After reading the, quite frankly, stunning Hundred Nights of Hero, I HAD to check out Isabel Greenberg’s debut graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Needless to say that I wasn’t disappointed but compared to Hundred… there is a marked difference.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth showcases Greenberg’s ability to create a complicated story and yet make it so effortlessly. If one were to pick apart the book’s plot one would get a story of a story of many stories leading one main story. To make it less confusing it is about a couple who are from different polar regions, unfortunately they cannot be near each other so the husband talks about his life story. It turns out that he is a storyteller and on his travels he collects stories from different areas around the globe. Like all good stories the one about the couple as its own conclusion as well.
The Encyclopedia has a lot of traits that Greenberg uses to the full on Hundred Nights of Hero. There’s the aforementioned multi-leveled storytelling. There’s the homages to various myths around the world with focus on Sumerian/Babylonian and Norse mythology. Even the same characters such Bird Man and his offspring Kid and Kiddo are first introduced in Encyclopedia and used to a greater effect in the next volume. I also like the fact that we get glimpses of some details in this volume, one example being the three moons of the early Earth, which is further developed in the Hundred Nights of Hero.
The main message of this volume is the power of stories and the spoken word. By mixing and matching various myths Greenberg has created her own unique take on mythology and like all myths they interconnect in clever ways.
However since I read the second volume first, I felt like this was a prelude. It did help me understand the origins of the Bird Man mythology but I felt that everything, including the artwork was executed in a better fashion in Hundred Nights of Hero. Nonetheless The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is an essential gateway of this intricate story that Greenberg is slowly shaping.
Here’s a brief overview of what reading Isabel Greenberg’s The Hundred Nights of Hero felt like:
OH WOW THIS IS AMAZING!!! I NEVER WANT THIS TO END!!!!!
and now I’ll present the long form reaction.
Those ranty caps were not an exaggeration. This graphic novel really is superb. It contains a lot of things which appeal to me when I read a something:
- Interconnecting destinies.
- Distinguishable style
The book starts with the creation of the world by birdlike gods. To be more specific the daughter of the birdlike god. Eventually the father does not like her version of the earth and creates a more male-centric one.
This theme runs throughout the whole book. All the heros are females who outsmart ego-centric males and forms part of the main plot.
After the creation story we jump in time and discover two males betting that if one of them leaves for a hundred nights, his wife will be seduced by one of his friends. The bet takes place but they are heard by the maid, who is the lover of one of the person who is leaving. Thus in order to ward of the friend the maid tells him stories for a hundred nights.
I guess you can spot the homage here. Greenberg goes a step further for the stories that the maid tells are all entwined with the prologue in the beginning and her life. Ultimately the destiny of the girls takes a fairy tale twist and the borders between reality and fantasy mesh into a thrilling conclusion.
As this is a brief summary I have left out the complexity of the narratives but the deft way Greenberg handles the fairy tales and yet manages to add on more layers and let the reader discover inter-textual secrets just had me gawping.
The artwork is brilliant. Think of Picasso’s cubist techniques mixed with Daniel Johnson’s early drawings
There are other thins which deserve a lot of praise. There’s the way Greenberg tackles and makes fun of the patriarchal aspect of fairy tales (something Angela Carter managed to flip upside down with her collection of stories) The way the characters are fully formed and sheer vibrancy of the drawings and dialogue. This is a perfect book so everything else will consist of heaps and heaps of praise just read it. Trust me it will do you good.