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?!
so just recently I got a large, well wrapped package from Jonathon
Cape, and inside was the long awaited new graphic novel from Bryan,
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
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 I hear Bryan is also already
at work on the sequel!