Review of Grandville by Bryan Talbot
One of the most profoundly satisfying things about running a fanpage for the comics legend that is Bryan Talbot is that after a while Bryan asked me if I wanted to receive free review copies of his latest works. Well, that's kind of like asking if a one-legged Pope craps in the woods, isn't it?!
And so just recently I got a large, well wrapped package from Jonathon Cape, and inside was the long awaited new graphic novel from Bryan, Grandville.
First let me say something about the physical aspect of this book: it is hardback and the cover is in the old style of hardbacked children's books: mottled and dark red, well-known from days of old with Rupert the Bear and Enid Blyton books. Printed directly onto this is a black and white image of Detective Inspector LeBrock, in all his two-guns-blazing full-on badger-bad-assery... - and I know that this is a consciously striven-for effect, this deliberate emulation of an artifact from most of our childhoods... - but the thing is, it succeeds perfectly! There's no feeling of "trying too hard" or any of those other marketing failures it is so grating to have to witness, this stylisation just works - beautifully!
The very first page of the novel, showing an exuberantly steampunk-Paris draws you in; then there is a hell for leather chase sequence that does what any intro should do - leave you fascinated as to what is going on and compelled to find out more - such as who these animal-faced people are and why they are trying to kill the otter!
Then the scene shifts back to England and we are introduced to Detective Inspector LeBrock himself, investigating the murder. Incidentally, the village that the murder is set in is consciously based on Rupert the Bear's home village of Nutwood. You rapidly come to understand why this bloke - or badger - is a DI as he spots clues that are missed by the regular plod, with a deductive style at the level of ol' Sherlock himself. This section is an absolute delight to read, and highlights one of the enduring strengths of the comic medium - that is the ability to go back and re-read the panels you've just read to catch stuff you missed the first time around: yes - you can flip back a few pages in a text only book, but that lacks the viisual impact of the comic's art; likewise rewinding a movie jars you out of the trance of concentration you enter when watching a really good movie. When LeBrock sums up his deductions you will inevitably flick back a couple of pages and see the evidence for yourself again, and see the stuff you missed in a way that doesn't knock you out of your meditative reading, but actually enhances your enjoyment of the comic.
After that a roller-coaster of a plot is delivered, with Bryan's hallmark impeccable pacing and fabulous attention to detail in the artwork. I've said it before and I will say it again: having the artwork and story delivered by one mind means that a degree of integration and interweaving between plot, art, text and overall script that is just not possible when more than one person is involved in the creation of the comic. That's always been one of Bryan's strengths - all of the elements of the comic are delivered by one master story-teller, and every element is used to it's best effect.
There are also the inevitable comedy moments, delivered with Bryan's usual deadpan style. [warning: minor spoilers ahead]. At one point LeBrock beats some information out of a frog, and goes just a tad too far - at which point his assistant states dryly "I think he's croaked it." A bishop - or if you like, a church-primate - is a chimpanzee - or in another sense of the word, also primate.... The only humans in the story are from a village in France called Angouleme - which is incidentally where the largest comic festival in France is held each year.
There is also a moment of genuine pathos when LeBrock questions a small dog called Snowy in a surprisingly gentle fashion - who is an homage to TinTin's faithful sidekick and who (in this region of the multiverse) is now a sad and lonely opium addict, whiling away his days in drugged dreams of happier times.
This is an absolute delight to read and will keep fans of Talbot's work enthralled to the end. In fact if there is any justice it should bring in new fans of the whole anthropomorphic genre too. And I have to admit, I was new to this genre myself, my only previous experience being of work like Rupert the Bear - and so inevitably getting labeled as childish in my mind. That's very different now: you have to see this to believe how well the whole concept works with peoples animal forms mirroring their main characteristic: from the drug-dealing gangster that's a horse, to the anti-war Molotov chucking gorilla, to my personal favourite, the arrogant, snotty, supercilious French waiter that's a cod, all of the anthropomorphism's work seamlessly and seem to add a deeper layer of subtext to the story.
After this I will no longer be able to think of anthropomorphic work as being in any way childlike. (not that that should be possible after Maus of course) It's now another tool in the armoury of an expert storyteller, and to be honest, it is hard to imagine this story being so vital and vibrant without it.
You can jump on and go along for the ride just on the surface level of a rattling detective-thriller story, or revel in the deeper allusions and subtle layers of meaning - much like all of Bryan's work come to think of it.
Highly recommended. And Bryan has now completed the sequel - Grandville: Mon Amour.
- Don't forget - if you buy Grandville by Bryan Talbot through this Amazon link, then we get a little percentage to help the site keep running!
- If you've just got a copy of Grandville yourself, then come on over to the Bryan Talbot Facebook group and discuss it with other fans
- Also see the Down The Tubes review of Grandville
- And the Bleeding Cool Grandville review
Or you could always return to the Grandville homepage.