Art from Grandville – Bête Noire

In Review: Grandville – Bête Noire

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Writer/artist Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic steampunk saga, inspired by the humanoid animal illustrations of French artist JJ Grandville, reaches its third book with Grandville: Bête Noire published by Jonathan Cape.

Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock is called from Scotland Yard to Grandville to investigate the mysterious deaths of French artists working for the state. Meanwhile megalomaniac industrialist Baron Krapaud plans to overthrow the French revolutionary council from his secret base, known as Toad Hall, using cutting edge military technology developed in his own factories. As the body count rises, LeBrock learns more about the case and begins to see a connection with Krapaud.

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In a French dominated Europe where humans are an underclass, a humanoid badger called LeBrock is a Detective Inspector working for Scotland Yard. It may sound like a far-fetched concept but as one of the most highly regarded comic strip creators working in the United Kingdom today, Bryan Talbot is more than capable of drawing his audience into this unlikely world. His previous work stretches from the universe jumping Adventures Of Luther Arkwright, which began publication in 1978 in Edinburgh’s Near Myths magazine, via the fan favourite character of Nemesis the Warlock in the weekly 2000AD comic and One Bad Rat, his impressively told story of child abuse published at a time when many of his contemporaries had moved onto the commercial fluff of American superheroes, to the non-fiction of Alice In Sunderland and the recent Costa Award winning Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes.

In the 1800s France won the Napoleonic Wars and invaded Britain turning it into a little France while Paris became Grandville, the greatest city on the world. This is a world ruled by intelligent humanoid animals, birds, amphibians and even, disconcertingly, fish while humans themselves are an underclass known to their animal masters as “doughfaces”. This gives Talbot plenty of scope to play with language with Krapaud getting his name from a twist on the French word for toad, while his alcoholic associate is, amusingly, a newt. The book references many literary and visual sources including Archie Andrews from America’s Archie Comics and Spirou from France’s Le Journal De Spirou as protestors for doughface rights, Paddington Bear walking the streets of London, and there are even helicopter airships from Talbot’s own Luther Arkwright books flying around in the background.

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The story itself has more of a science fiction theme than the previous two Grandville titles with Krapaud’s corporation producing enormous tanks and robot soldiers ostensibly for the French state although really for his own megalomaniacal reasons. Although we as readers discover this truth much earlier than Inspector LeBrock, who has to take the long way round to this revelation by investigating a series of seemingly impossible murders of Parisian artists, it gives the reader time to appreciate the extent of Krapaud’s scheme as we see it from both sides.

My initial reaction when I first heard of the Grandville concept was one of scepticism, it sounded just too far-fetched, but the first book back in 2009 was a revelation and I now look forward to each new title. Grandville: Bête Noire continues the high standards for both the writing and artwork of the previous two books in the series, a series that, pleasingly, has at least two more books to come.

Winners of the Costa Award for Biography in 2012, artist Bryan Talbot and writer Mary Talbot, will be at Edinburgh’s Stripped BookFest at Noon on Sunday 25 August 2013 for From Judge Dredd to Steampunk via James Joyce. Tickets are available from the Edinburgh International Book Festival box office.

• There are more details of Grandville and all of Bryan Talbot’s other work on his website.

• There are more details of all the Grandville books on the Jonathan Cape/Random House website.

• Bryan Talbot’s Adventures Of Luther Arkwright first appeared in Near Myths magazine published by Edinburgh’s Science Fiction Bookshop between 1978 and 1980. There are more details of Stripped guests Bryan Talbot and Grant Morrison’s work for Near Myths on the Bear Alley blog.

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

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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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