Interviews: Padraig badgers Bryan Talbot into chatting about Grandville
As one of our very favourite creators brings his quite superb series to a conclusion this autumn, Pádraig Ó Méalóid sits down for a chat with one of the finest comickers in the UK, Bryan Talbot, to discuss the wonderful Grandville series, the final volume, Force Majeure, his many other works, influences, homages and more:
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Grandville: Force Majeure is the fifth and final Grandville book, which you’ve been working on for several years now, I believe?
Bryan Talbot: I wrote the script about five years ago, just before I started work on the fourth one, Grandville Noël, the script of which had been written before the previous one. I like the idea of having a script ready to go, as it were. After Noël, I drew The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, so I did two books in between scripting it and starting to draw it. The artwork itself has taken just two months short of two years.
PÓM: Is it a relief knowing you’re not going to have to draw all those animals any more?
BT: No, that’s one of the fun things, the creative things. It’s a big challenge, trying to give recognisable and distinct human expressions to quite realistically-drawn lobsters and crayfish! Using anthropomorphic characters is very handy in storytelling terms. The choice of animal can communicate a lot about the character, in a kind of visual shorthand. Of course, they can always be cast against type, to give a deliberately misleading perception of the sort of character it’s representing. That’s always a big advantage in detective fiction, which often uses misdirection.
It IS a huge relief that I won’t be creating a whole book in that style again. Basically, that’s why this is the last Grandville. It’s just too damn time-consuming. Those digitally-painted pages take me around one to one-and-a-half days each, just to colour. A finished page, including lettering, takes three-and-a-half to four days a page, depending upon complexity. And I work ten-hour days, seven days a week, when I’m not off gallivanting at some comics festival. It’s bloody exhausting. You have to remain focussed at each stage. It’s wearing to keep up that level of concentration, of continual problem-solving. I’ll be happy to use that style in, say, one–off illustrations in the future, but, from now on, I’m going to use faster, more relaxed styles, such as I’ve employed in the books I’ve done with Mary.
PÓM: What can you tell us about Force Majeure, without giving too much away?
BT: I’m extremely pleased with it: the plot structure is a majestic piece of exquisite clockwork with every scene and every panel in exactly the order it needs to be. That’s my opinion, at least! I spent a great deal of time structuring the story which, at 164 pages of story, is almost twice as long as any of the previous volumes. Every piece of information is relayed at the right time, every bit of foreshadowing or revelation occurs exactly where it should.
It is, in fact, a huge homage to the detective thriller and, like the other books, it’s packed full of references to the genre, including a massive tribute to Sherlock Holmes when we read, for the first time, LeBrock’s backstory: his apprenticeship under his mentor Stamford Hawksmoor, an eagle. Holmes is often described by Doyle as having an aquiline profile. On the credits page at the beginning, I have a quote from Doyle ‘Keep clear of the badger: for he bites’, from the Holmes novel The Sign of Four.
There’s also a first in this book – I think I’ve invented it, as I’ve never seen one before – the U.K. Edition has an anti-spoiler seal! The last forty or so pages are bound with a removable band. People always pick up graphic novels in stores and flick through the pages before buying, usually from the back forwards. There are things in the end of the book that, to enjoy the book as it’s meant to be enjoyed, shouldn’t be seen beforehand.
As for the story, people who enjoyed the previous stories won’t be disappointed. I mentioned the length of time these books take, but another reason that this is the final one, is that I wanted to go out on a bang, with the best story as last. I don’t think that I could improve on this book, as a Grandville story, so am going to finish them here. In this volume, we see Detective Inspector LeBrock wanted for murder and on the run from both the law and the vile gangster genius Tiberius Koenig and his army of hoodlums, who is intent of the destruction of LeBrock and everybody he holds dear. It’s the trademark Grandville mix of deduction, action and humour.
Apart from Hawksmoor, another new character is Tasso, a huge Italian badger, who’s a little ambivalent: is he a good guy or a bad guy? Many characters from the previous books return in one form or another. As I said, I’m very pleased with it. It was hard work, but a joy to write, which is usually a good sign.
PÓM: Right, there’s several things there I want to ask you about! One thing is, I’m very interested in how advances in the technology around comics has complemented the growing subtlety of the stories being told within them. Colouring, in particular, has a huge part to play in this, I think. Do you agree?
