Swamp Things and Singing True: a Review of the comic Bayou

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Image from lovelaughterinsanity.com

If you’re going to build a world with words, look at Jeremy Love’s comic book series Bayou for inspiration—you can’t go wrong. What began as a web comic is now printed in two beautiful volumes that you need to read. Southern swamps have never looked so beautiful.

I have to warn you though, Bayou is not what I would call easy reading. It will make you think in ways that might not be familiar in your standard, comic-reading experience.

For one thing, Bayou is building on African-American folklore, such as the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Tar Baby, among others. Their stories come together in a beautiful and horrifying mix of history and fantasy. The world beyond the swamp is a kind of pre-Abolition wonderland, where the characters of slave folklore live under the Bossman’s thumb and try to get by one way or another.

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Image from vulture.com

It does help to have at least a touch of knowledge about these African-American folk tales when reading Bayou, just as it helps to be acquainted with Greek or Norse mythology when reading other comics.

It also helps to have some knowledge of the Blues. Bayou embraces what I have seen other comics merely touch on: song lyrics included in the comic’s panels. You see, our cast of character includes several rambling musicians and singers. The enchantingly beautiful and somewhat deceitful songstress Tar Baby is the mother of the comic’s protagonist, Lee Wagstaff. Brer Rabbit and Bayou come out of their swamp-side world to sing the blues in a Southern speakeasy, and it all goes to hell when the local levee breaks and a flood takes them all. But come hell or high water, these characters get to speak and sing in their own voices. The past and present overlap in Love’s storytelling, and songs ease the transition between them. Similar to how Disney movies use songs in a montage to mark the passage of time—only Bayou never turns away from real-world darkness.

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Image from webcomicoverlook.wordpress.com

Nearly every character in Bayou speaks in a dialect. This includes the Southern accent, and specifically period-consistent African-American slang. It’s easy to pick up as you go along, and what isn’t totally clear becomes clear with usage (such as when one woman calls another a “heiffer” in a barroom spat). It also includes multiple uses of the N-word, with asterisks for the following letters. It’s a jarring reminder of the history of hate and oppression. You can never forget that slavery is in the characters’ recent past—but why should you? Little Lee may be free, but we first meet her as she swims in the swamp to retrieve the body of a boy her own age. Young Billy Glass lies dead in the bayou because local white men lynched him.

This ain’t Carroll’s kind of wonderland.

Bayou is full of love and hate, cowardice and bravery, sinners and saints. Even the characters that are anthropomorphic animals are beautifully and tragically human. You’ll see the best and the worst of the characters in this comic, but all of them are truly people—even if many of them don’t recognize it.

-Contributed by Miranda Whittaker

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Fairy Tales and Flesh Eaters: A Closer Look At Rosamund Hodge’s Crimson Bound

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image source: rosamundhodge.net

 “I don’t recall hearing that any of the damned were content.”

“They’re content to stay in their sins.”

Young adult fiction is one genre that falls prey to the nonstop conveyor belt of the publishing industry—an industry which has arguably grown more focused on churning out books that sell rather than selecting books with “quality” writing.

It has also been heavily dominated by phases of popular subject matter which come and go over the years—we’ve luckily been more or less freed from the vampires and werewolves of ten years ago. Fairy tale retellings, on the other hand, seem to be the latest “in”.

Most tend to play it safe with the more traditional, hence very over-written, stories of Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. Some, like A Whole New World by Liz Braswell, read more like fanfiction. And some, like the forthcoming Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, have realized that perhaps Western fairy tales are too familiar and boring to today’s readers, and have (finally) decided to expand further into new territory. Vassa, in particular, looks toward Russia and the folktale of Vassilissa the Beautiful for inspiration.

But we’re not here today to talk about Liz Braswell, or even Sarah Porter.

Instead, let’s take a glimpse of Rosamund Hodge.

Despite Hodge’s books being amongst the aforementioned fairy tale retellings, Hodge brings a much darker spin to them. She takes only the most basic and familiar pieces of the original folklore to form the spinal chord of her novels. The remaining bones are artificially grown yet organically attached, taking inspiration and ideas from various other sources, more specifically French culture and Greek and pagan mythology.

