Like Michel Faber’s story, ‘The Fahrenheit Twins’ reimagined by Ben Okri (whose novel The Famished Road is as rich with the possibility of storytelling as Greenberg’s debut is), The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth is the kind of graphic novel that could be enjoyed by anyone with a love of stories, irrespective of whether they dabble with graphic novels or not. The sumptuous tale, which is chunky enough for a reader to luxuriate in, opens in the Land of Nord, a place where ‘the ice and snow never melt’, where three somewhat argumentative sisters find a baby, Moses-like, in the bulrushes (in the first of many echoes of Biblical tales). Unable to decide which of the sisters is the fittest to be the child’s mother, they take the baby to the Medicine Man who splits aspects of the baby into three separate babies, one for each of the sisters, but forbids them ever to meet with each other again. Worried that they have done the wrong thing, the sisters agree to meet again thirteen years hence and we are treated to a glimpse into the intervening years as the boys grow, aspects of their character given precedence, one boy ‘fiendishly argumentative’, another shallow, unable to take anything seriously, the third knowing, ‘withdrawn and silent’.
Eventually, of course, the boys reunite, their three selves becoming one once more, but in reuniting discover that the Medicine Man lost a vital shard of the boy’s soul in the original transfer – and so the book begins in earnest, with the boy travelling to discover the lost shard of his soul. Having experienced three different conflicting lives before the age of 13, the boy becomes an excellent storyteller, and his stories provide him with solace and protect him as he arrives in other lands, Gulliver-like, and has to deal with other, foreign peoples – the warring factions of Britanitarka, the cossetted land of Migdal Bavel (in which a fearful mapmaker has created fabrications that have come to be taken as gospel) and eventually the South Pole, the furthest land from the land of Nord. Along the way we learn various myths of creation, given added weight within The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth as a result of the fact that we know the Gods have taken an interest in the boy’s journey and are arguing amongst themselves about what his eventual fate should be.
Bookended by a tale of impossible love, in which a young man and a young woman are unable to consummate their love as a result of the fact that they come from opposite sides of the planet and are thus magnetically poles apart, Greenberg’s tale is beautifully told and exquisitely drawn. There are also gently humorous asides (in which, for instance, Greenberg points out the fact that two of her characters are remarkably similar and that there is no reason for it) which give the reader a sense that Greenberg had as much fun producing the fun as the reader has engaging with it. It’s a bold work, an epic of sorts, that bodes well for Greenberg’ future. We’ll certainly be watching to see what she does next.
Any Cop?: I’ll say. A refreshing, original graphic novel from an exciting new talent.