Comics: Mary and Bryan Talbot at the Edinburgh Book Fest
On Saturday I had the pleasure of chairing a talk with Mary and Bryan Talbot, who were paying a return visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss their fascinating graphic novel from Cape, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (see here for my review earlier on the blog)
Mary began with a great presentation and slideshow to introduce the book, set some social and historical context and bring the world of Louise Michel to life, before we moved on to a discussion, where I asked Mary and Bryan about the origins of the book, the seed coming from an unexpected gift when a proof copy of a history book on the period was sent to Bryan as the author was an admirer of his work, so in one way it was an act of serendipity. Mary was still at work on Sally Heathcote, Suffragette at the time, but the book’s mentions of activist and fighter for a better, fairer world, Louise Michel, had planted a seed that would blossom into this fascinating book, The Red Virgin.
Of course that took an enormous amount of research, and complicating that research was the fact that it required a good bit of digging in different countries and languages, both for the histories and biographies, and naturally there was a similar research process going on for Bryan seeking out relevant visual sources. This took them not only through various documents and books (in English and French) but to various locations and museums (such as the local museum in Louise’s old neighbourhood of Montmarte in Paris, these days very changed, a popular draw for tourists to the City of Light, far altered from the poverty-filled near-slum conditions of some areas in the days of the Commune) and even, on a trip to Australia, taking a side sojourn to New Caledonia in the Pacific, where Louise was transported after the fall of the Commune. We also touched briefly on the nature of utopias and our seemingly endless struggles to achieving them, failing, but still trying and the dream of them at least pushing us to believe that we simply must make things better than they are, to keep trying (which also brought up their touching dedication of the book to the late Iain Banks, a fellow dreamer of utopian societies, and a great friend of the book festival)
(Mary and Bryan Talbot meet Jeremy Corbyn who was visiting the book festival; all photos here from my Flickr, click for the larger versions)
We left as much time as possible for the audience to ask their questions – given how many interesting elements there are in this book, and how relevant so many of the issues raised are to our own troubled time (like all good history books this isn’t really about times past, it is as much about the here and now). It was good to find out that several people in the audience actually knew of Louise Michel already, including one French woman who told us how she was remembered in her own region of France to this day. Mary and Bryan were also pleased to reveal that a French edition of the book was due – interestingly from a history publisher rather than one of the bande dessinee publishing houses, and they had just seen the first French review of the book, which was very favourable (although lamenting that it hadn’t been French creators who had tackled this subject).
Several hours later we happened to bump into Jeremy Corbyn MP (leader of the Labour Party, for those outside the UK wondering) in the Author’s Yurt, and he too was familiar with Louise’s reputation as a great fighter for a better world, and Mary and Bryan passed on a copy of their book to him, which he seemed well pleased with. It’s a book and a life we could doubtless have spent the entire afternoon discussing, so much of it pertinent to today, a fact not lost on anyone present, I think, but we had an hour only, but I think we did well with our time. We also met up with some other comickers, which was good fun, and yes, a couple of us did get a sneak look at some pages for the next of Bryan’s fabulous Grandville books, but that’s for another time…