The best thing about Isabel Greenberg’s “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth” is the beautiful artwork that fills this graphic novel. Using a mix of ink and watercolour, Greenberg’s artistic touch bring this book alive. It is not filled with vibrant colours, however the watercolours bring life to the vast seas, the bright fires, and the clothing of new peoples as the protagonist, the storyteller, discovers the places and peoples of Early Earth. With muted tones of orange, yellow, and blue, the focus is drawn to the various natural elements and creates difference between the various people that Storyteller interacts with. Ink on paper demonstrates the vast and endless white of Nord and the people of Nord. The storyteller himself, originating from this frozen land, is unpainted and is drawn only in black and white. His colours are the epitome of Nord and those colours (or lack thereof) remain with him on his travels as he spreads the stories of his land and his people.
Ink is also used throughout this graphic novel in a very textural way. The pictures reach out to the reader through their rough and realistic depiction. Creating such texture requires a lot of ink in each image, however Greenberg’s style leaves her images clear and clean. She plays with light and dark and that spotting of colour to add an emotional dimension to the story. She captures the long days and nights of Nord, the threat of the vast oceans, the density of the forests, and the cluttered bustling of city life with her careful hand.
Overall Greenberg’s story is a very sensory experience. The reader hears the words that the storyteller shares, feels the heat of the bright fires and the cold of the pale seas, feels the texture of the grass and the snow. Greenberg, a storyteller herself, shares this retelling of Earth’s origins and those first peoples with an overwhelming and tactile technique.
I loved how the font throughout the novel is the author’s own penmanship developed into a computer font, as the author states in a note in the book. It added an extremely personal touch to the narrative and gave a visual to Greenberg’s own voice.
My only criticism is that I did not feel a consistency in Greenberg’s own narrative. Often times I found the dialogue too simple for the quality of the images and it was quite basic in relation to other parts of the text. Other times her words were captivating and intense and evoked a very visceral experience in myself as the reader. As a reader, another edit to insure that there was a consistency in the strength of the authors voice throughout “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth” may have helped to make this graphic novel even better and to bring it to a whole new level. Those moments of writing that I felt were slightly weaker were, however, carried by the strength and beauty of the images, establishing this book, on the whole, as a beautiful work of art that I am thrilled to add to my collection.
If you’re looking for something wonderful to look at with stories of discover, exploration, love, magic, giants, gods, war, travel, shamanism, and more, this is the right book for you.