Lorenzo's interview with Bryan
Here's an email interview with Bryan by an Italian fan names Lorenzo: let me say thanks to him for permission to put it onto the site!
Lorenzo: have read that you have been in Italy during this year, and that you have been impressed by the "health of the market": now there is a real Japanese-invasion, on the other hand the so called mature product seem to resist , and the same can be told for the newsstand products. Comics in the states seems to suffer a real crisis in the last 5 or 6 years what you think could be the reason and the remedy? Maybe the net, cyber comics could it be an answer?
Bryan Talbot: Yeah, I was at the Novegro Convention in Milan early this year. I get to Italy whenever I can. And the market is very healthy compared to the ailing American one or the almost nonexistent British market. The American market of a few years ago was artificially inflated, due to"investors" buying 20 copies of each comic in the vain hope that they'd be worth lots of money very quickly. This happened after the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story saying that comics were a better investment than gold! It took these investors a few years to realise than they weren't going to make a fortune, then they pulled out and left the market more or less the same size as in the early eighties. Comics are nice artifacts in themselves, nice things to hold and read. I just can't see them working on computer screens. I do have a German comicon CD, with some sound effects and some very basic animation - and it just doesn't work! In comics, the sound and movement come through our imagination. Perhaps when the technology is more advanced, when computer screens are as thin as paper and you can hold them like a comic and when high definition images don't take forever to download...
Lorenzo: Surfing the Net I've found a shot of what it seems to be the real Ravenscar (Peak House?), a place in some way link to King George III's madness, it really seems very similar to your depiction of the Costantine asylum in the Hellblazer Annual, since Mr Delano didn't remember at all any of the reason to choose that place can you solve the mystery?
Bryan Talbot: Nope. I just made that up.
Lorenzo: What do you think about that particular story, I mean the Annual, to me it's got something of magic in it, I'm used to read it almost every year and every time I find new hints and suggestions, do you help Mr Delano in plotting the story ?
Bryan Talbot: Not exactly in the plotting, but Jamie came up to stay with me for a few days before he wrote the story and we talked about what we wanted to do a great deal. I do think it's a great story. The Spanish edition won their Haxtur Award for the best short story of the year. I inked all the 6th century sequences very dark and textured to give it a Dark Ages feel, and the present day bits lighter and more open for colour. I also researched quite a bit of Celtic stuff that I used in the illustrations.
Lorenzo: Which were the English Artists of the past, that more influenced you, in the comic scene?
Bryan Talbot: The main one has to be William Hogarth, 18 century print illustrator and painter. I also like the pre-Raphaelites and book illustrators such as John Teniel, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Russell Flint. And Gustave Dore (who's French!)
Lorenzo: You have a real director approach both in plotting and in drawing your story, what are your favourite film-maker? Did you study cinema?
Bryan Talbot: I didn't study cinema at college, but have been into films all my life. Nicholas Roeg's early films (from PERFORMANCE to BAD TIMING) were a big influence. Also Sergio Leone's westerns. Sam Peckinpah and Stanley Kubrick I'm into. Also Hitchcock, of course, early Ridley Scott (why do many directors start off with a unique vision, only to become more and more homogenised the more films they make? This also happened with Roeg and John Landis), Luc Besson, Claude Berry, Jeunet and Caro (Did you see CITY OF LOST CHILDREN? Brilliant.), Akira Kurasawa, the Coen Brothers, Terry Gilliam and lots more. There's also lots of directors I don't always like, but who sometimes make an exceptional film.
Lorenzo: I've found Teknophage really amusing and original, did you like to work on that project, do you know if Mr Gaiman has taken inspiration from Super Mario Bros's movie?
Bryan Talbot: No idea. I've never seen it. The intention was to do a steampunk story.
Lorenzo: Was there a particular reason to choose Octobriana for the Adventures - have you a real interest for Eastern European comics?
Bryan Talbot: I included Octobriana as a tribute to the bravery of people producing anti-state comics in a totalitarian environment. It was only years later that I discovered that the Sadeky book was a hoax!
Lorenzo: What are in your opinion the main difference between J.Cornelius, J. Stargrave and L. Arkwright? Do you see Luther like a new type of hero a man that has evolved himself, almost a Uber Menchs, or is he more similar to an avatar, a manifestation of the one only reality ? (maybe too much philosophical)
Bryan Talbot: The very first Arkwright story, The Papist Affair (which is being reprinted in the new Brainstorm collection of my early underground work, published next month) was quite like the Cornelius stories that inspired it. After that, I took Arkwright in his own direction with his own sort of story and, I'll think you agree, he's a very different character to Cornelius. Mike Moorcock agrees with me on this, so that's good enough for me! He's supposed to be the next step in human evolution. Gideon Stargrave, like Arkwright, first appeared in Near Myths in the late seventies (written and drawn by Grant) and was very much a Jerry Cornelius clone.