Hodge’s debut novel Cruel Beauty, published in 2014, is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” The novel received relatively high praise and established her as a writer who, although may be playing it a bit safe with subject matter, is nonetheless trying to bring something new to the table. Her latest novel, Crimson Bound, strove to continue this streak of success. As ratings have demonstrated however, that didn’t necessarily end up being the case.

Although it has a similar style to its predecessor, Crimson Bound is a standalone that also includes French names and aspects of the culture, as well as some demon-like creatures, but beyond that it is much darker and hungrier. It’s a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood”, but the only things it really takes from the story are the “don’t talk to strangers”/“don’t stray from the path” mantra, as well as a short line in the end with the familiar “the better to ___ you with”.

Rachelle lives and trains with her aunt to become the next woodwife, charged with weaving charms and protecting humans from the Great Forest. The forest is ruled by a terrible creature called the Devourer which frequently unleashes waves of nasty creatures called woodspawns. All changes when one day, while walking through the forest, she encounters a forestborn, a creature that is no longer human, which has killed in order to stay alive and is now a servant of the Devourer.

Despite her aunt’s warnings, Rachelle talks to the forestborn, developing a trust for him and falling pray to his lies. She ends up marked by him and faced with an impossible decision: either kill someone and become a bloodbound, tied to the Great Forest and doomed to become a forestborn herself, or refuse and die in three days. Choosing the former and killing her aunt, she travels to Rocadamour and joins the King’s bloodbounds, assassins responsible not only for ridding the kingdom of woodspawn but also eliminating the king’s enemies.

If the above summary has managed to confuse you then don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The world-building of the book veers from simple to complex and back.

The main problem is with the initial setup itself. It takes several chapters to gain a full grasp of the terms “woodwife”, “woodspawn”, “bloodbound”, and “forestborn”, and even then it is only a couple of them that receive a good amount of attention and explanation. It eventually made me wish more time was spent on explaining just what the Great Forest and the Devourer were, as opposed to presenting both as bad and then stating that it was only the Devourer who was bad, and now that he was eliminated the Great Forest could be the way it once was ages ago.

The characters were the ultimate driving force of the story, particularly the heroine Rachelle. While some retellings portray Red Riding Hood as very badass and fearless, Rachelle spends much of the story either telling herself or other characters about how she’s a monster who deserves to die, and that she cannot ever be forgiven.

For some people, such a self-deprecating character can be off-putting, and in the past I have frequently struggled with female characters who constantly put themselves down for not being pretty enough or strong enough. With Rachelle however, there was something genuine in her words. Perhaps it’s because I could relate to her self-criticisms (though I luckily haven’t encountered any forestborn or curses). She was easy to sympathize with, and for people who see themselves in her, empathy was equally natural.

Just like most YA novels, Crimson Bound didn’t escape the familiar convention of the love triangle. Much to my surprise, this triangle wasn’t equilateral like in most books – in fact, it frequently lost its “triangle-ness” throughout the novel. The two love interests, Erec and Armand, were complex and fully developed, and just as filled with dark thoughts and struggles as Rachelle and the rest of the fictional kingdom. An added bonus was the fact that Armand was the first male love interest I ever encountered in a YA novel who didn’t have hands, making for a much less idealized story. It would be difficult to describe both of them without giving too many spoilers away, and I will leave that for any curious reader to discover for themselves should they choose to pick up the book.

The one issue I had was a small thread Hodge left dangling: the character of Amelie, a girl who Rachelle saved from the woodspawn and an aspiring cosmetician (another somewhat unusual feature in a fantasy novel). Despite clearly repeating how Rachelle loved Amelie as a friend, I couldn’t help but wish that Hodge had actually turned that into a romance instead. The chemistry between them felt right, as opposed to the one between Rachelle and Armand, which took me time to warm up towards. However, this is one small disappointment which I hope novels of the future will address, and that fairy tale retellings of the future won’t shy away from queer relationships.

