Set in the 1800s, Grandville Paris is the largest city in the world. Itís a steampunk city filled with corruption, machinery, and wonder. In that setting, Diplomat Raymond Leigh Otter finds himself on the run from a gang of killers, and so he decides to board a train back to his home in London. The next morning, London police discover him dead with a pistol in his hand.
Through visual storytelling, Bryan Talbot quickly thrusts readers into his anthropomorphic, scientific-romance thriller. In-fact, the first seven pages of the story only contain one speech balloon. This technique is a nice way to jumpstart the story and engage the reader since the pacing isnít interrupted by dialogue.
When the dialogue does come in, Talbot uses it to add flavor to the story through his use of British idioms and slang. As an American, it intrigues me to see words that Iím not accustomed to, such as poppycock (which is slang for ďnonsenseĒ).
The author struck gold with his lead character, in Detective Inspector Archie Lebrock, a DI from Scotland Yard who provides a perfect mix of gentleman (albeit, as an anthropomorphic badger) and tough guy. These qualities, along with his intelligence, allow this badger to be the driving force behind the adventure. For instance, his argument that Raymond Otterís death was a homicide distinguishes him from typical members of law enforcement. On the contrary, this umbrella-toting detective isnít shy to point a pistol in a gangsterís face either.
One of my favorite tough-guy scenes involves DI Lebrock and his interrogation of the Archbishop (an anthropomorphic monkey). Lebrock calmly pours wine over the head of the Archbishop who is tied up and gagged. After the monkey claims to have told him everything he knows, DI Lebrock uses a pocket knife and severs his ear. Since these moments of dark humor are crafted with style and donít contain gore, they evoke laughter and further solidify Lebrock as a special character.
In addition to writing Grandville, Talbot also pencils, inks, and colors the book. The bookís presentation features some very elegantly presented impoverished environments of Paris--including ballrooms, a swank spa, and back alleys. No matter the location, Talbot captures a great sense of texture and realism in his work.
For example, DI Lebrockís rumble in a back-alley showcases one of the most grainy brick wallís Iíve ever seen. Talbot had the opportunity to illustrate generic-looking bricks. Instead, he gave detail to every single brick. Then he added a computerized effect that provide the impression of a rough texture.
Additionally, Talbot's anthropomorphic approach is a success. I was amazed to find parrots, rams, crocodiles, pandas, pigs, otters, badgers, foxes, fish, lions, elephants, lizards, and more in this book. The ability to personify these animals while allowing them to maintain their animal appearances is astonishing. Although the art appears somewhat cartoony, the character designs are not exaggerated. Anyone can pick up this book and easily identify the animal(s) on a given page, which is truly a testament to the time and effort that was put into this project.
As for the flaws in Grandville, there are a few. For one thing, Talbot doesnít take full advantage of the steampunk concept. Despite the introduction of steamed planes and cars, Iíd have preferred to see more of a variety of unique steam-powered inventions.
The opening of the story capitalizes on the steampunk conventions as gangsters are chasing Raymond Otter on steam-powered skates. However, the rest of the story fails to deliver on unique gadgets.
Lastly, I donít ever recall DI Lebrock having a boss. He just appears on the scene of Otterís death and begins investigating. It would be nice to know about his superiors.
Overall, though, Grandville is nothing short of entertaining. The art and story telling are balanced, and Talbotís use of anthropomorphic characters is great.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!