser’s colors, along with some truly dynamic, expressive lettering from Dave Lanphear, Cheshire Crossing has a unique, distinct visual style that has shades of manga sensibilities with a decidedly American flair.
In his foreword, Weir brings up his desire to collaborate with Andersen on the script if this series gets future installments. Not to knock his writing at all, but I would certainly welcome that. Andersen’s webcomic Sarah’s Scribbles is a masterclass in deadpan humor, brilliant sight gags, and outright absurdity, so if she is given the opportunity to bring those skills to the table then I’m all for it.
Cheshire Crossing is available today, and can be purchased from Penguin Random House directly, or from outlets like Amazon. It’s a story with a great concept, a strong sense of humor, and plenty of potential for future installments. While the writing and some of the jokes are maybe a bit on the mature side for young children, it’s an excellent graphic novel for teens and young adults, as well as any adults who like a side of wry wit with their genre-bending fantasy.