Lorenzo: I have really been impressed by the way you rendered or described the scene of enlightenment after the death in prison of Luther, did it came from personal experience in meditation or an esoteric field or it comes from some literary source? If so what were your sources (Ouspensky, Gurdjeff or are you more Crowleyist - definitely too much philosophical)?
Bryan Talbot: It comes from both. I tried to make it meaningful by drawing parallels from mythology, religion and the occult, showing how things are interconnected, in each stage of Luther's internal journey. Grant Morrison sees it as a magical ritual in comic form. It was also based on an intense acid trip I had 25 years ago when I reached the "seventh level" and ascended into the pure white light of the infinite! No shit.
Lorenzo: A Tale of One Bad Rat makes me cry (obviously this will be omitted by the interviews, man I got a reputation to keep I'm real Italian male, we don't cry!) how do you succeed with such simplicity to render the anger and the sorrow the grief of Helen , did you meet some abused people to prepare the work, what text do you read to try to understand the feelings of a young abused girl?
Bryan Talbot: I'm going to be lazy here and reprint a reply I had to the same question about research in a recent American interview; I talked to a couple of friends who'd been abused and read about a dozen books on the subject, which included psychoanalysis and transcripts of abuse survivors talking. I read about the same number of books about Beatrix Potter plus all her stories several times and visited her birthplace in London, her house in The Lake District, the Potter Gallery in Hawkshead and other sites connected with her. I corresponded with playwright Eric Pringle (author of MEETING BEA, a play about Potter) and Judy Taylor, probably the world's leading expert on her. I joined the Beatrix Potter society for the duration of the book - their newsletters were always full of all sorts of information. Apart from keeping pet rats, I read four books on them (admittedly two were simple "Keeping rats as pets" books, but they did yield a couple of interesting facts) and corresponded with the Fancy Rat Society. There was also a good magazine article on the Temple of Rats in India. I also checked out some of my standard reference books, such as THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SYMBOLS and some history books for references to rats. I visited and photographed all the locations in the book, both in London and the Lakes and read four books on the lake District, including the semi-mystical THE SHINING LEVELS, which I refer to in the story. I also had to look up books on wild flowers, birds etc.
Lorenzo: There was some particular reason in the choice to speak about parental sexual abuse?
Bryan Talbot: As I say in the afterword, Rat's Tail, the story told itself. I never set out to write a story about child abuse. That's the way the story developed.
Lorenzo: In my opinion A Tale of One Bad Rat is a terrific story a real artistic masterpiece and you treat, in a realistic but not pretentious way, a very hard and very difficult to treat problem of our society, mixing all these aspects with the best touristic depiction's of the Lake district,, could it be considered your hardest and best work ?
Bryan Talbot: It's probably my best work and it was the hardest job I'd done to date, but, nearly having finished Heart of Empire, which is over twice as long as Bad Rat, after three years solid work, this seems like the hardest!
Lorenzo: What I really like of this work if that in my opinion you didn't want to make a story of social denounce or something like that, your intention was to do a good and real story about real people set in the Lake District, a place that you really love (why?), and in doing so you succeed to treat the abuse in a very objective way and without preaching.
Bryan Talbot: I wanted to show the father as just being an ordinary guy. He's not a monster. It's ordinary guys who do this sort of horrific abuse. He was so self-centered and insensitive that he could do it and not think it out of the ordinary. The Lake District is a beautiful and awesome place, which I've known since childhood.
Lorenzo: Your drawing techniques and storytelling seem to change with every different work, is it your choice or in some way is the story itself that suggests how to realize to script?
Bryan Talbot: I've always tried to let the story dictate the style of artwork. I've also tried to make each story I've worked on have it's own distinct atmosphere.
Lorenzo: History for you is just a tool that you use to create a good plot or do you have a fond interest in the subject?
Bryan Talbot: I'm interested in history, but not in an academic sort of way. I'm interested by the real life stories in it, and some of the absolutely crazy things that were taken as part of normal life in the past. I love visiting historic sites, castles, cathedrals and museums. They all seem to suggest an abundance of stories and myths.
Lorenzo: Do you think that the study of the past could help to avoid the same mistakes in the future?
