The First of Many Nights

Cover art of the first issue of 1001. Sanya Anwar http://www.artbysanya.com/
Cover art of the first issue of 1001. Sanya Anwar http://www.artbysanya.com/

This past TCAF (Toronto Comics Art Festival) I was wandering the webcomic floor when I stumbled upon a  treasure trove: a beautifully drawn, full-colour comic that retells a very old story—or rather, retells a series of stories. 1001 is a comic book re-imagining of the 1001 Arabian Nights. For those who do not know, the 1001 Arabian Nights are stories from ancient-to-medieval Arabia, Persia, Egypt, and other countries in Asia and North Africa. The collected tales are framed by another story; the character Scherazade tells each story to her murderous husband, the king of her land.

Like the collection of stories and folk tales that it comes from, 1001 emphasizes story-telling within the overarching story. In the first issue we hear the narration of the protagonist Scherezade, called “Shazi” by her beloved little sister. Within the story of her life, we see her over-active imagination taking over her thoughts when she is meant to be hard at work as a scribe (a feeling that any student can relate to). Interesting—and recognizable—characters inhabit her day-dreams: European princesses wearing steeple hats, the hydra, the three Musketeers, dragons, winged horses, and more. My  favourite is the walking, irate-looking carrot.

When her penchant for thinking-up stories on the job gets her in trouble, Shazi swears to put an end to her day-dreaming for good. But if you know the premise of the 1001 Arabian Nights, you know that Shazi’s story-telling gift is going to someday save both her sister’s life and her own.

There is an interesting contrast between the prose style that narrates the over-arching storyline and the dialogue. The narrating prose is slightly elevated, as one might expect to find in a very old story. The dialogue between Shazi and her younger sister, Dunya, however, feel very contemporary and this illustrates their close connection.

The two sisters clearly rely on one another and share an interest in learning. While Shazi is a skilled (if inattentive) scribe, Dunya is an unrecognized amateur alchemist. Working in the school of alchemy gives Dunya the chance to try out experiments, learn on the sly, and have her own adventures. Dunya is immediately as interesting a character as Shazi, and it remains to be seen what role Dunya will play in 1001. The two sisters are both believable and endearing. Their spat in the second issue becomes heartbreaking in light of the foreshadowing that follows it; we are told that this sibling fight is the last time Shazi sees her sister.

While the first issue introduces us to the cast of characters and their circumstances, the second holds a grim mystery: why are young girls disappearing from the city streets, only to be found dead on the palace grounds? Volume 2 ends on a heavy cliff-hanger, with Shazi in immediate danger. What’s more, we have been given hints about the conspiracy that lies hidden behind the walls of the palace.

Ending just as the action picks up seems almost cruel and I desperately want to know what happens next. Is Dunya or Shazi the next girl to “disappear” in the night? Who are the assailants breaking into the girls’ home? And how will the many other stories of the 1001 Arabian Nights be introduced into the comic?

Though I’m aching to read more of the series, the third issue is not yet out. But as all lovers of good story-telling know, waiting to learn what comes next is half the fun. 1001 is an excellent comic that shows a lot of promise and I recommend that anyone who loves fairy, folk, and adventure tales read the first two issues.

1001 can be found at: http://www.artbysanya.com/

-contributed by Miranda Whittaker

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