Stripped Event Report: Bryan and Mary Talbot

Dotter cover
Stripped
was the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival’s major comics strand which featured many talks and workshops with comics creators both British and from overseas. Stripped had its own blog which featured book reviews, previews of events and post event reports as well as links to video interviews with the guests and some full length video or audio recordings of the 1 hour talks.

British creators Bryan and Mary Talbot were interviewed by Teddy Jamieson for a talk that Stripped entitled ‘From Judge Dredd to Steampunk via James Joyce’.

“A beautifully crafted dual biography which crosses the boundaries between literature and the graphic genre with extraordinary effect. A gem of a book.” Costa Book Awards Judges.

Bryan and Mary Talbot, winners of the 2012 Costa Biography Book Award – it has a nice ring to it and it was the first time that a graphic novel, in this case Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes, had won a Costa (or Whitbread as they were previously known). It must have an even nicer ring to Dr Mary Talbot given that, despite being a long-standing academic author, it was her first graphic novel publication as well as being her first written collaboration with her husband. Both Bryan and Mary were at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2012 talking about Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes in one of the smaller tents but that Costa Award ensured that both the tent and audience were larger this year.

Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes, which charts the relationships of writer James Joyce with his daughter Lucia along with Mary’s own relationship with her father, eminent Joycean scholar James S Atherton, was the first topic of discussion for chairman Teddy Jamieson. Mary, a university linguistics expert, had taken early retirement and instead of producing narrative for academic text books said that it was a delight instead to write a “fun book”. When asked how much of a collaboration it was Bryan told the audience that when illustrating another writer’s script he normally just received it and got on with it, but in this case Mary was normally seeing everything as he went along. The one time that he did do a fairly major section without her seeing was of her schooldays when Bryan drew boys and girls sitting together when it fact at Mary’s school they sat at opposite sides of the classroom. Rather than have Bryan redraw the panels they decided to add a comment to say that Bryan had got it wrong. This little note proved so popular with those people who saw the early versions of the book that they decided to add several other notes at other points in the book which helped personalise the relationship between writer and artist even more for the readers.

Talbots Signing
When asked what she thought of seeing herself as a comic strip character Mary replied that she found it lovely, that it was nice to see the 1950s and 1960s version of her and Bryan and she thought that his modern representation of her made her look like Posy Simmonds. She also made the point that despite them being married for forty years that she found the experience of the book to be a great insight into Bryan’s method of working and how much of stickler and perfectionist he was. As for actually winning the Costa award, something neither of them had expected since theirs was a graphic novel up against prose works, Mary described the entire night as being very glitzy and glamorous while Bryan memories were more towards having met Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and chatting to Ian Hislop about the artist William Hogarth.

Mary told the audience that previously she had not really read a lot of comics or graphic novels other than the odd ones that Bryan directed her specifically to, but now that she was writing them herself she was reading a lot more. Their next collaboration is Sally Heathcote: Suffragette which is due to be published in May 2014 by Jonathan Cape. This is a graphic novel written by Mary and historically grounded in the women’s suffrage movement at the beginning of the 1900s using the fictional character of Sally as Mary had wanted to known more about the Suffragettes. For this book Bryan did the page layouts and then passed them over to Kate Charlesworth for her to do the actual artwork. Bryan described the delineation of work as him being the director, Kate being the performer and Mary being the script writer.

GV3 Cover
The reason for Bryan not having time to fully work on the Sally Heathcote book was his ongoing series of anthropomorphic steampunk police graphic novels entitled Grandville. Inspired by JJ Grandville’s illustrations of humanised animals, the artist’s pen-name inspired Bryan to think of a French dominated world of animals with Paris as its greatest city. He then merged that with Kenneth Grahame’s novel Wind In The Willows in which he always thought that Badger was the most capable character hence his creation of Detective Inspector LeBrock which mixed Badger with Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Indeed the third and latest Grandville book, Bête Noire, effectively has Toad from Wind In The Willows, a character that Bryan never liked, as the villain of the piece.

In concluding Bryan was keen to mention the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal in October 2013, a European style comics festival that both Bryan and Mary Talbot are patrons of which and which effectively takes the idea of the Stripped BookFest one step further – instead of taking over a literary festival for a weekend of comics, they intend to take over an entire town.

If the reaction of the British comics world to Stripped is anything to go by, Lakes should be a blast.

There are more details of Bryan Talbot’s work on his website: www.bryan-talbot.com

There are more details of Mary Talbot’s work on her website: www.mary-talbot.co.uk

You can read a review of Grandville: Bête Noire on the Stripped BookFest Blog.

There are more details of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on their website: www.comicartfestival.com

This event review was first posted on the Stripped Book Fest blog and is re-posted here with full permission.

Jeremy Briggs

News, reviews, interviews and features for print and on-line: Spaceship Away (since October 2005), Bear Alley (since February 2007), downthetubes (since June 2007), and Eagle Times (since October 2008). Plus Titan’s Dan Dare and Johnny Red reprints, Ilex’s War Comics: A Graphic History and 500 Essential Graphic Novels, and Print Media’s The Iron Moon and Strip magazine.

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