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The Official Bryan Talbot fanpage / Articles

Bryan's answers to the questions
from the bulletin board


Hi folks.

I don't surf much, and probably won't do so until the system's so advanced that it's instantaneous. I hate wasting time and that's what happens every time I try; waiting forever for the connections to be made, waiting forever for things to download, then having the screen freeze or the connection broken and having to start all over again. Aaaargh! it drives me up the wall.

However, I HAVE checked out the bulletin board a couple of times and am very pleased with the responses to Heart of Empire and such. And, as usual, James has done a great job putting it together. As you probably know, I'm currently working on the CD Rom of Heart of Empire with James - writing thousands of words' worth of annotations that should answer any questions you may have, and some you won't have thought of, such as Fairfax's farting literary predecessors and the original 17th Century meaning of the word "nincompoop".

By the way, if you've any famous farters you think I might not have heard of, please email me via this website.

Meanwhile, James has sent me the following list of questions from the bulletin board. Doing this in batches, now and again, is probably the best way to answer these, rather than on a day to day basis. Also it saves me having to surf more than I have to!

1. When you finished the Arkwright saga, did you have a sequel in mind or did Heart of Empire germinate later?

I never had a sequel in mind till the very end. In fact, I'd always seen Arkwright as a one-off. As I was finally working on the last few pages, I began thinking of what would happen next and realised that there was a good story there. That's when HofE germinated, which meant that I had lots of time to think about it and do research. Having said that, 80% of the story only appeared when I got down to the plotting and scripting, directly before drawing it. The script took 4 or 5 months.

2. What drew you to want to tell Victoria's story?

Good stories always involve character evolution. I could imagine how Victoria's attitudes would be shaped by her environment, making her, though admirably strong-willed and intelligent, an unsympathetic character with unlikable aspects.. The story is as much a voyage of discovery for her as it is for the reader, and her gradual character change as a result of her experiences made her an interesting character to deal with.

As an aside, I'm going to throw in something here from the CD Rom; notes on one way I dealt with Victoria.

"Eye level; the placement of the point of view of the reader is a very important visual storytelling device. Eg; a high point of view, looking down on a character can make that character seem vulnerable. Batman and Judge Dredd are two examples of where a low eye level is consistently used to give these characters an aura of power; subliminally we are looking up at them; they are bigger than us.

In The Tale of One Bad Rat I wanted the reader to sympathise with the protagonist, Helen - a survivor of child abuse. One of the ways I did this was to place her on the readers' eye level. Even when she was in a crowd, we were at her eye level, not those of the surrounding crowd. Of course, it would be boring if this was true for every panel and it's necessary to vary angles for dramatic effect but, for the majority of the panels, we were "with" Helen.

Victoria needed a different treatment. During the story Victoria's character changes, from the foul tempered, racist elitist (by dint of her upbringing and station in life) to a much better person as a result of her experiences. So, at first, I didn't want the readers to empathise with her. Dramatic license aside, our point of view throughout the first half of the story is at the eye level of people surrounding her - distancing the reader and giving her an aura of power. Subconsciously, we are "beneath" her. Suddenly, at the moment when the hallucinogenic tincture kicks in (pg 155 onwards) the eye level jumps to Victoria's. We are now "with" her for the rest of the story.

Also note the smallness of her pupils. When we are pleased to see, or sexually stimulated by someone, our pupils dilate. When asked to chose the most likable faces from photographs, subjects in psychological tests always choose the ones with large pupils (even between photos of the same person - one with large pupils, one with small). Subconsciously we get the message that they are friendly towards us and therefore fundamentally nice people. Throughout the first half of the story, Victoria's pupils are small, for the reasons given above. At the same point where our eye level drops to hers (page 155 onwards), Victoria's pupils suddenly dilate and remain large for the rest of the story, encouraging us to take a liking to her.

3. Did the character of Victoria spring full-grown from the mind of her creator or was she based on someone real?

She was slowly realised over a number of years. I first thought of Victoria as a sweet young girl in a horrible situation. Someone we sympathised with. The more I thought of her, the more I knew that it would be more interesting if she'd been shaped by her upbringing into quite a nasty piece of work, as would likely to have been the case.

4. Everyone will ask this question, of course: After a well-earned rest, do you have plans for future projects? (And might we ever see a story about Hiram and Angela?)

