I recently came across the graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg. I really enjoyed the art, and the novel itself was physically larger than others, which allowed me to study the detailed art. The author frequently used maps and layouts of cities, which was delightful to look at. I like the delicate folksy feeling of her style. While the art was fantastic, I loved the story and introduction of the deities (Birdman, Kid, and Kiddo) in the world she has created. I was able to see the influences and ideas that the author got from other folk tales, but was impressed that she managed to make the story feel entirely her own. That is not an easy feat.
After reading this book, I saw that she had another graphic novel set in the same universe (thank you goodreads for helping me to keep track of all of this) and I snatched up the book from my library right away. In The One Hundred Nights of Hero we continue to see the same wonderful art and mythology of the of original novel. More importantly, we see discussions on toxic masculinity and the power that reading and writing can bring to a person and a culture.
The discussions that you observe between the male characters are satirical, but feel disconcertingly familiar. One of the characters complains that he can’t find a women to love, but casually calls all women “whores”. Yet another classic case of toxic men refusing to see that the problem is them. The story is heavily borrowed from The Thousand and One Nights formula, which is appropriate for the universe that Greenberg has created. A bet is made and a man’s wife is forced to sleep with his friend, but she uses her skills as a storyteller to trick him out of raping her. Women being tossed around and bargained with has been happening since the beginning of time and is reflected in folklore and legends and I’m happy to see that the author shows how bad this is. It shouldn’t be refreshing, but it is. A significant exception to this story is that the female protagonist does not fall in love with a man by the end of the tale.
The storyteller and her maid are actually a lesbian couple, trying to survive in a world that denies their love but also denies their right to an education. Both women love each other and have to hide it for fear of their life. Both women can also read and write, a mortal sin in this world. It’s important that stories like these are continued to be told today, especially in the realm of fiction. All over the world there is discrimination against women and LGBTQ people. They are killed, denied work, denied an education. This can be overwhelming information and hard to comprehend if you don’t feel like you are directly impacted. Sometimes we need a fictional story to keep their stories being told. Sometimes we need a fictional story to help open people’s eyes to the hate and discrimination around them. It may not be right, but in my experience, it is often true. Hopefully the more we tell these stories (both fiction and true), the more our eyes can be opened to seeing what is happening around us. The more we hear and relate, the more willing we are to fight.
It’s overly optimistic to hope that a graphic novel can change people’s minds on human rights and toxic masculinity. But if there is ever any book that argues for the power of a story to change the world, The One Hundred Nights of Hero is it.