Another interesting touch to the story is the myth of Tyr and Zisa, a brother and sister who faced the Devourer with two legendary swords. Their story is told in a very Grimm-like fashion, especially in a scene where Zisa goes to a blacksmith and asks him to make swords out of two bones and is told that she must pay twice, and with her body, in order for him to fulfill her request.

Weaknesses aside, the novel gives some hope to the genre being a much more, dare I say, realistic rendition of a fairy tale spin-off, and proves that even retellings can have various degrees of originality to them. It will particularly appeal to readers like myself who remember the fascination of reading the original, uncensored Brothers Grimm fairy tales before bed, and the bloodthirsty, childish delight of loving every dark and twisted moment of them.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Hopelessly Hobbited: A Tolkien Addict’s Review of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

One last time.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

These words, though spoken by Thorin as he prepares to lead his company of dwarves into the Orc-Dwarf-Elf melee, also speak clearly for Peter Jackson. In the course of his own journey, fraught by battles (of the legal variety), fire, illness, and injuries, Jackson managed to channel fresh energy and enthusiasm into an already time-tested classic, a classic which essentially gave birth to the epic fantasy genre. Transforming many mechanical and artistic aspects of film technology, Jackson raised the bar to a level as yet unmatched by any other fantasy adapted for the screen.

So as the film’s release dawned, the ironic words “no pressure” had never been more relevant. As this die-hard fan rushed to the first showing on opening day, expectation mingled with excitement was nearly palpable in the impressively filled Ultra AVX theatre, particularly for a Wednesday matinée. Not only was The Battle of Five Armies the conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy, but it also represented the last of Peter Jackson’s film forays into Middle Earth. It bore the responsibility of satisfying old and new fans alike—fans who  number far into the millions. Balancing the demands of textual integrity (particularly of a piece so beloved and well-established), the intricacies of the cinematic medium, and massive fan expectation is not an easy task for any director. But Jackson had done it before.

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From the beginning, Martin Freeman more than pulls his weight as Bilbo, revealing new facets of his character and inhabiting his hobbit skin with effortless panache. Richard Armitage, too, shines in his masterful portrayal of the increasingly paranoid dwarf king Thorin, who is beginning to descend into gold-obsessed madness as he holes up in the treasure-filled halls of his reclaimed mountain kingdom. Armitage’s handling of Thorin’s death was particularly skillful. In each of my three viewings of the film, sizable portions of the audience erupted into (sometimes noisy) tears as Thorin breathes his last.

Smaug, too, does not cease to impress, opening the film with a brief yet somehow majestic rampage. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is one aspect of the film which all sides must agree is a triumph. Unfortunately, it is with Smaug that we see the last of secondary characters knowing better than to overstay their welcome.

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The Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle proves once more to be the film’s canker. Already burdened by a clumsy premise and a fairly ridiculous execution, The Battle of the Five Armies finds the accursed subplot lumbering further into focus. Cheapened by tragically clichéd lines (warning: contains “Why does it hurt so much?” and “Because it was real,” without a hint of irony) and a drawn-out death scene (complete with a slow-motion tear-roll), I found myself doing an actual face-palm. The baseless relationship between Tauriel and Kili does not manage to expand the role of women; instead, her character disappears after Kili’s death having contributed absolutely nothing to the plot. In truth, Galadriel accomplishes more in her five minutes at the beginning of the film than Tauriel does in two films.

Nevertheless, golden nuggets are plentiful in the film—and not just in the treasure horde of Thror. Moments of warmth and humanity are largely provided by Bard and his children, but also by Bilbo’s loyalty to his Dwarf friends and his courageous defense of them. Humour, too, is gracefully woven into the story, provided primarily by the shameless Alfred, the late Master of Lake Town’s greasy grunt, and Bilbo’s impish quirks. Perhaps the most masterful moment of humour is found in the wordless interaction between Bilbo and Gandalf as the latter casually and irreverently pulls out the pipe weed for a post-battle smoke.

