Well, this is a beautiful thing.

The Storyteller

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth is Isabel Greenberg’s debut graphic novel, a hugely-expanded version of her earlier Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize-winning comic Love in a Very Cold Climate. That story, of two lovers who adore each other but can never touch, becomes the 1001 Nights-style framing advice that allows for a mixture of myth, religious origin stories, and fairytales.

The art style is thick black inks with minimal flourishes of colour – it almost resembles linocut in places. However, the chunky brushwork is remarkably precise, particularly with expressions.

Neat little tonal shifts, like one character in a Cain and Abel-alike story declaring “He’s a pussy” and some high-fiving vikings. These aren’t overused or overplayed, but serve to give everything its own gently off-kilter tone, one step away from true fable. They’re like the asides of an assured oral storyteller. There are some delightfully off-kilter touches in the artwork too, like the children of Birdman, the creator god in the Early Earth universe. Where he is a giant anthropomorphic bird of prey, they are clearly human kids wearing beaks on elastic cords.

The kids

Greenberg’s work is rich with well-chosen idiosyncrasy, a confidence in its tone that marks it out as something quite charming and wonderful. Never too trite or too knowing, it’s  an astonishingly rich debut.