One of the most gifted comic book creators of the medium, Bryan Talbot has explored numerous genre from sci-fi (The Adventures of Luther Arkwright), to fantasy (Sandman) to superheroes (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight) and even future-shock action (Judge Dredd). His latest project mixes both the anthropomorphic and steampunk genres along with as healthy dose of Victorian adventure. An homage to both Jack Kirby’s epic Kamandi and the works of JJ Grandville (both featuring a blend of animal-people in unique settings), Talbot’s Grandville looks to be yet another knock out comic book that will attract attention from critics and fans alike.
Andre Lamar: What was the inspiration behind Grandville’s concept and it’s anthropomorphic characters?
Bryan Talbot: One day I was flicking through an old book I have of the illustrations of the19th century French illustrator Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard who did many cartoons of anthropomorphic animals, all dressed in the then contemporary fashions. It was literally a flash of inspiration, as the whole concept of a steampunk detective thriller with animals just appeared in my mind. Gérard worked under the nom de plume of “JJ Grandville” which was also part of the concept — in the story Grandville is a nickname for Paris. I’d never done an anthropomorphic strip before and thought that here was my chance. This venerable comic genre has a long tradition in the British comics I read as a child. I think it’s also influenced by Jack Kirby’s Kamandi.
AL: I understand the feature character in Grandville is Detective-Inspector LeBrock. Explain why you chose to use a badger as the main protagonist. Not to mention, other than his title as detective, what other interesting things can you tell us about LeBrock?
BT: One of the comics I used to read was Rupert the Bear. I used to think that Rupert’s coolest friend was Bill Badger — probably because of the black and white face — the markings are very striking. There’s also the badger in Wind in the Willows, who’s a very solid and extremely competent character. Badgers are tough, tenacious and can be ferocious creatures and that’s what LeBrock’s like. He’s happy to beat the crap out of a suspect to get information. However, he’s also very intelligent and can do proper Holmesian deduction. I hate the sort of detective story where cases get solved by unexplained hunches or coincidence, the ones where the detective seems to know who did it by magic. LeBrock works things out. He’s powerfully built, is unashamedly working class and his hobbies are fishing, chess and single malt whisky (though you only discover this in the next book, Grandville Mon Amour).
BT: For a start, the protagonists are very different. LeBrock is a down-to-earth English copper battling against tremendous odds, so the story is more epic than the low key Chandleresque noir stories of Blacksad. Having said that, I’ve only read one of them, but I presume they’re similar. Unlike Blacksad, he doesn’t work alone. His adjunct, his Watson if you like, is a dapper rat who talks like Bertie Wooster or Lord Peter Wimsey. The setting also differentiates Grandville from any other anthropomorphic story. It takes place in a steampunk fin de siècle Paris, a place full of automaton robots, iron flying machines and steam powered hansom cabs. Also it’s drawn in my style!
AL: What is it about the steampunk genre that interests you?
BT: It’s cool. Or, rather, it can be cool. While we live in an age where design and architecture tend to be plain and functional and everything’s made out of plastic, to me, the gothic style is far more visually interesting and everyday products were aesthetically pleasing; things made from brass, leather and polished wood. Rather than the sloppy fashions of today I can draw distinctive costumes. I think this, combined with the element of science fiction, creates a fascinating world to inhabit for the duration of the story.
I’ve been following Talbot’s work since my buddy John Caples first turned me on to him. His draftsmanship and the intensity of his art style combined with a firm grasp of drama and character have made Talbot’s comics come alive for me. As an Anglophile, I’m also very attracted to the purely English influences such as Wind in the Willows noted here (and he’s right, no one would mess with Badger… he’s like an animal Sean Connery only less mellow).
Grandville will hit the stands in October. To celebrate the latest work, Dark Horse comics will be releasing Alice in Sunderland (previously available only in the UK) and a deluxe hardcover edition of Talbot’s touchy work The Tale of One Bad Rat.