What starts off as an homage to Scheherazade and her 1001 nights of storytelling quickly turns takes on a life (and story) of its own in Isabel Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero.
For her second graphic novel, the Eisner Award-winning writer-illustrator returns to the world of Early Earth, which fans might recognize from her debut, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Only this time Greenberg applies her ability to blend myth, fable, and whimsy into telling the tale of the titular Hero, a member of the League of Secret Storytellers.
The story — or rather, stories — kick off in Migdal Bavel with Manfred betting his friend Jerome that he can seduce Jerome’s wife Cherry within 100 days. However, not only does Cherry not want to sleep with Manfred, but she’s also in love with her maid, Hero. So in order to prevent Manfred with going through with the wager, Hero keeps him up night after night by telling story after story after story.
Much of Hero’s tales are Greenberg’s own original, yet familiar-feeling feminist yarns. One, in particular, is an adaptation of a fairly popular fairytale. But all of them feature brave, intelligent women, each trying to chart their own course in a world that is less than kind to them. Greenberg doesn’t pull any punches on this front. Instead, applying her dry wit to underscore the unfairness of the circumstances her characters are subjected to. In doing so, she is able to touch upon themes of betrayal, love, loss, and even madness, approaching the reality of each situation with a touch of humor and honesty.
Greenberg’s art perfectly suits the stories she’s telling and the tone she’s telling them in. Her rough line work is reminiscent of Kate Barton’s Hark! A Vagrant and Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, and lends the stories, and their world, a folkloric charm.
The overall story does take a short while getting into, but within no time readers will be captivated as Greenberg transitions effortlessly from tale to tale, while still telling the story framing each one. In this way One Hundred Nights of Hero is as much about the power of storytelling as it is the act of doing so. And much like her titular character, Greenberg succeeds.