Bryan Talbot: One of the things about history is that it constantly repeats itself in new forms. In Chapter 6 of HEART OF EMPIRE I actually postulate a physical reason for this!
Lorenzo: How many hours do you work a day?
Bryan Talbot: It depends what the deadlines are like! Most often I get up around 10.00 and work till 1.30, seven days a week.
Lorenzo: How was the situation of the British comics, "the underground >scene" during the '70 and '80? I have read about magazine like Near Miths or Warrior, Psstt! (was it the first home for Luther?) and later 2000ad that were the "gymnasium" in which young hopes like Moore, Morrison, Milligan, Mills etc were practicing, was it difficult to fight your way out against the American comics in a market that shares the same language, could it be this the reason why nowadays it doesn't exist a real British market? (OK the real reason for this answer is that I got a stock of 2000ad that I want to get sold so, OK OK I'll give you 30%!)
Bryan Talbot: Towards the end of the 70's, underground comics were dying out, or changing into "Alternative" titles like NEAR MYTHS. It was Near Myths that first ran THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, though his first appearance was in BRAINSTORM COMIX in 1976. Actually, this story is included in the new 120 page collection, BRYAN TALBOT'S BRAINSTORM, along with a lot of my other early underground work, out next month from ALCHEMY PRESS. (See - I can plug stuff too!) In the eighties, 2000ad was where it was all happening; exciting stories full of black humour, experimentation and brilliant art by the likes of Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Glenn Fabry. Writers like Alan Moore, Alan Grant, Grant Morrison and many others honed their craft there to perfection. I worked for 2000ad for about 4 or 5 years in the mid-eighties, Mainly on Nemesis the Warlock, written by Pat Mills, but I did work on JUDGE DREDD for about 3 months. The Nemesis stories were all reprinted in trade paperback collections by TITAN BOOKS, but I think they're now all out of print. American comics at the time were in a real rut - bland and boring. The British invasion of their comics scene was like the equivalent of the arrival of Punk Rock in pop music. Once it started, there was no "fight" to get into America, it was the other way round; the American publishers plundered Britain for anybody that could hold a pen!
Lorenzo: It is not strange that many English authors, that have great success in the states (maybe because the Americans generally take inspiration mostly from the "roots" of American culture or the roots of comic, can we say Kirby or Lee instead of Eisner , while you use to "steal" a lot from English or in general European literature) aren't so much famous in Europe too? Could it be a language problem but for example Moebius or Caza or Jodo are well known here in Italy and the same can be told for Italians in France?
Bryan Talbot: I don't have the same feeling about Italy, as I've been published there for many years but, in the case of France, it's tough to get published there if you aren't French. There's a real resistance to strangers in the comic business (which is strange, as they seem to prefer American films to their own!). After all this time (despite getting friendly with French publishers at cons and even learning to speak French) I've only just been published in France for the first time. VERTIGO have just published BAD RAT and some of my DC work - The Batman story MASK and my SANDMAN stuff- has also recently been reprinted.
Lorenzo: You have always chosen to realize your works without the help or the mark of the majors, the same can't be told for other English artists that realized their masterpieces, like Watchmen or Dark Night or Arkham Asylum, for the DC; was this was a means to have more control over your work without any possibility of censorship?
Bryan Talbot: I did work for DC for three or four years (plus a few things after that). With the exception of MASK, they were all written by others and censorship wasn't a problem, though I remember that the Orpheus story had a bit of trouble with the Baccante sequence at the end. On one panel I'd drawn a naked woman up a tree and the editor, sweet Alsia Quitney, insisted that the woman was masturbating by rubbing herself against the trunk! I eventually persuaded her that it was all in her mind! At the end of that sequence, it gets very bloody and Alisa had it all re-coloured in blues because it seemed too gory. That was the only sort of censorship I had with DC. With BAD RAT and HEART OF EMPIRE I've had no editorial interference whatsoever. The only comments that Randy Stradley has had have been helpful ones. For example, I'd drawn a pair of guns with silencers, and Randy pointed out that revolvers can't be silenced because they aren't sealed in the way automatics are. So I had to redraw the buggers.
Lorenzo: What do you think about the Siegel vs DC and the quarrels over Superman rights?
Bryan Talbot: It was pretty tough on them, though they did sign away all their rights (which Bob Kane didn't do with BATMAN). Can't blame them, though -how were they to know it would become such a huge phenomenon? Remember, it was originally just an SF ripoff of Doc Savage (advertised as "a superman"and even with a Fortress of Solitude) and they'd already had seen it turned down dozens of times by other publishers.