Yes, though none of them are definite yet. There's one where I have the complete environment designed and thought out, but can't decide on what kind of story would be suitable for it. I've also written a movie treatment since finishing Heart of Empire, but have put it to one side for a few months, so I can look at it with fresh eyes, before I submit it anywhere. BTW, the HofE movie treatment and also a separate proposal I did for a TV SF series are being shown round Hollywood at the moment, though if anything comes of them I'll be amazed. For every thousand projects there, one gets made. Most of my time since finishing has been spent on the CD Rom annotations, which I've almost finished. I'd like to do another Arkwright story at some point, but I'd want it to be very different from the first two stories and would like to do something else first. Don't know whether we'll see Hiram and Angela again...

5. May I say how thoroughly I enjoyed reading Heart of Empire and how much I admired the combination of the story-telling and art?

Yes, you may! Thank you very much!

6. What, do think, is the continuing appeal of Luther?

That's something you'd have to tell me. I'm far to close to be able to see how readers perceive him.

7. Do you believe that your background within the alternative culture shaped your style and stories, and if so, how?

It must have done. I like to think that it gave my work a hard edge, or some sort of integrity.

8. What symbolism did you consciously place in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, that you feel strongly about?

There's symbolism all the way through it, in one form or another. The quote at the end makes the whole thing into an allegory of the second law of thermodynamics. It's an anti-war story with lots of symbolistic images or scenes making comparisons with Nazi Germany. There's incidental or recurring symbolism with such references as Leda and the Swan and the tarot, down to the "Skull panel" prophesying the King's death and the fact that Luther's hair is parted in the centre, denoting equilibrium. Actually, there's much more symbolism in Heart of Empire.

9. Does Heart of Empire show a more optimistic personal view of your own, given the lightness when compared to the dark undertones of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright?

Don't know, generally speaking. However, the story was being written at a time when it was obvious the right wing Tory government we'd suffered under for 18 years was on the way out, so that may have lead to a brief optimism. Usually, I'm more of a realist, but think that certain stories need to be optimistic to succeed as stories. And Heart of Empire is really only optimistic at the very end. If you read up to the end of chapter 8, then stop and think; the story could have gone anyway after that - it could have ended in total catastrophe.

10. What does WOTAN really stand for?

I remember no-one got it during the British run of TAoLA. I'm going to quote the annotations again; "WOTAN; The All-Father and chief of the gods in Teutonic mythology, the German version of the Scandinavian Odin, a name chosen for the supercomputer parallel monitor as a result of Zero Zero's history. In The Adventures of Luther Arkwright I never revealed what WOTAN actually stood for, not considering it important. In fact, in the first British (Valkyrie) comic series, we even had a competition for readers to guess though no one came close to it; World Oracle;Temporal Alternative Nexus. However, one wag did submit "Wet Orange Tee-shirts Accentuate Nipples".

11. Where did the germ of Luther come from? Did you always have this story in mind when you started doing comics/writing?

I'm going to answer this again with a bit from the CD - this time from a "meta-interview" made up from several HofE interviews; "-How did The Adventures of Luther Arkwright come about? The original strip, THE PAPIST AFFAIR (which is just reprinted in the BRAINSTORM collection) was an excuse to do a Richard Corben-type strip in line and watercolour wash, its story very influenced by the JERRY CORNELIUS books by Michael Moorcock. After doing this 7 page strip, I started to think more seriously about Luther and his milieu, and developed it away from the Cornelius influence, so he took on his own character. THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT was an attempt to do an intelligent adventure story for adults that was every bit as rich as a text novel and was drawn in illustration-quality artwork, not in the American "shorthand" style then employed by most comic artists. It was a reaction against the bland state of mainstream superhero comics of the time; Arkwright had sex, drugs, swore, vomited etc - sounds inane now but, at the time, these were shocking things to see in comics. I thought "mainstream text novels and movies contain all this stuff - why not comicbooks?"

12. Will there be a portfolio for HoE?

Some large prints would be great. No plans at the moment. I did have an idea for drawing and self publishing a Luther story in a set of 6 or so plates inspired by those of Hogarth, such as "The Rake's Progress". Hogarth virtually invented this form of storytelling. It would consist of one story, told in, say, 6 illustrations. Visual clues and symbols in each picture would allow the reader to construct the story; implicit in each print would be what happened before and what happens after. Don't know if I'll ever get round to it. If anyone wants large prints of any pages, we have all the story on disc and could perhaps have them made to order?

13. How does he envisage Victoria managing to say sorry for Britain desecrating the world?

Don't know, but it would be fun to watch. I tried to give an impression that the Henry-creature had some sort of psychic effect on everybody in his world and that, on his death, this dark cloud was lifted and the world could be shaped anew. That would undoubtedly aid Victoria in her task. Also I imagine the news that your country is suddenly released from its subjugation by a frighteningly powerful and mind-bogglingly vicious Empire would be one of relief rather than anger, the desire to be to expend all energy into rebuilding rather than revenge. Remember that, as homo novus, Victoria could always use psychic persuasion, either consciously or intuitively, to win people over. Also. I imagine that she'd be backed up by a programme of wealth redistribution and aid for building reconstruction and land renovation, not to mention the safe return of the ruling family's relations!

