Filed under: Interviews | Tags: 2000AD, Alice in Sunderland, Batman, Bryan Talbot, Cherubs, Dotter of her Fathers Eyes, Grandville, Sandman, Thought Bubble
Bryan Talbot is a British comics creator who doesn’t have to trade on 4 middle of the road issues he did for a big time Marvel/ DC cape in the 90s to draw a crowd at a convention. Whilst he has worked extensively for 2000AD, had stints on Batman and Gaiman’s Sandman it is his own, original graphic novels that he is perhaps most well known for.
Sketching and signing for most of the Thought Bubble weekend at the Traveling Man stall, Bryan met up with us late on the Sunday afternoon for a chat. I was pleased to find he’d brought along an advance copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, which is not due out until early 2012 and I have had on pre-order for what seems like months.
The feedback from people flicking through ‘Dotter’ has been very positive but I wondered if the typical convention clientele might mean that Talbot would have the opportunity to introduce his work to those unfamiliar. Lots of shoppers at Thought Bubble were picking up the 1st installment of his popular anthropomorphic steampunk detective story, so it would seem so.
‘I’ve tended to shy aware from superhero comics. I’ve written and drawn Batman and Judge Dredd, but on the whole I prefer doing my own thing’
Writing as a fan of Bryan’s work I much prefer it when he does his own thing too. Despite being responsible for The Adventures of Luther Arkwright which was arguable one of Britain’s first graphic novels, he first came to my attention through Heart of Empire and Cherubs. Like many others I’ve been a confirmed fan of Grandville since the first installment was released in 2009.
Alice in Sunderland is Bryan’s ‘heaviest’ work. I refer to it in this manner not only on the basis of its involving subject manner but also its impressive weight and page count. This is a seriously mammoth comic book which manages to combine a local history of an area of England with the lives of Alice Liddel and Lewis Carroll’s Alice. There are autobiographical elements to this book too but above all it is a tremendously entertaining, absorbing and satisfying read.
Talbot says ‘Alice; ‘probably took about five years to complete’ and that the progress was hampered by him having to work on other projects at the same time, not to mention the 3 years he spent researching it prior to starting work.
‘I think it is the most difficult piece of work I’ve ever produced. At the time I was doing it I was saying its like doing a bloody PhD this! And I didn’t say that lightly…. I know what’s involved’
The year after ‘Alice’ was released Sunderland University awarded Bryan an honorary doctorate for his work in the comics field, though he says ‘It was really for Alice’
This recognition may have gone part way in recompense for the phenomenal effort on Bryan’s part to complete the book. There was no precedent for Alice and, despite it now being in its 5th edition, Bryan claims it was a ‘hard sell’. He has nothing to compare it to or describe it with and so did not manage to secure a publisher until it was almost finished.
‘It took forever to do that bit in the middle of the book where I sort of wake up in the middle of the night and have this crisis of confidence – that was very genuine’
Bryan said that generally speaking, when he’s working on a graphic novel ‘I’ll be thinking ‘’Oh this is great, people will love this’’…. but with ‘Alice’, all the way though I was thinking ‘will anyone want to read this apart from me’?’’
If I was forced to pick a favourite book from Bryan’s rather impressive back catalogue, hands down it would be Cherubs, illustrated by the ever excellent Mark Stafford. The first ‘cantica’ of Cherubs was released in 2007 and is a hilarious adventure featuring the loveably grotty and unfortunate cherubs, a stripper and a vampiric gang boss. There’s also a heavy helping of religious political intrigue involving some high ranking murderous archangels.
Stafford is an amazing artist and his Botulism Banquet I have no hesitation in saying is one of my favourite comic books ever. His illustrations are riddled with macabre, cartoony wit and he adds something unique to Bryan’s Cherubs. Bryan understands my enthusiasm for Stafford’s work and adds ‘I don’t know why Mark isn’t nationally famous, because his cartoons are brilliant. His individual illustrations are fantastic so he was the ideal choice for Cherubs’. Stafford is almost finished drawing the second part and Dark Horse are going to publish the entire thing at some point in 2012.
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is written by Dr Mary Talbot, Bryan’s wife and illustrated by Bryan himself. He describes this as being a ‘very different, but very nice experience’. Of the typical process he says ‘when you collaborate with a writer you get the script though the post and if your lucky you might have a telephone conversation with them’
Bryan then went on to discuss how he worked with Neil Gaiman, with whom he famously collaborated on the Sandman. Gaiman would come and stay with Bryan and his family for a few days prior to starting work on the script which allowed them both the opportunity to have input into the others work.
Working on Dotter, he describes it as a much more intense process, featuring daily, ‘almost hourly collaborations’ which saw Mary making plenty of notes in the margin of Bryan’s illustrations.
‘It was like a metatextual thing – By the same principle I had a lot of input into the script – [Mary] provided me with it and I did all the page breakdowns and panel breakdowns – it was a very close collaboration with stuff going both ways’
Dotter of Her Fathers Eyes is currently available to pre-order and as well as appearing to be a quality graphic novel in its own right, it being looked to by many fans of Bryan’s work to tide them over until the third installment of Grandville is released. You can see some previews of this book over at Bryan’s fan page.
‘I’ve actually written the fourth one [Grandville], thats fully scripted and I’m drawing the third one now. I’ve got a fifth one loosely plotted out.’
The crazy and amazing art of Grandville is where the time spent. ‘The art takes about a year and a quarter to do’ and is drawn conventionally on a drawing board, pencilled and inked and then scanned into the computer. The results are spectacular and distinctly original.
If you’d like to find out more about Bryan and his work his own website is very informative and kept well up to date. If your on Facebook I’d recommend his fan page too.
All photos courtesy of Fiona Watson Photography.
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