The Battle of Five Armies undeniably lives up to the epic grandeur of the Middle Earth saga. The immense entertainment value of the film is undisputable; it is a compelling story thrillingly adapted that still manages to find ways to surprise an audience that thinks they know it all because they already know how everything ends. With well-choreographed and impressively animated battle sequences, there are exquisite moments of awe and delight— Elves sail gracefully over Dwarves hunkered down for battle into a knot of oncoming Orcs and the Elven king Thranduil catches six Orcs by the horns of his elk stallion and decapitates them all in a single elegant stroke. You are constantly reminded that this is a film world built with the loving reverence of another fan—this is Jackson’s Middle Earth.

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Jackson ends an era with a significant bang, and it is with gratitude and with great sadness that this fan must reluctantly, in the words of Billy Boyd, bid Middle Earth’s cinematic representation “a very fond farewell.”

(For now.)

-Contributed by Emily Willan

Grad School or Dragons? Thoughts on Why We Love Speculative Fiction

There is something about lovers of speculative fiction that is different from the lovers of strictly garden-variety fiction. You cannot compare the passions of a Potterhead and a Hemingway fan—the fact that “Hemingwayhead” is not a term is a testament to this. I love Jane Austen, but I “Oh my God, I would die to live in Middle Earth and sell my family to touch Legolas’ hair” love  Lord of the Rings.

So I ask the simple question: why do we love speculative fiction? What compels people to fly through five thousand pages of the series A Song of Ice and Fire? Why are young adult series like Twilight and The Hunger Games so wildly popular? How is it possible that I feel homesick for places like Hogwarts and Rivendell when they do not exist?

The first answer is the simplest and most obvious: it’s fun. Dragons, unicorns, faeries, the undead, magic, aliens, elves, secret lairs, new worlds—you name it. The limit does not exist. The fact that so much of speculative fiction is aimed at a younger audience speaks to this; it’s just a lot of fun to read.

The second answer is the one you’ll probably hear most frequently: escapism. At the risk of sounding philosophical—this world sucks sometimes. The ability to be safely whisked away into a world free from our empirical reality is magic in itself.

Most realistic fiction attempts to represent the world as it really is, which is wonderful and important and can be used for escapism as well. (Who hasn’t pretended that they were the protagonist in a romance?) But sometimes you need something different, really different, from this world. You need to be taken away to a different planet, or a different time period, or even the same world but with different rules. You just need to escape, and speculative fiction is always there to provide you that service.

The third answer is the most complex, and because of that it’s difficult to fully examine it in this short blog post. It is that speculative fiction presents an easier and more desirable reality than our own. Now, this is a highly subjective opinion, and not everyone may agree with me—admittedly, it could simply be a case of “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

This idea  comes from the notion that escapism can be used to help us relate to our own reality. This is nothing new; it’s the common interpretation of Sam and Frodo’s weary journey to Mount Doom as a metaphor for the weary journey through life. They tackle that issue by attempting to find solace and help. Frodo could not carry the ring alone up the mountain; like Frodo, I need a friend like Sam to help me carry my burdens through life.

Often, these metaphors are conceived in the mental realm and then are translated into the physical. Thus, depression becomes dementors; the duplicity of self becomes the literal separation of Jekyll and Hyde; having to face a difficult situation becomes having to slay a dragon.

This is where the subjectivity comes in: I think I would rather slay a dragon than face many of the difficult things in my life. Applying for graduate school? No, thank you; hand me that sword and armour and call it a day. An essay due in six hours that I haven’t started and it’s worth 50% of my grade? I’d rather take on an evil force any day.

I’m not trying to say that my trivial problems are worse than actual life-threatening situations or literally having to save the world. It’s the black-and-white-ness of it all that I crave. Even in something like Game of Thrones, one of the more complex and “gray” works of speculative fiction, it’s “you win or you die.” Either/or.