Lorenzo: What are the main difference between Heart of Empire and the Adventures? Why do you choose to use computer generated colours in this new work ? Do you think that the marriage between comics and computer graphics will work?
Bryan Talbot: THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT is, I think, a very different sort of story to HEART OF EMPIRE, more self-consciously experimental with (to begin with) a nonlinear storyline. It was designed as a sort of mental jigsaw puzzle; as the story progresses then the more the pieces fall into place till the reader's going faster and faster and pulled screaming through the climax. That was the theory anyway. I was trying to do lots of new things with it. For example, there's one pages with five different story strands interweaved or, rather, juxtaposed. There's another sequence where I spread 12 seconds over 72 panels. Also, the art style's different -tons of crosshatching and contour shading. Also it's in black and white. To me, having HEART OF EMPIRE in colour is a big plus. Not only does it suit the story and it's lush, decadent atmosphere but it makes THE ADVENTURES... really seem as if it took place "in the past", a little like looking at a sepia photograph (HofE is set twenty three years later). It's also been great working with Angus McKie, who's probably the leading computer colourist of comics in the world. He's a perfectionist and is determined to get it right and will spend as long as it takes to do that, whereas most colourists would spend a set time, a few hours, on each page and no more. For each issue, I send Angus a full colour guide -photocopies of the inks with notes and scribbles all over. After he's done the first draft of the colours, he emails them to me and we spend hours going through them over the phone with me saying "can you put a fade there? Can you change that colour?" etc and THEN sometimes I go over to his studio and we spend a couple of days going through them again - fine polishing them. Computers aren't going to go away and it's best to learn to deal with them. When I've finished HofE, I'm going to get some more equipment and start getting into them more seriously. Of course, you can still make slip-ups with computers and a couple of times, a wrong file has slipped through - most recently in Chapter 5 page 133, where a low-res file was used.
Lorenzo: Is it just my opinion or you didn't like too much the Sandman Annual, the Orpheus story?
Bryan Talbot: No, I liked it fine. Why do you think that? I did prefer the Augustus story. You must be referring to the artwork - didn't it look right? On all my DC work (except THE NAZZ and MASK) I was inked by other people. Neil always used to tell me that I shouldn't let other people ink me as I was my own best inker, and he's right. Some people can be inked straight over the pencils, no bother. I always use the inks to redefine the pencils, correct mistakes, change lighting effects, very often actually re-pencilling as I'm doing it. It wouldn't be fair to expect other people to do that - to actually improve your drawing, rather than do what they're paid for, that is, to make your pencil marks printable. Of course a bad inker can change your artwork for the worse - in the past I've had inking that's so crude it's changed expressions on faces and changed the whole style of the artwork.
Lorenzo: What are your relationship with other media? Is there any real possibility to see some of your characters on the screen?
Bryan Talbot: Fat chance. Now and again, someone will express an interest in buying rights, or a film agent will tout one of my books round Hollywood, or Dark Horse will show stuff round and get a nibble on the line, but nothing's ever come of it. Pretty soon I'm going to be writing a treatment that Quentin Tarrentino's mom asked me to do. Don't know if anything will come of that.
Lorenzo: Chester P Hackenbush and later Moore's C. Williams, I think that Windfall (could it be swampy no 43) was great, what's drug for you?
Bryan Talbot: Of course I haven't taken drugs for a very long time, but I used to like opium a lot. The thing is, it's as bulky as cannabis and stinks to high heaven, so it's very hard to smuggle into Britain and, in fact, it simply doesn't come here. Most of it's used to make heroin anyway, which is a real loser's drug. In the 70's, about 20 or 30 friends and acquaintances started injecting hard drugs, as opposed to smoking dope or the occasional tab of acid or line of coke which the rest of us did back then. Within ten years they were ALL dead.
Lorenzo Would you still write on a wall, after what has happened in Europe, "the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of destruction" (so we end quoting Yeats that sounds so cultural :-)
Bryan Talbot: Well, it wasn't me who wrote it on the wall, it was a character in the story. And it's not Yeats - it's William Blake, a big influence on the Arkwright stories.
Lorenzo: Thanx to let me bore you
Bryan Talbot: No, thank you for your interest!
... and thanks to both of you for letting me reprint the interview here!
Other interviews with Bryan on the site include: Bryan Talbot the best kept secret in comics: an interview with Bryan originally published by Popimage in December '99; and, Slipping through the parallels with Bryan Talbot by Brad Cook - an amazing piece of work, as it's an interview with Bryan told by Hiram Kowolsky on this parallel!
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