Comics to Commence a Cosmos: Creation myths in graphic novels
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by Rachel Sherlock
Comic books are an incredible space for conceptual art and imagination. It is hardly surprising then, that many illustrators have looked to creation myths for inspiration. There are few types of narrative that contain such a profusion of imagination and imagery. As the artists play god their results are both fascinating and mesmerizing.
Be warned, however, as reading these comics may cause deific ambitions to create your own universe. Happily, we've heard this should only take about a week. So we've made a biblically inspired timetable and suggested a creation-myth-themed graphic novel to inspire you at each stage of the process.
Day One: The creation of the heavens and the earth
Beginning your beginning can be tough, so we've settled on a recommendation which gives you plenty of options.
A Graphic Cosmogony by Various
This compendium of creation myths gives 24 artists seven pages each to tell their own version of the creation of the universe. The artists have been given free reign, resulting in a wide variety interpretations which stretch from the solemn to the psychedelic. Some of the stories take inspiration from religious texts, others from science, and still others have no obvious sources. This range in story, style and tone creates a kaleidoscope of stories and visuals that continually delights. The book also serves as a starting point for you to introduce yourself to great graphic artists and illustrators. Indeed several of the artists in this collection have books of their own featured in the list below.
Day Two: The creation of the sky
Once you've started with the basics you can really show off your creative skills, and there's few better canvases than the sky. It's time to start looking for color inspiration...
Map of Days by Robert Hunter
Map of Days opens enigmatically with a prologue on the shaping of universe by nine celestial siblings. From there it follows a young boy called Richard who steps through the doors of a grandfather clock. On the other side he is met with the face of the Earth. This face and the young boy begin a dialogue about the creation and beginning all of things. The face tells him how he stares into the sky enraptured with his love for the sun. It's a soft and ethereal story told through simple and functional language, but the book's real heart is in its illustrations. Robert Hunter's vivid palette and lyrical designs are utterly compelling. He creates his world, through bright colours and clean shapes, which gives a sense of childlike wonder and this origin myth unfolds.
Day Three: The creation of dry land
Having laid your foundation you should be prepared for all that earthly life has to offer. Although there's no need for you to take the term 'dry land' quite so literally.
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson's sprawling epic Habibi is by no means solely a creation myth story. The main story centres on refugee child slaves, Dodola and Zam, and their efforts to stay alive in their desolate desert environment. It is a harrowing look at poverty and the extremes of human behaviour. However, interwoven with this narrative are stories shared in Christian and Islamic traditions. This means the story of creation and the beginnings of man are captured in Thompson's beautiful illustrative style.
The black and white images throughout Habibi are inspired by a love of Arabic calligraphy. Whether depicting angelic figures or crowded harems, the illustrations are given the detail and craftsmanship found in important historical texts. Even the book's design echoes that of the Quran. The combination of a modern illustrator utilizing a traditional and sacred style makes for a striking and captivating look at the Islamic/Christian story of creation.
Day Four: The creation of the stars and heavenly bodies
Creating all these celestial bodies can be a quite a tricky business. It's worth appreciating the structural complexities that go into universe construction.
By This Shall You Know Him by Jesse Jacobs
Out of a chaos of geometric patterns and spindling tendrils Jesse Jacobs forges his own universe and creation myth. By This Shall You Know Him is a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the book of Genesis. Here, the universe is the hodgepodge result of a sort of art project shared among deities. One god creates the Earth, while another gets jealous and attempts to ruin it by filling it with humans. Jacobs' style, unlike that of his gods, is meticulous and complex. He evokes mathematical and scientific structures in his intricate designs, while his limited colour palette creates a celestial atmosphere. The illustrations tumble out from the page creating fantastical and bizarre life forms and landscapes.
Day Five: The creation of life in the oceans and in the skies
Creating such a range life forms is challenging prospect. Make sure you've lots of reference books to study first. An encyclopedia is usually a good place to start.
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Dark and haunting, Isabel Greenberg’s tale is one of ill-fated lovers in a prehistoric world. A young man sets out from the North Pole to explore the world. When he reaches the icy seas of the South Pole he meets a woman and they fall in love. Yet all is not so simple, as the polarity of Early Earth means that they magnetically repel each other. Unable to get within two feet of each other, Nord man whiles away the hours with his beloved by telling her the myths and stories of the world. Situating her story before the rise of civilisation Greenberg imagines a world where all mythic stories are part of one narrative. The creation myth recounted here has elements of Mayan, Greek and Chinese mythology. In other parts Nord man tells of the biblical figure Solomon, and Odysseus’ fight with the Cyclops.
Greenberg’s tone is wry and familiar, which helps in keeping this a fun and accessible read. Her art style is enchanting, large areas of black and white are punctuated by clever splashes of colour. The drawings are a blend of bold graphics and intricate details, giving The Encyclopedia of Early Earth a striking but also whimsical feel.
Day Six: The creation of beings that live on land
With a full sky and sea, it's time to fill the land. Luckily there's plenty of inspiration to form a myriad of fantastical creatures.
Rise and Fall by Micah Lidberg
Not quite a creation myth, Rise and Fall is still certainly a story of earthly beginnings. It chronicles the emergence of dinosaurs, their extinction, and the following evolution of mammals on Earth. Micah Lidberg manages to capture this story without words in one long frieze. The book is in concertina form, unfolding to create a spectacular panorama. Despite its short length, there's no limit to the amount of time one could spend poring over Lidberg's art. Vibrant colours create an exotic and ancient world of marvels. Intricate creatures weave in and out of each other as eras of the world march on. Rise and Fall is part story, part art piece and totally engrossing.
Day 7: The day of rest
Now that you've created your world you can sit back and relax. It's time to appreciate your work and watch the epic narratives of time unfold.
Krishna: A Journey Within by Abhishek Singh
Krishna is one of the most fascinating sacred figures. He is often venerated as the absolute incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the Supreme Being in Hindu mythology. His life story is the basis for many forms of worship and religious practices. Abhishek Singh undertakes the monumental task of condensing the story of Krishna into a 300 page graphic novel. While the historical texts about Krishna are vast and complex the graphic novel manages to be a contemplative experience. It delves into Krishna's spiritual journey, rather than merely recounting the many events of his life. The illustrations are breathtaking, and each one merits a pause for reflection. There is a sense of immense scale to this mythic narrative. Singh utterly captures the cosmic grandiosity and natural splendour of this foundational story.