That’s frightening in its own way, but at least it’s clear cut. If I don’t get into graduate school, I’m not going to die (and if I do get in, I don’t “win”), but I have no idea what I might do instead. It’s that unsureness running through our generation, the uncertainty most people in our society and economic climate have that is absolutely, bone-shatteringly terrifying. My failure won’t be dying in a heroic, noble way—it will be undramatic, unromantic, and undignified. My success will be comforting, but mundane. That’s what this world has to offer, from the view of a sleep-deprived, stressed out, and scared fourth-year student.

Existential, personal things aside, I’ll always love spec fic, even if my opinion on the last contentious point changes. Perhaps our love of it cannot be completely explained. I think that that inability to fully describe why it is so greatly loved is part of the magic and the wonder that is speculative fiction.

 -contributed by Emily Maggiacomo

Baba Yaga and the Allure of the Wicked in Russian Folklore

If you are at all familiar with Russian fairy tales, you are familiar with Baba Yaga.

Her appearance is nightmarish: a long crooked nose that touches the ceiling when she sleeps on the pechka,  iron teeth perfect for biting through human flesh, and a “boney leg” supposedly gleaned from a human boy.

Her preferred method of travel is a mortar and pestle instead of a broom. However, she does use a broom to sweep away any traces of her passing as she races through the enchanted forest.

She lives in a hut on chicken legs—a rather stubborn and rambunctious creature with a mind of its own. In one story, young Vassilisa finds the hut surrounded by a fence made of human bone, human skulls sitting on the fence posts with eyes glowing like lanterns. In most other tales, the hero must beg the hut to “turn towards him with its front, and to the forest with its back”. The hut always takes it upon itself to let the visitors in.

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Illustration by Amy Wang, Graphic Fiction Editor, The Spectatorial.

As a little girl, Baba Yaga was meant to scare me and warn me away from bad behaviour. Bad little girls got cooked in her pechka, it was implied, but good, industrious, clever little girls escaped her clutches unscathed. Yet, no matter how pure-hearted Russian culture demanded me to be, I could not dislike Baba Yaga. I could not be afraid of her. Even at a young age, she was fascinating to me. It was hard to ignore the pull of the wicked.

Morality aside, I am sure various folklorists and scholars would agree with me.

Studies in Russian folklore thrive on Baba Yaga’s ambiguity. Famous folklorist Vladimir Propp identified Baba Yaga as fitting into three tropes at once:  donor, mother, and villain.

In Baba Yaga and Vassilisa the Beautiful, the old witch gives Vassilisa an impossible amount of chores to test her cleverness and virtue. Vassilisa accomplishes the tasks with the help of a talking doll and her dead mother’s blessing, and impresses Baba Yaga by asking the “right” questions.

Baba Yaga acts as a surrogate mother to Vassilisa, harbouring her from harm when the girl’s own surly stepmother sends her out of the house into the dark, monster-ridden forest to find light for sewing. Talk about a suicide mission.

In the story Gussi-Lebedi, Mashenka neglects to watch her little brother, as she is told to do by her parents, and he is taken away by Baba Yaga’s evil geese.

Mashenka flees into the forest after the geese. She is able to rescue her brother by learning compassion: helping the apple tree shake off her apples, removing the baked goodies from a tired talking oven, and moving a large rock to help a stream flow. On her return journey the stream hides her under her water, the oven blasts the geese with soot, and the apple tree covers her with her branches. It is only by learning kindness in the face of Baba Yaga’s wickedness that Mashenka is able to rescue her brother from being eaten.

In stories like Ivan Tsarevich Baba Yaga appears as an instrumental donor character in the hero cycle. The hero stumbles upon her hut during his quest, and if he has a pure heart she gives him a magic object necessary to complete his journey.

Ivan Tsarevich approaches the hut “half of his own will, and twice by compulsion”, and asks Baba Yaga if she knows the location of the tenth kingdom. Here Baba Yaga’s character triples. She sends him to see her two sisters, each appearing the same as the first, each living in exactly the same hut. The first two turn him away while the third offers him three iron horns, and threatens to eat him if he does not use the right one. Ivan escapes by blowing into the last horn the loudest which brings the golden firebird to his rescue. Coincidentally, the bird takes him to the tenth kingdom (and to the beautiful princess) he was searching for.