BT: I don’t know whether computer colouring adds any more subtlety to comic stories. Painted strips, such as Hannah Berry’s, or good blue-line water colouring can be as effective. An advantage of computer-colouring is that the finished colours can be infinitely tweaked or changed. I always try to colour-code each scene, so that they have their distinct atmosphere, which is something easily done on computer by manipulating the colour levels or dropping a colour tint on a separate layer above and setting it to a ‘multiply’ or ‘colour’ layer of about 6 – 14% transparency.
You can also soften or defocus picture elements – the background or foreground, for example – for specific effect, or add all sorts of eye candy, such as lens flares, rain or smoke effects. Still, whether this affects the complexity or subtlety of the comic stories themselves is debatable. I think that the actual design of the page, the underlying compositional lines and the actual drawing has a greater effect on the readers’ perception, dealing, as it does, with the placement of point-of-view and eye level, light and shade, perspective and, especially, the use of body language and facial expression, to tell the story in the most effective way. The manner of this, of course, will all depend upon the type of story being told.
PÓM: I’m not suggesting that better colouring techniques on their own make better comics – you only have to look at the brief career of Tundra UK to see that – but that a growing sophistication in production values helped nurture a similar sophistication in the storytelling itself.
BT: Perhaps. I’d like to think that comic storytelling is becoming more sophisticated all the time, but it reached a high level of sophistication many years ago, as did prose, theatre, film and other media. Can they increase their level of sophistication at this point? Of course, experimentation is still possible, which is the thing that develops any medium, when it is successful and becomes assimilated generally, but I tend to think that there is very little that hasn’t been tried in some way. What do I know?
PÓM: There’s a number of long fight scenes in Force Majeure. Do you have to choreograph these in any way before you actually draw them?
BT: Yes, in my mind I go over them quite a lot, over a period of time. At one point, I used to thumbnail everything but, for many years, I’ve found that I can now skip this stage and just visualise any sequence panel-by-panel as I type the script. Making a graphic novel takes so long that anything that saves time is a bonus. For more complicated scenes, I do often draw a rough floor plan or map, as an aid to visualising different angles in a scene.
PÓM: You must have to do a lot of research to be able to draw all those animals accurately. How did you do all the research? Was it all online, or books, or what?
BT: I did do quite a bit of Google image-searching, printing out collages made up of many photos of various animals. I also picked up a few books of animal photography. This research is quite limited though, as you can rarely find pictures taken from the point of view you want. Give it a go – try and find a picture of the back of a random animal’s or bird’s head or an up-shot/down-shot. What is more useful is the photos that I’ve taken myself, from all angles, of stuffed animals. For this purpose, I’ve visited the natural history museums of Milan, Helsinki and – I seem to remember in the company of your good self – Dublin, plus Kendal Museum, all of which have large taxidermy collections and where I took hundreds of snaps. I also accumulated a box full of the high quality Scleich model animals (see below), that I can hold at any angle to draw from. Also, I just made some up!
PÓM: When you’re creating a book like this, do you create finished pages as you go along – with all the colours and lettering – or do you do several runs through, doing it a stage at a time?
BT: With Heart of Empire, I pencilled the whole 320-page book, then inked it all. It was hand-lettered by Ellie De Ville and coloured by Angus McKie. The same with The Tale of One Bad Rat, except that I pencilled, then inked, then coloured it all and Ellie did the lettering. With Grandville, I pencilled, inked and lettered the books two pages at a time over sixteen months, then coloured the whole book, which took about six months. I always design pages two at a time, because facing pages have to work together, have to be visually balanced. Also, you can encapsulate a whole atmosphere within a pair of facing pages, changing the atmosphere, if needed, when the page is turned.
Plus, you have to keep surprises and reveals out of sight, when possible, so they are only seen when the page is turned. If, on a left-hand page, suspense is being created by, for example, a mystery surrounding the identity of a character, having a panel revealing who the character is on the right hand-page would completely ruin the effect. Although we read the text in a linear way, we can’t help our eyes scanning over the whole two pages and taking in the images. It’s what some French comic scholars call ‘glissage.’
