Friday, January 5, 2018

The One Hundred Nights of Hero

The One Hundred Nights of Hero might be the most subversive graphic novel I've ever read, and I LOVED IT. It is a feminist retelling of the tale of Scheherazade from The Arabian Nights, and it simultaneously a commentary on religion, male-female relations, love, and social institutions, and it skewers them all but in the most subtle, yet comprehensive ways. The front matter of the book sets up a cosmic mythography, a religion based on the petty and omnipotent god Bird-Man and his progeny Kid and Kiddo. This introductory tale sets up and informs the rest of the book, and it is reminiscent of many other creation stories (Joseph Campbell would approve), but it also is a canny parody/rebuke of the sexism inherent in such belief systems.
The majority of the book is a narrative that hinges on a wager. Two men Manfred and Jerome have little regard for women, and they bet their kingdoms on whether Manfred can bed Jerome's wife Cherry given 100 days. Jerome does this because thinks that Cherry is the paragon of virtue and the perfect wife, but his perceptions do Cherry an injustice. She is intelligent, crafty, and strategic, and she, along with her maid/lover Hero have a plan. Each night when Manfred comes to have his way, Hero will tell him some story to belay the inevitable. And what a storyteller Hero is. She beguiles Manfred, along with the guards who overhear, and anyone else who is privy to her tales. The two misogynists' plan goes off the rails, and I won't spoil how everything resolves, but it is some pretty caustic commentary on traditional state of affairs.

At this point I should comment on a critique I have seen from some quarters calls this book out for male-bashing. Although Jerome and Manfred are terrible people, I feel this book is more a commentary of the general shabby treatment of women across history and cultures. It is also about the power of stories and the abilities and stamina of women to withstand and even triumph in the face of hegemony.

All  of this is not to say this book is dry. I found it pretty funny and cheeky throughout, actually. Part of what I love about this book lies in its subtle naming and snark. The main characters' names clearly set them up as archetypes, and the side narratives that Hero tells all end up woven into a grand tapestry that encompasses the entire book. I looked up a bunch of the more obscure (to me, anyhow) names of people and places, and was rewarded to see that they were actually historical or mythical references that added layers of meaning to the events of the book.

Not to say all the humor is highfalutin. Probably my favorite part of the book is probably how Manfred gets drawn, like he thinks he is God's gift to women and saunters about wearing a cape and no shirt. This buffoonery is hilarious, in my opinion, though also pretty horrific. Toward the end of the book, when his ridiculous is revealed and he begins to unravel, the power he gets to exercise as a male still has dire consequences. Such nuance and execution are hallmarks of exemplary publications, and as a piece of satire and social commentary, I rank this book up there with the greats like Jonathan Swift and MAD Magazine.

This book is the second graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg. Her first, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, was nominated for two Eisner Awards and won the Best Book category at the British Comic Awards. She spoke about her work on TOHNOH in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. Maya Gittelman gushed, "It’s just such a cool premise: queered revision fairytale. I love it!" Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, writing, "Greenberg combines elements from fairy tales, children’s books, and folklore from around the world to create an original but teasingly familiar mythos." Nivea Serrao wrote that "within no time readers will be captivated as Greenberg transitions effortlessly from tale to tale, while still telling the story framing each one."

The One Hundred Nights of Hero was published in the US by Little, Brown and Company, and they have info about it here.

I read this book because it was a student selection for a recent seminar in Graphic Novels and Multiliteracies. Thank you, Brooke, for choosing it. I wish I had known about it much sooner, and I am so glad to have read it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stergios Botzakis! Great place and really huge collection! I enjoy in your reviews of all these graphic novels. I made my original graphic novel Febrile Hearts, so if you are interested in a bit different aproach to graphic novels, please check my Kickstarter campaign. Thank you Stergios and have a nice day!