SCOTTISH comic duo Metaphrog are preparing to launch their latest graphic novel in time for Christmas – but warn it doesn’t have a happy ending.

The release of Hans Christian Andersen adaptation The Red Shoes & Other Tales comes 15 years after Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers issued the first instalment of their critically acclaimed Louis series, which features the hero and his bird best friend as they encounter mystery and adventure in the world of Hamlet.

The series, described by its creators as “scary-cute”, won friends across the world, including Icelandic band Mum, who provided original music for the Dreams Never Die book.

However, Marrs and Chalmers warn their latest work – which will be launched in Aberdeen on November 26 – offers readers something darker.

Chalmers, who has a background in science and engineering, said: “The original Hans Christian Andersen story was very religious. We wanted to modernise it and tell our own version of that story.

“It’s about redemption, hope an obsession. It’s pretty dark.”


The duo, who began working together in 1996, teamed up with US publisher Papercutz for the release of The Red Shoes after the graphic novel specialist saw an earlier adaptation of Andersen’s The Little Match Girl.

That short story, which sees a poor girl struggle with cold and poverty, is one of the “other tales” in the new hardback book, alongside original story The Glass Case, which takes place in contemporary Scotland.

Readers expecting an unambiguously happy ending should brace themselves for something much more challenging, but, the duo argue, more powerful and more fulfilling.

Chalmers said: “ The stories are powerful because they have messages. Growing up in the 70s, most things had happy endings.

“We’re not used to suffering or resolutions that are more realistic. It’s not what we expect to happen, but when it does, the story stays with you.”

Chalmers, who writes the material, credits much of its impact to Marrs’ illustrations.

The French national, who drew Louis by hand, adopted digital methods to create The Red Shoes, which follows orphan Karen as she is seduced by money and materialism, only to suffer tragedy.

Chalmers said: “The emotional strength you can put into a graphic novel surprises us. It’s partly in the language but also in the gentle illustrations.

“They draw you in and you can return to them and see something new every time, like re-watching a good movie.”


The book, which hits UK bookshops tomorrow, is targeted towards “tween” girls aged around ten, but the duo say sessions with young readers have proven it has cross-gender appeal.

They also credit the growing interest among adults for graphic novels with driving significant sales of electronic versions of the book in the US.

However, Marrs admits the enthusiasm shown for the title has taken them by surprise. She said: “Since the Louis books, we don’t really want to pigeonhole our work into just one age bracket of readership. There are quite a lot of things in this book that appeal to adult readers.

“But there is some really dark stuff there and we have been surprised with six-year-olds liking it and so many boys too.”


As well as producing their own creative work, the duo – who are writers in residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – have completed several high profile commissions, including a comic adaptation of the Edwin Morgan poem The First Men on Mercury for The Association of Scottish Literary Studies in 2009.

More than 35,000 copies were distributed to secondary school pupils, while other projects have seen them work with the Scottish Book Trust and Glasgow Life.

They are currently working with pupils at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow, collaborating with hip-hop artist Dave Hook from the band Stanley Odd in an endeavour based on fairy tales.

Many of those taking part are from Eastern Europe and Iraq and the project will end with a publication, production of music, and a Burns Night celebration in January.

It is a varied body of work, and one which will grow thanks to funding from Creative Scotland, which will see the pair produce fresh work next year.

But Chalmers says they still feel a strong connection to the Louis series, which continues to win them fans.

The final instalment, Night Salad, was published in 2010 and a new edition of the first book, Red Letter Day, was issued the following year.

Chalmers said: We still get communications about it, which is amazing.”

Marrs added: “Young people, children, have changed since our generation. Post-Simpsons children are a lot more aware and much more cynical.

“You can’t talk down to them. They need sophisticated material.”