In this third and final part of our interview with British comics legend Bryan Tablot, we discuss anthropomorphism, children’s books, and how things would have been different if James Cameron directed Batman.
Often when you see anthropomorphic characters, they’re just humans. They have some physical characteristics of animals, but the characteristics of the animals aren’t always projected onto them. Is that something you tried to do in Grandville?
Yeah. Quite often the animal will have the characteristics of the animal.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Yeah, I want to do one thing I’ve never done, all the 30-odd years I’ve been doing comics—a series of albums (what graphic novels are called in France). Like Tin Tin.
It’s not like a serial. Each one has a self-encapsulated story, the same setting, same protagonist, different story. I want to do about four or five of them. I’ve got ideas for four or five.
You’ve found characters that you’re that attached to?
Yeah. I’ve already scripted the next one and penciled half of it. I’ve got some great characters in there. Very distinct, individual characters. If you look in the Grandville book, there are some characters that are introduced in one panel and gone three or four panels later. They’re really great, sharply defined characters with their own characteristics and everything. There’s one guy, he’s in for three pages—Andre Pegasus, the drug baron of Paris. He’s a a white horse—“horse” is a nickname for opiates, for heroin, of course. White cocaine, I suppose. But he’s got a ponytail, really snazzy blinkers he wears with spikes on them. He’s just like, “hey dude.” He’s a really good character. I thought, he’s here and gone again in three pages. I thought it would be great to get him back again.
So you’re bringing characters from Grandville back, or are these serials revolving around brand new characters?
These are brand new characters. Loads of them, and like I said, they’re each very distinct characters, so I’d like to keep using them.
Each of your books are so much different than the others—do you often find yourself getting attached to the characters, but unable to fit them in to new stories.
Yeah, well, with Grandville, I’d like to move on, do something different. The last book I did before Grandville was Alice in Sunderland, which is very different.
You were using some pre-existing characters.
It was also based on old legends like the legend of the Lambton Worm, which “Jabberwocky” was inspired by.
Do you feel constraints when working with established myth and actual people?
Well, there was with Alice, because I wanted to stick quite closely with the myth, I didn’t want to make up anything about Lewis Carroll, so I needed a lot of research to get it right.
The Alice in Wonderland story has been adapted and transformed so many times. Was that a constraint?
Well, yeah, I didn’t bother to do that. I just talked about Lewis Carroll and the real Alice—the Alice that inspired the story. So I concentrated on that, rather than re-telling it. Now Tim Burton’s doing this movie now.
What are your thoughts on that?
It would be interesting to see. I think where Tim Burton always fails is in tension. I never find much tension, excitement in his films. They look great, they look beautiful. You know, like his Batman movie, with Batman and the Joker fighting on the rooftop, you’d think it was a huge drop underneath, and it’s not. If it was James Cameron directing the thing, you’d be on the edge of your seat. You’re bored when you’re watching it. it’s not exciting. But I like his films because they’re very atmospheric in a way. But I think he’s re-written the story. I think he’s done what Disney did, taken two different books and squashed them together, so there are characters from two distinctly different books. He’s written a new story to involve with it.
So you feel there are still things that can be done with a story that’s been so well-tread?
Oh, I’m sure there is. My favorite is a very straight re-telling of it, the 1966 Jonathan Miller black and white Alice, which you can get on DVD now. It’s fantastic. He managed to not use animals. All of the animals are people in Victorian dress. And he really gets the idea across that Alice is really a view of adult Victorian society from a child’s perspective, where everything adults do seems incomprehensible and stupid and mad. Because all of the characters is Alice, apart from Alice herself, are completely off their head. That must be what children think of adults, especially in the Victorian period, when adults acted with such a strict code.
I always felt that you never really know whether they’re crazy or she’s crazy.
They’re definitely crazy. As a children’s book, I don’t think it would be pusblished these days. It’s full of mentions of madness and death. It’s very dark.
My first comment to you, upon looking at Grandville was that it physically looks a bit like a children’s book, with the binding.
It’s looks like a turn of the century book.
The dimensions are something like what you might get with a children’s book.
Is that something that interests you, doing a children’s book?
No, no. I’ve always worked in area of adult comics, even when I started in British underground comics, the first few years. I’ve always worked in the adult field, but I’m interested in playing with those images.