A few weeks back I was honoured to be able to speak with Bryan Talbot.
For those who don’t know. Bryan Talbot is among the most prolific and creative talents in the British comic book industry, and has worked as both an illustrator and writer within the industry for over 30 – years.
He is also credited with having written the first ever Graphic Novel for the UK audience, and is the creator of much loved characters such as Luther Arkwright and the recent creation of Detective Inspector Lebrock for his new book Grandville, which was released last month, and is what I’d call an event book. So read it now.
During the course of the interview we discussed many things, and this is just a taster of what we discussed to give you a preview of the full interview, which we’ll play on our radio show in early December.
Talbot started work in the 1970s and was part of the comics counter culture of that time, and when I asked him about the origins of Luther Arkwright he revealed that Arkwright was born in that period and kind of evolved as the years passed.
“One of the underground comics we did was an anthology title called Mixed Bunch, which we had a few different strips in.
“I wanted an excuse to do a strip in pen line and water colour wash, and in the seventies the writer Michael Moorcock had invented this character called Jerry Cornelius and offered him as a template for other writers to use. He was like an interchangeable character, and he sort of operated in parallel worlds.
“So, I basically did my take on this Jerry Cornelius character and called him Luther Arkwright. Looking back on it he was a little bit of a cross between Clint Eastwood and David Bowie in the Man Who Fell To Earth.
“Anyway when I finished the strip, which was only an eight pager. I had in my mind an idea that I wanted to do as a graphic novel. So I started thinking about Arkwright a lot more and the possibilities seemed endless. So I decided to take the character away from the Jerry Cornelius origins and make him his own man. His own complete character.
“The story I tell in The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright is quite different from the Jerry Cornelius stories. So I made him my own character.
“I’ve discussed this since with Michael Moorcock, and he agrees that Arkwright is very different from Jerry Cornelius. Moorcock wrote the forward for Arkwright when it was all collected into one volume.
“It was the first British Graphic Novel. It was first published as one volume in 1982 at around the same time as When The Wind Blows. However, when you consider that Arkwright had been serialized since 1978. It does predate that by four years.”
When asked about his approach to creating a comic book or graphic novel Talbot revealed that for him. The process is a combination of both the storyline and visuals coming to him at the same time. That changed when it came to Grandville as the writer explains.
“When I’m doing a graphic novel. I think about it for quite a few years. At least two or three years sometimes as much as ten years before I actually do it. I consider all the different angles, and sometimes it can be a situation, character or a plot idea which comes first.
“With Grandville. The new book. That happened very differently. It has never happened for me like that before. It was like a sudden flash of inspiration. I was looking at a book have had for a number of years about the mid 19th century French artist Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard.
“He used to do a lot of anthropomorphic drawings. You know drawings of animals posed like humans and dressed in contemporary clothes. He signed these J.J. Grandville, which was his pen name. And I was looking at them and thought Grandville that could be a name for a bigger version of Parish like a Belle Époque populated by animals. Like a steampunk Paris driven by steam driven vehicles and things.”
One of the things Bryan Talbot enjoyed about Grandville was that he was able to create his characters based on the traits of the various animals he uses in the book.
“I’d never done an Anthropomorphic book before, and thought it a fun challenge. I always like to try something different. If you look at my books you’ll see that they’re all very different. So Grandville was a chance to do an Anthropomorphic book. It’s quite interesting because you can cast the story according to the characteristics of the animals.
“So the main character. Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard. He’s a Badger. An English working class Badger and wears a bowler hat and stuff like that. I sort of based him on Sherlock Holmes, but being a Badger he’s naturally ferocious. So he’s quite happy to beat the living spit out of a suspect for information. He’s a very ferocious sort of character. His adjunct is a Rat whose able to leap large distances between roof tops and stuff like that.
“So the characters have the characteristics of the animals to an extent.”
When it comes to allegory Talbot is the master, and when I asked him about it. He revealed that it’s always a conscious thing, but he also likes to balance it out with fun.
“I try to make my stories relevant. Even the sort of fantasy escapist ones. I’m working on the second Grandville book at the moment, and that one is really dealing with the morality of terrorism, and the after effects of terrorism, which is what’s behind the story.
“Luther Arkwright when it was produced in the late seventies and early eighties was produced against the backdrop of the rise of the far right in Britain. With Thatchers Government coming to power and the National Front marching on the streets and stuff. So it became very much an anti fascist story, which was what was behind a lot of things back then.
“I don’t think these sort of things should be in your face, but they should be included to give a story a bit of depth.”
You’ll be able to hear the full version of this interview on SFP Radio in December where Bryan talks about having worked for DC and 2000AD as well as his work on the critically acclaimed Alice In Sunderland.
I would like to thank Bryan for his generosity and time and for agreeing to this interview.
You can read more about Bryan Talbot and his work. As well as keep up with his convention appearances at: www.bryan-talbot.com
By Ian M. Cullen