PÓM: Did you do all the lettering on this book as well, then? This is definitely another area which computer technology has changed enormously, although I believe that there are concerns that it might make it all look a bit too perfect, the same way that music technology has done away with the possibility of human error on records. I worry about these things!
BT: Yes, I’ve done the lettering on all the graphic novels that I’ve drawn since Alice in Sunderland in 2007. The font was created by Rich Starking’s Comicraft in exchange for a spoof cover illustration of his character Hip Flask. I’m not afraid of it looking too perfect, as it’s based on my own hand-lettering. I only had to supply them with the alphabet in lower and upper case, plus the punctuation marks, lettered with a Rotring technical pen, and Comicraft’s John Roshell did the rest. I think it has a certain warmth to it, or is that just me? These days, I do the balloons with the Photoshop select tool and stroke command. I have a file of scanned-in, hand-drawn tails that I use.
PÓM: I think you’ve even more in-jokes and references hidden in this than the previous volumes – I’ve noticed Walter Pigeon, Basil Brush, AJ Raffles & Bunny, Le Pétomane, Fantomas, Gordon Gecko, Pongo from One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Tiger Tim, Edith Piaf, and quite a few other things, and there’s undoubtedly as many again that I’ve probably missed. And there’s a crayfish that looks like Margaret Thatcher. I may take it upon myself to start some online annotations for the books, as they deserve it at least as much as Alan’s League books do. Is that something you’d be in favour of, or not?
BT: Absolutely. I’ll give you a hand if you miss anything. Great that you got Raffles. I don’t think many will. You also spotted Tiger Tim, but did you notice that, in one frame, I’m using him to reference Rousseau’s ‘Tiger in a Tropical Storm’? The Thatch wasn’t intended! Did you also get the nod to Mutt and Jeff, The Cat in the Hat (who’s dressed as Ally Sloper), Korky the Cat and Fred Bassett? There are a few more.
PÓM: I read the first volume of the Raffles stories a few years ago, and it’s obvious that Bunny Manders is madly in love with him, which is quite forward for the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
BT: It’s obvious to us, but we don’t have a Victorian mindset. It’s almost impossible to assess it from their POV.
PÓM: I love that you’ve got the L’Enfer nightclub at the heart of the story. I’ve a feeling you’d have liked to have lived in Paris in those times.
BT: It would be fun to visit, though not sure I would have liked to have been alive back then. La Belle Epoch is a fascinating period and I would have loved to have visited Au Lapin Agile at that time. I do love Montmartre, its shady and bohemian past, and its part in the Paris Commune, something Mary and I covered in The Red Virgin. The Cabaret de l’Enfer was around until the 1950s. In Grandville Force Majeure, I do a large, fantasy version of it.
PÓM: Speaking of Montmartre, a number of years back Deirdre and I had dinner in a restaurant there which we really liked, and went to find it again the next time we were over – probably a year later – and it had been replaced by a Starbucks. It’d break your heart.
BT: Le Moulin de la Galette does a great boeuf Bourguignon, and I do like the Café des Deux Moulins, as it’s the bar in Amelie!
(19th century Montmartre, in this scene from Mary and Bryan Talbot’s The Red Virgin, and below, a historical photograph from a local museum which served as source material for visualising how the streets looked in the 1800s)
PÓM: I take your point, though, about how the past may not be as lovely a place to visit in reality as it is in our imaginations. It’s essentially the Brexit argument, isn’t it? They want to go back to an idealised past that never was, where most of the people who voted for it would be powerless serfs, scrabbling in the mud to keep their fragile lives together.
BT: You’re absolutely right, but you only need go back fifty or sixty years. Most working class people post-war were lucky to make five pounds a week and many lived in dire poverty. I remember primary schoolfriends living in prefabs with rotted floorboards and rats running about.
PÓM: Before we leave France behind us entirely, are you familiar with Deyrolle, the taxidermy shop in Paris, which must be one of the most wonderful shops in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and the bit of the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes that’s full of animal skeletons?
BT: I know neither of them. We’ve walked briefly in Jardins des Plantes before, but never saw the museum. As for the shop, we’re in Paris in a month and I’ll try and get there. I’ve just had a look online, and it’s quite near our hotel in Odeon.
