Nord and South
When a storyteller from the North Pole loses part of his soul, he has to traverse the world to find it.
Firstly and most importantly, don’t let the word “encyclopedia” (sic) in the title deter you – or conversely, fool you – into picking up this graphic novel.
As stated in its back-page blurb: “This book is not a real encyclopedia (sic)!
“It is an epic work of fiction, detailing the many tales and adventures of one lonely storyteller on a quest for Enlightenment and True Love.”
This debut graphic novel, both written and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg, starts off with a poignant love story between a Nord boy from the North Pole and a Soo-it girl from the South Pole.
But in the tradition of Scheherazade – the brave and cunning storyteller from the Arabian Nights – this little tale serves as a jumping-off point into a series of cascading stories that make up this book.
The protagonist of this novel is the Nord boy, who is a storyteller, and who was also once divided into three boys, because his adoptive mothers – three sisters – could not decide who should raise him.
As you can imagine, being split into three created certain, shall we say, personality issues – something his mothers soon realised, and regretted.
So, off they went to the Medicine Man, who managed to put him back together again.
But (there’s always a but), it was not a happy ending yet, as during the original process of splitting him into three, the Medicine Man had inadvertently lost a small piece of the Nord boy’s soul!
And no, the piece was no longer in the Land of Nord.
Cue a quest through seas unknown and lands unimagined!
Most of the stories told here are either part of the Nord boy’s repertoire, or tell of his travels across Early Earth.
They are divided into four parts: The Land of Nord, Britanitarka, Migdal Bavel and the South Pole.
Interspersed between are also stories about the gods – the Eagle God, BirdMan, and his twin children, Kid and Kiddo the Ravens – in their Cloud Castle located in the “fourth (or maybe fifth) dimension”.
Readers will find many familiar elements in Greenberg’s stories, as she reworks well-known tales like the Biblical stories of Cain and Abel, Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Great Flood, and the Tower of Babel, as well as Homer’s Odyssey, among others.
Her usage of the three sisters – the Nord boy’s adoptive mothers – reminded me of the mythological trope of the triune goddess or the female triumvirate representing the three phases of womanhood; while the pebble the Medicine Man gives our hero to enable him to understand all languages reminded me of the Babel fish from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy “trilogy”.
Art-wise, Greenberg employs a simple style akin to that of naive art.
Her panels are flat and two-dimensional, with strong bold lines and patterns dominating the illustrations, and she uses a mainly black-and-white palette, with the occasional red, yellow, brown or blue accent thrown in.
All of which goes quite well with the theme of a “history” of an earlier, more primitive Earth.
Readers who look closely at the illustrations will also notice that Greenberg sometimes adds clever little touches that embellish the story, demonstrate her quirky sense of humour, or subtly imply action in an otherwise static panel.
For example, her images of Cloud Castle show a background filled with bathtubs, toilet seats, pots and books, which include titles like Being Godly, Idol Worship, God Com and Creation. And do check out the stoles the Shaman, Medicine Man and Wise Old Crone wear.
Her simple inclusions of the words “scuff” or “flump” alongside her drawings, for example, immediately evoke a sense of sheepishness or the sensation of falling back on a bed.
The continuity of the stories makes it easy to finish the book in one sitting. But a second reading also has its own rewards as the reader will have more time to take in the details of the illustrations.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the reworked stories and Greenberg’s subtle use of detail and colour.
But more original stories would have elevated the experience, especially as The Encyclopedia Of Early Earthis essentially a story about stories.
Older teens who are readers might appreciate getting this as an alternative gift, although prudish parents might want to flip through this before selecting it as such.
And adults who enjoy a more introspective yet quirky graphic novel might like it too.
> The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth is available at the graphic novel section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.