Interview: Bryan Talbot Pt. 2 [of 3]

Categories:  Interviews


In this second part of our interview with the Grandville author, we talk steampunk, Neil Gaiman, The Wind in the Willows, and life as a control freak.

[Part One]

You wrote, drew, and inked your piece in Legends of the Dark Knight, which is rare for a superhero story.

Yeah. Because I’ve done a lot books for DC—quite a few Sandman stories, Dead Boy Detectives, Fables. But it’s like Neil Gaiman says to me, I’m always my best inker. When other people ink me, my artwork doesn’t come to life. That’s because, when I ink myself, I’m constantly improving the pencils. I’m thinking, ‘that arm’s too short.’

You knew exactly what you were going for in the first place.

Yeah. I’m rubbing things out and redrawing them—reworking them. Obviously when an inker’s working with my pencils, they’re just going over the top of the lines, so they don’t improve it. you know, I’ve had some good inkers, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, but if I ink my own pencils, they’re better.

Do you feel the need to be in complete control when you’re doing a book?


Is it hard to give things off to somebody?

Yeah, yeah. So the last few books I did, I did everything on them, even the coloring and the lettering. In Grandville, the new book, a friend of mine, Jordan Smith, he actually did the cover to Alice in Photoshop, based on my pencils. He did a brilliant design. I brought him to do the color flats for Grandville. All I needed to do was go in and do the color rendering and the shading, so that saved me a lot of time. But everything else in the finished book, I’m a bit of a control freak about it.

But you’ve done with books with Neil Gaiman, for example, which he wrote and you drew. Do you enjoy that sort of collaboration?

Yeah. It’s different. Somebody else inks it, someone else letters it. It’s a team. It’s commercial work. I always try to break things up in my mind into what I think it commercial work and what’s personal work. Personal work is when I own and create everything.

If you’re going to do commercial work, Sandman seems a pretty good way to go.

Oh yeah, that’s as good as you get.

So what’s the new book about?

It’s a steampunk detective thriller. A lot of it centers around the detective character, Inspector LeBrock, the main character, who’s an English working class badger.

Sounds a little Wind in the Willows-y.

Yeah, exactly. Badgers are very ferocious creatures. He has all of the detective abilities of Sherlock Holmes, so he’s quite clever, but being a badger, he’s also a bruiser by nature. So he’s quite happy to beat someone up after he’s done getting his information out of them. It’s a bit like Wind in the Willows meets Sin City.

At what point in the process was it clear that these roles would be filled by animals?

Very early on. That was the original idea. I was inspired by the illustrators of the 19th century French illustrator, Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard. He worked on the pen name J.J. Grandville. In 19th century France, he did a lot of these animals dressed in clothes. They were very satirical. I just thought, ‘what a great setting.’ And then, for some reason, it instantly became wild animals meet a detective thriller. And I thought, ‘I’m going to move it forward about 50 years and set it in the ‘90s.’ It’s set in Paris. It’s a lot more interesting of a setting—sort of steampunk Paris with robots, automatons, and steam-driven cabs. Stuff like that.

How long have you been interested in the steampunk motif?

Well, I actually did the first steampunk graphic novel. It was serialized in 1978. It was called The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and it came out in just one volume in 1981. It was actually the first British graphic novel, and the first steampunk graphic novel.

And now it’s become far more ubiquitous. Now everyone’s into steampunk.

Oh yeah. That’s right, that’s right. But Arkwright, it’s still in print after 30 odd years. It’s been published in lots of countries. People in Hollywood tried to raise money for a movie. So it’s still going. I did a sequel that was published in 1998. It’s called Heart of Empires.

What’s the genesis of the whole aesthetic?

I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, because you’re not really going back to a time that existed at all.

You’re sort of picking and choosing.

Yeah. But there’s some great iconic stuff in the Victorian times, and it’s great to use that in a story. Also it’s nice to just live temporarily in a time, for the duration of a story, where things aren’t made of plastic, and polystyrene, and crap—they’re made of brass, and leather, and polished wood. Fashions today with baggy jeans—back then they were really cool.

Though there weren’t certainly plenty of downsides to living in Victorian England.

Well, that’s right. All the poverty and rickets and stuff. But just compare a huge puffing steam train when you’re standing next to it to a modern electric diesel. There’s just no comparison.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater

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