One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg (Doubleday Canada) is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel offering feminist adaptations of folk tales wrapped in an epic-feeling love story. Greenberg’s newest book uses the same mythology presented in her earlier graphic novel, The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth, and explores storytelling as an essential element of what makes us human.
The unwilling subject of a bet between her thick-witted husband and his friend, Cherry and her girlfriend Hero find themselves in hot water as the friend vows to seduce the seemingly chaste and loyal Cherry. Scheherazade-style, Hero devises a plan to keep the foolish suitor at bay, telling nightly stories of strong women who defied cultural norms for (often female) love. Retelling fairy tales like the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Two Sisters, in addition to original narratives, Hero gives the women in the stories fresh agency to choose their lives and lovers. I particularly enjoyed the stories framed by the League of Secret Storytellers, a matriarchal group of women who live outside the authority of men.
Layered storytelling cautioning the evils of men give this book a satisfying feminist twist on familiar fairy tales, and provides a sharp commentary on misogyny and the women who must bloom under its confines. Female relationships, literacy and oral history are portrayed as the antidote to the poison of a patriarchal society. Greenberg’s simple lines and stark colouring add to the tension and moody beauty of the stories; I especially loved the use of colour in her many moonlit scenes.
There are many things to love about this collection, but my favourite is how Greenberg skilfully interweaves her stories and characters to create a rich apotheosis to female relationships.
This review first appeared in Geist 104.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua (Pantheon; also available at sydneypadua.com) asks the question: what would the world be like if mathematician Ada Lovelace and inventor Charles Babbage had succeeded in creating the first Victorian computer? The answer is that they would use it to fight crime, of course.
Explored in a steampunk pocket universe, Lovelace and Babbage invent the first spellchecker, avert a revolution of mathematicians, and mingle with our favourite Victorian figures such as George Eliot, George Boole, and Queen Victoria herself. Told through exciting comic panels, contemporary sources, and wry footnotes, Padua explains the historical and social contexts of the duo’s mathematical discoveries, in a way that makes the development of the analogue computer entertaining and accessible.
Even a Victorian enthusiast like myself learned new things about the era’s culture and science, and Padua’s clear passion for the grumpy Babbage and his grand ideas made the book a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed the literary references sprinkled throughout the comic: in one scene, poetry-hating Lovelace is the infamous Person from Porlock who interrupts Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s composition of Kubla Khan; in another section, the Analytical Engine is drawn as Wonderland, and Lovelace is the Alice who must make sense of it all.
The Thrilling Adventures is, above all, a humorous reimagining of two characters formulating a technology that changes the world. I loved the peek into a universe where the computer reigned a hundred years early, and wish the magic of the functional Analytical Engine could bleed a little more into our own reality.
This review first appeared in Geist 103.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books) is a collection of short, folk-tale flavoured horror stories told as a graphic novel.
The sentence that best encapsulates the collection comes from “His Face All Red”: “[it] came from the woods (most strange things do)” including but not limited to ghosts, parasites, dead brothers, mysterious strangers, and murderous husbands. Carroll’s stories allude to and invert classic fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard and The Velvet Ribbon, while her illustrations set an eerie atmosphere in greys, blues and reds. “The Nesting Place” twists together the best parts of the wicked-stepmother tale with a fresh take on the monster-in-the-woods/monster-within duality to stand out for me as Carroll’s creepiest story.
Folktale and horror enthusiasts will enjoy the strange things that come from Carroll’s mind, and might think twice next time they venture into the woods.
This review first appeared as “Strange Things Come From the Woods” in Geist 94.