If ever there was a volume designed to accentuate the joys of basic hand-held print volumes, it’s David B.’s Hasib and the Queen of Serpents (NBM). Subtitled “A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights,” the 9×12-inch hardbound graphic novel retells one of Scheherazad’s lesser known stories-within-stories with splendorous richness.
The book opens with the title hero Hasib’s father, the sage Daniel, passing on five pages of wisdom to his son. As a young man, Hasib and a group of fellow lumberjacks take refuge in a cave during a thunderstorm.
There, they find a well of honey worth a fortune. Beset with greed, Hasib’s co-workers take the honey and strand our hero in the bowels of the cave. Led by a glowing scorpion, Hasib descends into the depths where he meets the Serpent Queen.
After he tells her of his travails, the Queen reciprocates, recounting “all the wonderful experiences” she’s had. Thus fully begins the book’s tales-within-tales, starting with King Bulukiyo of Cairo’s quest to meet the prophet Mohammed.
Like Hasib, Bulukiyo is betrayed – in this case by a greedy magician named Affan, which leads to a series of interlocking intrigues, betrayals and fabulous romances from Cairo to Kabul, in which the serpent queen regularly has a role.
For many American comics readers, David B. (full name Beauchard) is best known for his emotional autobiographical account of his brother’s illness Epileptic. Working here with distant interlocking myths, David B. can’t produce the same compelling emotional storytelling, instead relying on elaborate visuals to hold the readers attention.
For the most part, the approach works; evoking Middle Eastern tapestries, he provides sumptuously inventive images to pore over and relish (one such high point: a battle scene panel that spirals in on itself). It’s enough to make one hope – as with his multi-volume Epileptic and the historical trilogy Best of Enemies – that this book isn’t the only light Beauchard shines on the Thousand and One Nights.