Part of the paradox is the fact that it is the second sister who tells Ivan how to defeat the third. This particular story shows the true complexity of Baba Yaga—she is both an instigator of the story’s forward-motion and an obstacle to overcome.

Vassilisa’s encounter with Baba Yaga ended favourably as well. After doing the sweeping in the chicken-legged hut and cooking supper for Baba Yaga, Vassilisa is released from the hut with one of the human skulls—the light she came to find. The light leads her through the dangerous forest home. Safely away from the wilderness she confesses to her father about the stepmother’s wickedness, which inspires him to abandon the woman and her daughters in favour of his one beloved biological daughter. Then, quickly, so as not to lose her good luck, Vassilisa the merchant’s daughter marries a prince who recognizes her beauty and intelligence. Lucky woman!

The Baba Yaga in Vassilisa’s story is not the true villain. True wickedness is revealed in the humans who wish each other harm. The stepmothers who send young girls into the forest to die get their unfortunate but deserved ends, whereas Baba Yaga emerges as the wise old woman. Baba Yaga initiates Vassilisa into womanhood by challenging her.

Another theory I stumbled upon through the work of Andreas Johns characterizes Baba Yaga as a guardian of the realm of the dead. Her hut is an essential pit-stop in a hero’s travels through the forest. As soon as the hero is far away from civilization (the realm of the living), they encounter the hut. They  never pass further into the forest (the realm of the dead). Once they outwit Baba Yaga, they return to the realm of the living, either to continue their journey or to live a content life. Baba Yaga releases them, Johns argues, because they are not yet ready to join the dead.

There are further clues to Baba Yaga’s role in storytelling. She threatens to eat humans but there is never evidence of her actually eating them. The human bone fence would mean nothing if she were guarding the entrance to the realm of the dead. If anything, it is a warning to the living that they are trespassing.

There is no reference to human flesh in the supper Vassilisa cooks her. In fact, two of the challenges involve cleaning the rocks out of a pile of grain and the dirt from a sack of poppy seeds.

On several occasions, Baba Yaga is repulsed when she smells humans in her hut. “Fu, fu, fu,” she says. “I smell the stench of the Russian spirit.” For all intents and purposes, Baba Yaga prefers sweet poppy seed rolls over plump children.

I prefer to think of Baba Yaga as a wild creature. Her domain is the forest. Her acute sense of smell and her allusions to eating human flesh give her away as a beast rather than a human.

Her prerogative is time. She is guided by three horsemen: one white, symbolizing dawn; one red, symbolizing noon-day; and the last black, symbolizing midnight. She ensures that the hero moves forward in time, for it is only in the forest behind her, in the realm of the dead, that time stands still.

Her role is an ancient one. By opposing the hero, she guides them towards righteousness and goodness. She does not appear good or righteous herself, but draws those traits out of heroes who need those characteristics to leave her hut, move on, find happiness or wealth, marry—essentially, to grow up.

At first, I was attracted to the character of Baba Yaga because of her wickedness. Darkness is seductive, even in the form of a hag. Now, I understand that it is the ambiguity, the multiplicity of her character that I loved.

We like our characters to be a little wicked, but not too wicked. We drool over the manic aggressive werewolf and the bloodthirsty vampire so long as they have a “sensitive side”. Then we condemn them when they kill senselessly, acting as the beasts that they are really meant to be.

The tension between beast and human adds complexity (and much teen angst) to an addictive, bestselling story. I suppose the same desire for narrative tension gives Baba Yaga a rather ambiguous reputation. She is not a character to be easily revered or condemned. Like time, nature, and death she simply is.

Lately, having almost completed my degree and taking the next step in a romantic relationship, I find myself thinking of the stories I was told as a child. Would I be clever enough, would I be pure-hearted enough to leave Baba Yaga’s hut? Sometimes I toy with the idea of not leaving at all, enchanted by timelessness, suspicious of the world beyond the forest.

 -contributed by Anna Bendiy

 

 

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