Bryan Talbot: Creating an Anthropomorphic Thriller in that Ol' Steampunk Style

A comics interview article by: Andre Lamar
Recently, Andre Lamar got the chance to sit down with critically acclaimed writer/artist, Bryan Talbot. In this poignant interview, Talbot gives us a distinct look into his latest project -- Grandville -- and so much more…

Check out the trailer for Grandville at the end of this interview!


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).

AL: Juan Diaz Canales’ story Blacksad reminds me of Grandville, in that it starred a cat detective in an anthropomorphic setting. How do you distinguish Grandville from Blacksad and other anthropomorphic stories?

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: Will Grandville be on DVD and Blu-ray in addition to being released as a hard copy?

BT: No. It’s designed to look like a Victorian book, complete with clothback cover and art nouveau steampunk endpapers.

AL: You’ve created countless award winning projects in your career including the graphic novels Alice in Sunderland and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Throughout your career how have you been able to dig deep within yourself and birth exciting stories?

BT: I always try to do a comic that I think hasn’t been done before and reject any ideas that seem too close to another comic. This makes me think of sometimes strange and off-beat concepts.

AL: Can you describe the current comic book scene in the U.K., as opposed to when you first began writing comics?

BT: The traditional British market of children’s and adolescents’ cheap weekly comics now seems to be in terminal decline. 2000AD has survived by growing up with its readership but still sells a fraction of its circulation of twenty years ago. On the other hand, the market for graphic novels has been steadily growing and is still very healthy, even during this recession.

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.

AL: Which aspect in creating comes easier to you, the writing or the drawing?

BT: I wrote the script for Grandville in a week. It took about a year and a half to draw and color. What do you think?

AL: Are you interested in re-launching the Judge Dredd series, or writing more stories for DC’s The Sandman?

BT: I wouldn’t rule it out but it’s much more satisfying and much more fun to work on my own stories.

AL: Which company is publishing Grandville and why did you choose them?

BT: Jonathan Cape, an imprint of Random House UK. They are a big, well-established company and their books are respected by the public and the media. When my Alice in Sunderland was published by them two years ago, it received large, positive reviews in all the UK’s major newspapers. I was on national radio and TV. If it had been published by a comics company, it would have had none of this attention. It’s now in its fourth printing. Dark Horse has the American rights and will be bringing it out at the same time, in October. It’s also being published in six other countries.

AL: Although a new graphic novel from Bryan Talbot is reason enough for fans to purchase Grandville, what makes this project a must buy?

BT: That’s not really for me to say! Though it seems that it appeals to a wide range of readers. Every time I’ve shown people the work in progress, at cons for example, even if they’ve never read my work before or even heard of me, they’ve been wowed and expressed their intention to buy it.

AL: What else can fans expect from you in 2009?

BT: Not a lot, really, as I’ll be drawing Grandville Mon Amour for the next year at least, though Dark Horse may be publishing a hardback edition of The Tale of One Bad Rat.

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