Is there any likelihood of a new Arkwright book?

Possibly with a brand new cast. See answer 4 above. It probably would have a mostly new cast and be in a different situation.

14. How much research does he do into the science involved and the scientists names as well.

As much as the story needs. Here's a chunk from the CD Rom annotations again; "I consulted several scientists and physicists over the design and manufacture of a low-tech atom bomb, including Prof Jack Cohen and Ministry of Defense Physicist Dr. Paul Cray, and this is as correct as I could get it. A great deal of force would be needed to push the two halves together, as they naturally repel each other, hence the long drop. Simon Bisson suggested the locking clamps. Even if Lang took some safety precautions, working on this device without modern protective clothing would be fatal and he is, in fact, dying from radiation poisoning, indicated by the blotchy skin and vomiting."

15. Do you actually believe in a Utopian ideal being possible for humankind?

Communism was a utopian ideal, but just wasn't possible because of peoples' natural greed for money or power and certainly not helped by outside pressure from Capitalism. I think, for this reason, Utopias are impossible. Are people naturally like this or is it conditioning, rather than nature? Conditioning begins from the earliest age. Zero Zero is about the closest I'd think of to a Utopia; a united world, no poverty, no disease, no inequality, no money, no religion, free love, no pollution, no McDonalds. Some of it, though I've never made this explicit in the story (or interviews) based on Aldous Huxley's postulated ideal social structure in his novel "Island".

16. What comes first the art or the plot? That is, what kicks off your imagination?

In the Tale of One Bad Rat for example the final frame almost seems to sum up the whole idea of the story of Helen finally being happy with who she is. To be of a whole, in the comic medium story and art should evolve together. The very first draft of my scripts, before the first typed draft, is a mixture of words, sketches and layouts in pencil.

17. Is Bryan a firm believer that we do not have to be a victim of our upbringing?

Both Helen Potter and Victoria overcome their conditioning to achieve a level of understanding. I think overcoming one's conditioning to become a better person is, in general, a heroic achievement. Depends, of course, on the nature of the conditioning, but it can be done and I'm sure we can all cite examples.

Is the use of women in these roles a particular indictment of mans evil. Most the bad guys are male as well. Does he intend to expand on this in future works?

I'd say Helen's mother and Queen Anne take a lot of beating when it comes to bad guys. and a lot of the good guys are male (Ben and Sam in BR, Gabriel, Maurice, Hiram, Prentice, Arkwright himself in HofE). I think things should be balanced.

18. Does Bryan ever think he'll produce a work as convoluted as TAoLA again?

Probably not. Arkwright was a game with the readers; a mental jigsaw puzzle to start with. I now seem to be going for clarity and accessibility.

19. Does he love Whitby as much as I do?

Don't know how much you love it! I do love the place though I don't know it that well. It's on the opposite coast from where I grew up. I was in the old whaling port for a day when I was sixteen, whilst on a Medieval Architecture weekend with my art class. I put it into Arkwright about 25 years later without having been back there again. When I came to do the final scene and I researched Whitby, I found that the Abbey was about half a mile from where I wanted it, so moved it over to the edge of the cliff anyway; you can't see the Abbey from that part of the beach and the view's partially invented anyway. This hasn't stopped some people telling me that they've stood on that spot! I suppose I must have got over the real feeling of the place. Last year I moved house and now live on the East Coast, near Newcastle and not too far from Whitby. One of the first things I did was to visit Whitby for a couple of days. It's still brilliant, though a little more commercialised now. The arch made of whale ribs is still there. If you're into fish, the restaurants are to die for. Caught in the morning, on your plate at night. While I was there I saw "The Victorian Image" establishment, specialising in photographing tourists in Victorian dress, and it gave me the basic idea for the spoof biog in Chapter One. That's where the photo of me as "Capt. Talbot" was taken.

Well, there they are, answered. It's taken me all afternoon. By the way, the original meaning of nincompoop is "a man who's never seen his own wife's vagina". True. Till next time.


I'd like to say thanks you to all of the people that wrote in with questions for Bryan from the bulletin board, and most of all I'd like to thank Bryan once again, without whom none of this would be possible - this page or the entire site!!

- James



The design and content of this page and this entire website is copyright 1999, 2006 by James Robertson: all images are copyright 1999, 2006 by Bryan Talbot