The Grandville Tour: Talking to Bryan Talbot

Talking Grandville With Bryan Talbot

Cartoonist Bryan Talbot has long been one of the big names in British comics. Birthed out of the British underground comix scene of the 1970s, Talbot transitioned into modern work such as on 2000 A.D. and later his own graphic novels. Two Luther Arkright books and the social drama Tales of One Bad Rat cemented his name not just as British cartoonist but an comic creator of international renown.

In his newest graphic novel Grandville, the award-winning cartoonist lunges into an Earth similar to ours but in many ways quite different. In this steampunk world, Britain lost the Napoleonic War and French have overtaken society of England. After years of turmoil and revolt, Britain’s regained a bit of independence but still lives in the shadow of the French Empire.

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And oh yeah, the characters are all animals.

Steampunk meets Animal Farm in Talbot’s newest adventure with this upcoming graphic novel from Dark Horse, and we caught up with the British cartoonist to find out more.

Newsarama: It’s good to talk to you, Bryan. From what I’ve read about Grandville, it sounds like an anthropomorphic steampunk book; would that be a fair statement?

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Bryan Talbot: That’s absolutely right. It’s a steampunk detective thriller. I’ve been describing it as being a little like Sherlock Holmes directed by Quentin Tarantino – with animals!

NRAMA: How would you describe the makeup of the world this book inhabits?

BT: It’s set in a steampunk Fin de siecle Paris – La Belle Epoch – a place bustling with automaton robots, steam-powered hansom cabs and flying machines. This Paris is the Grandville of the title. It’s the centre of a French empire that spans the globe, ruled by the Lion, Napoleon XII. There are some humans but they’re an underclass, menial workers. They’re nicknamed “doughfaces”.

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NRAMA: Anthropomorphic creatures aside, this is an alternate version of history where Britain lost the Naopoleonic War. What interests you in the idea of alternate histories?

BT: They’re cool. It’s fun to play “what if?” You can also use these other realities to comment on our own. My first graphic novel, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, was created against the background of the rise of the extreme right in Britain in the late 70s and early 80s, with the Thatcher government in power and gangs of racist thugs such as the National Front marching on the streets. That’s why it has an anti-fascist theme. In Grandville, although it’s a work of fantasy, I still make it a relevant political satire.

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NRAMA: The lead character in this is a Scotland Yard Detective named LeBrock who’s a badger. Can you tell us about him?

BT: He’s a big working-class copper who’s extremely tenacious. He has all the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes but, being a badger, he’s also a bruiser by nature and can be quite ferocious.

NRAMA: This is a very imaginative series, Bryan. Where did the idea for Grandville come from?

BT: It was loosely inspired by the work of the mid-nineteenth century illustrator Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, who worked under the nom-de-plume JJ Grandville. He did many cartoons of animals in contemporary dress. It was also partially inspired by the early science fiction illustrator Albert Robida who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, was drawing scenes of video phones, iron flying machines and germ warfare guns. He was incredibly visionary.

NRAMA: In your last big book, Alice In Sunderland, you employed a very dense and luxurious style – blending collage, digital art and pen and ink. How would you describe how you’re approaching the art on this new book?

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BT: It’s very straightforward. It’s pencilled and inked on the drawing board, scanned in and computer coloured. The colouring is quite painterly and actually took me longer than the drawing.

NRAMA: For this book I see a very contemporary European style to your line work, similar to Herge’s linework. What led you to do this?

BT: I’ve been using a clear line technique since The Tale of One Bad Rat, which is a style directly influenced by the European ligne clair school. Grandville, though, also uses some contour shading and black brushwork for hair, clothes, shadows and so forth, so it’s a bit of a mixture. The important thing was to give clear, accessible images.

NRAMA: In reading this book I see a tinge of the steampunk style that was in the classic Luther Arkwright books. Did you have a want to explore that type of thing further with this book?

BT: Yes, but in a different way. Arkwright was a very different sort of story - gritty and self-consciously experimental. Grandville is more of an exciting rollercoaster ride. There’s also more humor in it.

Grandville is due in stores in late October from Dark Horse.  


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