This October, Dark Horse Comics releases “Cherubs!” a raucous graphic novel written by Bryan Talbot and featuring art by Mark Stafford. Talbot has had a long and distinguished career in comics, beginning with work in the British underground comics scene of the late 1960s and ’70s. His work includes “The Adventures of Luther Arkwright,” and stints on several serials for “2000 AD,” including “Nemesis the Warlock” and “Judge Dredd.” He was the recipient of an Eisner award in 1996, for “The Tale of One Bad Rat,” and holds several Eagle awards and nominations, not to mention an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sunderland.
“Cherubs!” tells the story of five cherubim who, having been accused of committing the first murder in Heaven, escape to New York City. The journey takes the cherubs through the bowels of the city and into Hell itself in an attempt to delay the Apocalypse, all while riffing on references ranging from Milton to Robocop and Amy Winehouse with a stinging sense of humor.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Talbot on the development of “Cherubs!” and the ongoing influence of his early years in underground comics on his career today.
CBR News: First off, can you tell us a little about “Cherubs!” and how it might relate to some of your previous work?
Bryan Talbot: “Cherubs!” is a supernatural comedy-adventure about a bunch of gonzo cherubim who escape to New York on the eve of the apocalypse of Revelations after being blamed for the first murder in Heaven. There, hotly pursued by two seraphim enforcers, they discover a whole supernatural underworld that, on the whole, is beneath the perception of the human inhabitants.
Can you speak to some of your literary or artistic influences and how they might be informing this work? I’m thinking, most specifically, about William Blake, of whom you’ve spoken in past interviews, and there’s the clear reference to Milton as well.
Yes, more Milton than Blake. The climactic part of “Hell on Earth” follows the Cherubs as they descend through the circles of Hell in an attempt to stop the ritual which frees the Devil from his eternal imprisonment there, allowing him to walk the Earth. Their guide, of course, is Virgil. Except he’s a skit on Steve Buscemi from “Escape from LA!”
Movies have been a big influence and several times in the script I indicated the atmosphere or shot from a certain film. On one occasion I asked for the setting to look like the rooftop in the penultimate scene of “Bladerunner.” We do reference Gustave Dore’s Milton illustrations.
“Cherubs!” is referencing, or satirizing, a huge swath of popular culture, as well as historical works of literature and art. What’s driving this glorious, omnivorous, mash-up?â€¨
Basically, wanting to have fun! “Cherubs!” is a romp through religious myth and horror/fantasy movie tropes with a gonzo boy gang throwing a spanner in the works that probably goes back to “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Â Â Â
How do you feel humor, or absurdity, is operating in this work?
Comedy is notoriously difficult to analyze, so I’ll leave that to the reader. It does make me laugh out loud though! One reviewer of “Paradise Lost” described it as “pants-wettingly funny”. There is a strong strain of English absurdist humor running through it and some parts are very definitely Monty Pythonesque.
â€¨In thinking about humor, I’m also thinking a little about that reference to “Waiting for Godot,” which is both oddly hilarious and crushingly oppressive and tragic. It seems like, and maybe this is stating the obvious, humor can be used as something of an access point for heavier subject matter — the potential end of the world, or the question of the existence of Heaven, and that if it does exist it might, in fact, be the dullest place in existence.
I think that you’ve put your finger on it there. On a basic level, I think that it may lead some readers to reconsider their fundamental concepts of just what heaven and hell really are, and force the question “Does this stuff make sense?”
On the other hand, I just hope that they enjoy the ride.
“Cherubs!” debuts in October from Bryan Talbot, Mark Stafford and Dark Horse Comics.