What Isabel Greenberg does with her debut graphic novel, “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth,” is tap into the joy and spirit of storytelling. She does this with a good-hearted determination and a well-reasoned integrity. You don’t get the sense that she’s out to conquer the world of comics as much as you feel that this is someone who has a bunch of stories she’d like to share. It’s no small feat to inspire this good feeling for the reader. And she does it leaving you wanting more.
Stories. Stories. And more stories. That is what you will find here. The unifying theme, or perhaps just a jumping off point, is the search to better understand a most enigmatic couple of young lovers. We know next to nothing about them, not even their names. All we really know is that they’re from opposite ends of the poles, he north, she south, and that a strange force keeps them from actually touching. Greenberg couldn’t give a fig about their individual backgrounds and there’s no need for that. Will you know these two any better if you were to have proper names, family trees, and extensive profiles? No, all of that can get in the way. As counterintuitve as it may seem to nix such details, it’s all for the sake of…the story. In fact, if you need a name for our main character, you can just call him The Storyteller.
These two have concluded they are soulmates. But what about the fact they can’t actually touch due to this electromagnetic force field between them? Well, that’s where some stories can help make sense of it all. Our storyteller recounts to his true love the journey he’s been on. And so our young man begins with a fantastical origin story for himself. As a baby, he was found by three sisters who all wanted to be his mother. Therefore, a medicine man cast a spell and split the infant into three separate selves. But the process was slightly uneven and a little tiny piece of the infant’s soul flew away. Later, when the boy comes of age, all three selves become one again, except for that missing piece of soul still at large. Ah, those are the sort of details that Greenberg is into and all the better for it.
Greenberg’s artwork is very inviting. She makes very good use of her influences, particularly David B, and produces her own exuberant, youthful, and distinctive style. Her stories and art revel in irreverence, whimsy, and a touch of subversion. While this book is pretty suitable for all ages, there is a good dose of existential rumination that will appeal to teen and adult readers.
This book is not about those star-crossed lovers we began with, really. It’s about them but it’s far more, as the title implies, an exploration of Early Earth. And, more to point, this is a good old-fashioned book about the meaning of life, as expressed through myth. Greenberg touches upon as much myth and legend as she possibly can. She has created a dazzling collection of stories that will recall various cultures, beliefs, and forms of entertainment. And it’s all coming to you with a contemporary vibe that may call up for you everything from “Adventure Time” to “Game of Thrones.”