Once you know what you’re reading, it’s present everywhere, but overlook the part on the cover that Hasib & the Queen of Serpents is A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights and it could be confusing when you first get started. The half-title page doesn’t mention it either (the full title page does) but writer and artist, David B., doesn’t set-up The Arabian Nights for new readers.
That’s a creative decision, and between everything you might know about A Thousand and One Nights going in, and Google, it’s very easy to get your bearings if you’re aware of the connection. David B. is faithful to the text. Maybe you don’t know Scheherazade by name, but you can surmise that she’s the storyteller and an internet search will confirm it. The important thing is being aware of why she’s telling these stories, and that’s to stay alive. If the king wants to hear her stories to the end, he can’t kill her, and while that urgency is present in David B.’s art, I don’t know that their relationship is clear without some background context.
Then again, the book is graded “for mature readers” so they’re not expecting youngsters to be picking Hasib up, but I actually think they could. Please don’t take my word on that blindly, because I don’t want to traumatize any kids (the publisher, NBM, would know better what’s appropriate for young readers), but compared to Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other myths, Hasib isn’t out of line and the adult content is tastefully done. There are wars and nudity (some shirtless scenes) but most of the time, the important bits are covered up and the battle scenes are more intricate than exploitative or bloody. Again, I don’t want people to be surprised when they come across a beheaded ape during a battle scene, but if there’s such a thing as an un-alarming beheading, David B. isn’t trying to replicate a crime scene.
True to the Arabian Nights tradition, stories are introduced within stories, filling up time, while David B.’s art winds around, using spirals to pull readers deeper, and call to mind the snakes that appear throughout. Snakes are often mistrusted but here they help characters out (it’s probably not a coincidence that the Serpent Queen and other prominent females bear a resemblance to Scheherazade). David B. draws eyes to be extremely telling. If your gut reaction is to fear the snakes upon their arrival that quickly dissipates after realizing their eyes mean no harm. Meanwhile, Bulukiya, one of the leads, meets a man who presents as an ally. His eyes tell a different story.
Using colors like the inks used for dyeing Persian rugs, lavish blues and reds, Scheherazade’s plots run like a “Yes, And” improv exercise. Her characters don’t get flustered, and what results is as unlikely as it is wildly unpredictable. I’m not sure if NBM plans to turn A Tale of A Thousand and One Nights into a series or if David B. would be interested in adapting more, but you can only pull off a neverending story if it’s a page turner and Hasib never slows down.
A Tale of a Thousand and One Nights: Hasib & The Queen of Serpents goes on sale June 1st from NBM.