Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents: A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights, David B. (NBM Graphic Novels 978-1-68112-162-8, $24.99, 112pp, hc) June 2018. Cover by David B.
The brilliant French cartoonist and comic artist David B. (David Beauchard) has switched gears, moving away from black-and-white linework and personal stories to create a full-color fantasy tour-de-force in Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents.
Co-founder of L’association, the famed French comic book group, David B. is known for fearlessly exploring the creative possibilities of graphic novel format.
With the bestselling Epileptic (Pantheon Graphic Library, 2006), the artist has proved that graphic novels can handle challenging personal narratives as effectively as time-honored myths. Epileptic received many awards and great acclaim both in France and the US.
In his newest graphic novel, David B. created a magical box of fantastic stories-within-stories. This wildly imaginative, entertaining book displays his typically stylized, image-dense, detail-filled approach to storytelling in a fantasy world where snake soldiers and human boats are throwaway details.
In Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents, the artist has selected stories from the epic Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, and borrows motifs and style sensibility from, among many other references, Middle Eastern and ancient Persian art to illustrate them. The framing device of The Thousand and One Nights opens with Scheherazade on the 422nd night, telling an enthralled king the beginning of another story, then skips to the 483rd night and continues on through the stories, moving through tale after tale until the end of the book – if not Scheherazade’s saga – at the 498th night as the storyteller embraces the king.
David B. brings a remarkable freedom to the work. His sense of pattern, color, and use of detail fill each page to the brim, rewarding the reader who comes back for a second look. He uses many art-historical references, giving a wink to M.C. Escher, another to ancient Mayan glyph language, and also illustrated manuscripts, Byzantine iconography, and on and on.
He seems to have a special sympathy for monsters, and depicts many of them in bold, saturated colors, utilizing color complements to make the images pop. Each page displays marvelous complexity and endless invention as when, for example, he depicts the torments of the damned, travels across wild oceans in a human vessel, and a battle between monsters and apes set into a graphic maze-like pattern.
David B. brings a playful, erudite approach to both text and artwork and, in the process, has created one of the most unusual, fascinating graphic novels I’ve ever seen. I can’t praise this book highly enough. NBM has produced an attractive hardcover volume on slick paper with full-color reproduction and lively endpapers to enhance the package. If you can only purchase one graphic novel this year, get Hâsib & the Queen of Serpents.
This review and more like it in the October 2018 issue of Locus.
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