PÓM: Do you have any strong feelings on the likes of natural history museums, zoos, and taxidermy, after spending so much time drawing animals? I interviewed Grant Morrison years back, and he said that working on Animal Man led to him becoming vegetarian, so I was wondering if you’d had any sort of similar Damascene conversion?
BT: I do think any sort of museum can be interesting, and sometimes inspirational, as regards story ideas. Being able to examine real wild animals up close, albeit static, is something that can only be done using taxidermy, short of shooting them tranquilliser guns. And contemplating a real dodo, such as they have in Kendal Museum, is extremely thought-provoking! I did visit San Diego zoo to photograph models for Grandville and I think a good zoo can be a great educational resource and be a great benefit to endangered species by enabling them to breed to be re-introduced into the wild. Zoos where animals are badly looked after or kept in insufficiently large enclosures should be closed.
No Damascene conversion, but we do eat vegetarian meals much of the time anyway and eat free-range and organic whenever possible. I do think that vegetarianism, like the rest of life, is a grey area. Consider this range: some people eat concentration-camp meat every day and practice blood sports. I know vegetarians who occasionally eat fish and most eat dairy produce, or even eggs. Do vegans wash greenfly off their lettuce, drowning them? Even complete vegans are nothing compared with the Jains. They wear face masks all the time to stop them from inadvertently breathing in midges and sweep the ground before them as they walk, just in case they crush an insect. They don’t eat root vegetables, as tiny bugs may be damaged when a potato or carrot is harvested. This Indian religion isn’t an aberration, it started before Christianity and numbers millions. And they aren’t extreme, compared to one of their sects, the members of which will only eat fruit that has fallen off the tree naturally. The point at which the line is drawn is arbitary and subjective.
PÓM: The thing with vegetarianism is, my father and his immediate family grew up in the west of Ireland, with very little – no electricity, running water, not even any particularly arable land. The theoretical argument of something like a vegetarian lifestyle would have simply been incomprehensible to them, when actual meat was a rare treat. I’m sure that there’s a similar position in your own near ancestry. At the same time, the world definitely didn’t have the kind of factory commodification of animals we have now, but I certainly don’t think it’s ‘Veggies Good, Carnivores Bad.’ As ever, it’s more complicated and nuanced than that.
BT: I just don’t see things in black and white. An argument could be made that living in one of the richest countries in a world where millions are starving to death and being picky about what you eat is the height of decadence. Vegetarians say that cattle farming is bad for the environment, while ignoring the huge amount of damage to the atmosphere done by simply eating vegetables that are out-of-season. This produce needs to be either flown in by jet planes or grown in heated hothouses. We only tend to eat asparagus when it’s in season because the rest of the time, it’s flown in from 6000 miles away, from Peru. Crazy. Yes, it’s a huge grey area.
PÓM: I see that you’re dedicating this volume of Grandville to Leo Baxendale. Just for the currently uninformed, can you say a few words about him and his place in comics history?
BT: In the 1950s, Leo, along with Ken Reid and Davy Law, reinvented the British children’s comic. Working for Scottish publishing giant DC Thomson, they created characters, such as The Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx (both from Leo) who were out-and-out anarchists, engaged in an on-going war against their oppressors – teachers, policemen, park-keepers, in fact any figures of authority. In the 60s, he practically drew every strip in the weekly comic Wham!, introducing characters such as the terminally creepy Grimly Fiendish, a character used by Alan Moore when he was plotting the Albion series. I loved his comics as a child and, along with Jack Kirby, Alfred E Bestall, Robert Crumb, William Hogarth and Moebius, he was one of my major influences.
(Grimly Feendish by the great Leo Baxendale)
I met him around forty years ago and we became great friends, mostly as a result of Mary and me putting him up at our house in Preston for around twenty years, several times a year, every time he came there to visit his mother. He died in April this year, aged eighty-six. I’d already drawn a panel in Grandville: Force Majeure that included a homage to him. It’s a scene in Madame Tussaud’s which has his anthropomorphic characters The Gobbles and The Three Bears prominent in the background, as waxworks of famous music hall stars, signposted ‘Les Baxendales’. His last published comics work was a one-page strip that he wrote and I drew in my Alice in Sunderland.
PÓM: Do you think there’s a distinctive style of British comics? I mean, the Americans have superheroes, and the Japanese have manga, and the Belgians have ligne claire, so what do the British comics have?
