THE marvellous, mysterious world of fairy tales comes to life in Glasgow this month, Metaphrog style.

The dynamic duo - Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers, who live and work on the south side – are staging their first ever exhibition at the Glad Café on Pollokshaws Road.

The Dark Side of Fairy Tales is a stunning collection of prints from their recent graphic novels, The Red Shoes and The Little Mermaid.

The latter sold out within weeks of its launch and New York publisher Papercutz are rushing into a second printing in time for Christmas.

The book received rave reviews – it was described as “profound and moving”, “graceful, lyrical” and “haunting…magical”, after a north American tour and appearances at several high profile UK events, including The Edinburgh International Book Festival, The Lakes International Comic Art Festival and a busy launch at Waterstone’s.

For John and Sandra, who have been quietly and brilliantly practising their art for the last 20 plus years, the whirlwind of activity around their latest book and the exhibition has taken them a little by surprise.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” admits John, a former engineer from Greenock. “For the Waterstone’s event, we were very prepared for two men and a dog to turn up – but within a few moments of it starting, it was crowded.

“The fact that the book sold out is amazing – we are really excited and delighted by the response.”

After a string of successes with earlier works, including multiple award nominations for their Louis comic books, John and Sandra, who is originally from France turned to fairy tales for their inspiration.

“We both loved fairy tales as a child and still do,” explains Sandra. “They are very powerful stories – my favourite was always The Little Mermaid, so it was exciting to retell it.”

John adds: “Fairy tales are dark and quirky, idiosyncratic. There’s that suspension of disbelief, the ability to go back into the stories we loved as children. They bring back magic into our lives.”

He smiles: “Lotte Reiniger, the silhouette animation pioneer, said ‘I believe in the truth of fairy-tales more than I believe in the truth in the newspaper’ and I understand that.

“There is something primal about these fairy tales - they tell us things about ourselves and about others, about human nature, and link us to our ancestors.”

He adds: “They are full of fundamental truths - being nasty can make you ugly, for example.”

In re-imagining the stories as graphic novels, Sandra and John have created something new and exciting from familiar tales, and collected a new audience along the way.

“I think we have captured new readers – the north American tour was something very different for us, and it was incredible,” says John.

“Then the café approached us a year ago about an exhibition – we live close by and got to know them through a shared love of music really,” says John.

“The Glad Café has become much more than just a café and music venue, it’s a real social hub for the community.

“We’re very excited about having our exhibition here.”

He adds: “It took a lot of hard work to create it – each panel is a painting, really, and it has taken Sandra around eight months to complete it. She is very disciplined and determined in the way she works.”

John and Sandra met at a party in Govanhill - John was working on a short term contract and dreamed of being writer, while Sandra had newly arrived in the city from France, looking for a new adventure.

Discovering a shared love of comics was the starting point and more than two decades later, the duo has a respected international reputation and a growing fan following of all ages.

As well as enjoying a spell as writers in residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, they became Patrons of Reading at Northfield Academy in Aberdeen, the first graphic novelists ever to fill the role.

They are very proud of the work they do in schools and libraries, inspiring young people to read, write and draw.

“We speak to several thousand children every year while visiting school and public libraries for author events and it’s incredibly exciting helping to inspire people to read and seeing young people fulfil their potential working on projects and developing self-esteem through reading,” says John.

Metaphrog work as a collaboration, with both John and Sandra working on characters and concepts from the beginning, but Sandra is the artist.

“I’m inspired by so many great artists and illustrators,” she says. “I love the works of Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham, for example, and for our next project I have been inspired by the sheer skill of the old Renaissance Masters.”

She is remaining tight-lipped about what the next project is, so Metaphrog fans will have to wait a while longer for all to be revealed.

Despite their success Stateside, and a love of New York, the couple are proud to be part of Glasgow’s dynamic cultural scene.

“We love Glasgow, it’s our home and while who wouldn’t want to live in New York at least for a little while, we feel this city is where we want to be,” says John.

“The nature and parks, the vibrant arts and music scene are fantastic and we feel like we are a part of that.”

The enduring appeal of comics and the rise and rise in popularity of graphic novels amongst all ages, is key to the success of Metaphrog’s works, Sandra says.

“Reading a comic is a little like being allowed to play,” she explains. “With a book, they just get the words, with a graphic novel or comic, they have the pictures too and it’s almost like solving a puzzle as they go through the story.

“With something like The Little Mermaid, we have to bring a freshness to it, we have to reinterpret it or otherwise, there is no point in simply retelling a story that has been told 100 times before.”

John adds: “We delve deeper into the themes of obsession, possession and hope. It’s quite a tragic tale, of unrequited love and how unfair it is.

“But we have put in a glimmer of hope too. Although we like darkness, we want our works to be uplifting, to make it pleasurable to spend time in the process.”

He smiles: “You have to have hope – without it, we would be lost.”

Metaphrog’s The Dark Side of Fairy Tales runs until the end of November in the Glad Café on Pollokshaws Road. Find out more at