The Rat's Whiskers
This is the foreword to the trade paperback edition of the Tale of One Bad Rat.
There have been rats in Bryan Talbot's kitchen for longer than I care to remember. I don't mean the kind that scratch around under the floorboards, dodging traps and finally being dispatched by a couple of council workers with a quick eye and a cricket bat; Bryan's rats have been bright-eyes little charmers with their own immaculate quarters and a taste for boiled rice and chapati.
Their owner has become well acquainted with their ways, too. Very few visitors can have left the house without concluding that, over the years, rats have had a pretty one sided press. Vermin, plague-bearers, traditional objects of terror; rats like wolves, have been forced to carry a certain burden of the human imagination. When a rat dives across the path of someone out walking, it's never a rat of normal size. In the retelling, it's always at least the size of a cat. A squirrel on the lawn is something to smile at. But stick it on all fours and shave its tail, and there's an instant pucker factor.
Ever since we lived in caves, we've had to demonise something out there; and after a while it's as if the demons are the only truth we know. We're born into a world that's full of such received ideas, automatic ways of seeing things, and they surround us as we grow. They're hard to question; the world tends to resist having its assumptions challenged, and it's nonconformist thinkers have been given a hard time throughout history. It's much easier to accept the general line. Do otherwise and you're a rebel, you're weird... and the weird and rebellious are always suspect.
So how do you handle it, then, if you happen to be brought up in an atmosphere of certainty that the demon is you?
That's how it can be when you're a child if the adults in you're life can't be relied upon, and they seem to get some consolation out of projecting their inadequacies onto you. I don't know why it's such a human trait, to react to feeling badly by looking for someone weaker, that you can make feel worse, but there it is. In every generation there's this urge among a number to damage the next. Sometimes because it makes them feel better. Sometimes just because they can.
And children, of course, believe what they're told. They're credulous in the most open way because they simply haven't the data to know otherwise. Make them think that they're guilty and they'll wonder what is was they did. Let them think they're worthless, and they'll assume it must be a true valuation.
Bad rats, all.
When a soul's been starved in this way and kept in darkness, it's only hope lies in making its own journey out of there. And when the darkness is your entire world, even starting such a journey requires a faith in yourself that can be very hard to muster.
What you are about to read is the tale of such a journey. Picked from among countless numbers, this is The Tale of One Bad Rat.
Watching this book as it has moved toward its final form has been rather like seeing the offspring of a close friend growing up and heading out into the world. You feel as if you can share a little but of the glow of satisfaction while knowing full well that you didn't do a single stroke of all the hard work that was required. I was, Bryan reckons, about the third person ever to hear him recount the story that was to become the graphic novel you now hold. We were driving back from a joint signing somewhere at the other end of the country, and he wanted to tell it as a way of getting it clear in his own mind.
Since then, I've witnessed the long process of development, the phenomenal concentration, the research, the dedication and the genuine sacrifice that were to go into the creation of the work you're about to enter. More than one of those small house guests came and went during the process; life is short, but even a good rat's life is shorter than most.
You of course, will see none of this. You'll see only the Tale.
Which is exactly as it should be.
author of Red, Red Robin, and Nightmare, With Angel &
Also check out the Lake District thumbnail gallery: there are photo's of some of the locations Bryan used in One Bad Rat alongside the paenls in the comic where they occur, and take a look at the Rat's Tail - Bryan's afterword to One Bad Rat; there's also the acknowledgments from One Bad Rat, and a thank you letter written by a fan.
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