Bryan Talbot's "Adventures of Luther Arkwright" marked the advent of steampunk comics, and the writer-artist returns to the alternate history genre with "Grandville," an original graphic novel shipping in October from Dark Horse. The book, which will be the first in a series, stars a cast of anthropomorphized animals living in a fallen, oppressive Great Britain. CBR News spoke with Talbot about "Grandville," changing the past, and the particular qualities of badgers.
"'Grandville' was originally inspired by the work of the mid-nineteenth century French illustrator Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard, who used the nom de plume 'JJ Grandville.' Many of his illustrations features anthropomorphic animals in contemporary dress," Talbot told CBR. "I've never done a 'funny animal' comic before so I thought I'd have a go at this venerable genre. There's a big tradition for the genre in British children's comics going back to late Victorian times. I used to be given a Rupert the Bear annual every Xmas when I was young and I always thought the coolest character in it was Bill the Badger. Something to do with the black and white face - it looks striking."
Besides being a badger, "Grandville" protagonist Detective Inspector LeBrock is equally adept at detective work and the use of brute force. "LeBrock has all the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes but, being a badger, he's a bruiser by nature and is quite happy to beat the living spit out of a suspect to get information," Talbot explained. "He's extremely tenacious and thinks nothing of battling against tremendous odds, usually winning through by a mixture of intelligence and brutal violence. He's working class English in contrast with his adjunct, Detective Roderick Ratzi, his Watson if you like."
Other characters include, Roderick, who Talbot said "Is a dapper rat who talks posh in the manner of Bertie Wooster and Lord Peter Wimsey. Another major character is Sarah Blairow, the biggest star of the French music halls and loosely modelled on Sarah Bernhardt. Then there's the right wing Prime Minister of France - a white rabbit named Jean-Marie Lapin."
Bryan Talbot has explored alternate histories in one of his best-known series, "The Adventures of Luther Arkwright," in which the titular hero was able to transverse multiple realities. In "Grandville," though, the focus is on one particular universe in which Britain lost the Napoleonic Wars, leading to the swift decline of England's influence and severe repercussions throughout Europe. "After its defeat, Britain, as with all the other European countries, had their royal families guillotined by the victorious Napoleon. Now, two hundred years later, there is a globe-spanning French Empire with Paris, the Grandville of the title, being the largest city in the world," Talbot revealed. "After a lengthy campaign of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings, Britain was begrudgingly given its independence twenty three years ago and is now a small and unimportant country connected to France by the Channel railway bridge."
"It's always interesting to play 'what if...?'" Talbot said of the alternate histories seen in his works. "Also, with parallel worlds you can comment on the world we live in. Luther Arkwright was created against the background of the rise of the far right in Britain during the late '70s and '80s, with Thatcher in power and the racist National Front marching on the streets. That's why the book has a strong anti-fascist theme. In 'Grandville' I refer to the way the British and American people were lied to by their leaders who used non-existent weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to make war on Iraq."
Talbot is planning on a series of "Grandville" graphic novels totaling four or five books. The second volume, "Grandville Mon Amour," will see his vision of London, but the debut book will center around a tiny English village, where LeBrock is investigating a suspicious suicide. "The village is actually Nutwood from the Rupert the Bear stories I mentioned earlier," Talbot said. "I especially enjoyed drawing that sequence - briefly inhabiting a fictional place from my childhood. The story starts there, small, low key and parochial, but gets bigger and more action packed as it goes along as LeBrock doggedly follows the trail from there to Paris. Paris is based on the Paris of La Belle Epoch, but filled with steam-powered hansom cabs, automatons and iron flying machines."
"Alice in Sunderland," Talbot's most recent work, was a history of an English town and a reexamination of Lewis Carroll, as well as a comment on mythmaking and storytelling itself, crafted in mixed media into graphic novel format. This ambitious project led Talbot to try his hand at other creative media before returning to comics. "'Alice' was extremely hard work and took a long time - about four or five years, not counting a few years research before that while I worked on other things. It really was like doing a PhD," he said. "I'm still very proud of 'Alice' and can't think of another comic or graphic novel like it. I think that I'm strongly influenced by the Beatles and David Bowie - how they managed to reinvent themselves with each album and that's what I like to do. Immediately after finishing 'Alice' I wrote the prose book, 'The Naked Artist,' and did an experimental manga graphic novel, 'Metronome,' under the nom de plume of Veronique Tanaka.
"'Grandville' is different again and was a joy to write and draw. Once I had the concept, it practically wrote itself. It was a lot of fun."
"Grandville" goes on sale in October from Dark Horse.