BT: I think the great thing about British comics is the absence of standard illustration style. There’s a gamut of idiosyncratic styles ranging from naïve simplicity all the way to photorealistic, but I think you could say the same about American comics, outside the superhero genre, and bande dessinee in general. Apart from the now-defunct children’s weekly comics drawn by the old school of artists influenced by Leo, Davy Law and Ken Reid, there doesn’t appear to be a uniquely British genre and, from what I can gather of what little I’ve seen, the few children’s comics that are still being published appear to be mainly drawn in the style of American present-day kiddies’ TV cartoon shows.
The only comic left that still harks back to this very British genre seems to be Viz, though one of their artists, Lew Stringer, does contribute to a range of other periodicals. There was also a very definite British style of adventure strip until around the end of the ‘80s, typified in the artwork of Frank Bellamy, Frank Hampson, Don Harley, Keith Watson, Don Lawrence, Martin Asbury and Sid Jordan. John Burns is of that tradition and contributed to 2000 AD till recently.
PÓM: I always feel like I’m being ungrateful asking this question, when this book isn’t even out yet, but what’s are you working on next? Can we expect more Luther Arkwright at any stage, maybe?
BT: Next up is Mary’s fourth graphic novel, which again will be published by Jonathan Cape and, as with The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, has also been awarded an Arts Council England grant. This time, it’s a novel – not biographical like our previous collaborations and it has environmental issues at the heart of the story. It’s fictional, but based on real events.
Since finishing Granville, just under a month ago, I’ve been taking it easy as, after working nearly two years solid on it, I feel as if I deserve a bit of a rest. We’re recently back from a week walking in the Lake District. Still, before that, I did some illustrations for a poem about the refugee crisis, Catastrophe, by noted Somali poet Xasan Daahir Weedhsame, that’s being published by the Poetry Translation Centre and, for the last couple of days – extremely coincidentally considering your question – I’ve dug out the folder full of notes I started making a few years ago for a third Luther Arkwright story and have been going through them.
I think I have some great possibilities in there, but only a vague structure, though I have decided what the theme of the story should be. At this point, it certainly needs a lot of hard work and imagination but I’m thinking that, if I start this process now, I have about a year to play around with it before I’ll need to script it, if it does turn out to be my next GN.
Otherwise, I’ve a 230-page fantasy story that’s all plotted and the first chapter already written that I may well do instead, if Arkwright doesn’t take off. I actually devised this as a webcomic, but had no success in finding an artist to draw it. The professional artists I approached were too busy making a living and the two or three young, very talented artists who wanted to do it were far too slow and had no notion of deadlines.
PÓM: Are you going to be drawing that yourself, then, if it comes about? I think it was David Lloyd who told me that he would never write something for someone else to draw, because they wouldn’t be able to do it the way he wanted, but this isn’t something that bothers you, it seems?
BT: I would probably draw Arkwright, though there’s a great comic artist, who shall remain nameless for the time being, who, every time I see him, persistently asks me to write a third Arkwright story so that he can illustrate it. I’ve mixed feelings about writing for other artists. For Tekno Comix, I scripted a six-part Teknophage miniseries, Shadowdeath, which turned out okay, but I would have much preferred the images that I had in mind.
I wrote Weird Romance, a four-issue story for The Dreaming, which I think is a very good story that I’m very pleased with, a deconstruction of the romance genre, which was ruined by the artists, though through no fault of their own. Vertigo gave them so little time in which to produce the artwork, they had to do it extremely fast. This meant that they didn’t closely follow the script descriptions, got the storytelling all wrong, and had to skimp and simplify the artwork. It was a mess.
On the other hand, I wrote the graphic novel Cherubs!, illustrated brilliantly by the hugely talented Mark Stafford. I knew that Mark would do a much better job than me with the very cartoony style that was necessary for the story, and I was right. I did do all the rough layouts for the entire book so, as well as describing exactly what I wanted with my lengthy script, I was also the director, as regards panel and page compositions, placement of eye-levels and even placement of light sources.
When I write for myself, the scripts are very basic, just something sufficient for an editor to follow. When writing for other people, my scripts are Mooresque in length. Little Red Riding Hood, a reworking of the fairy tale that I wrote for Fractured Fables about four years ago, was beautifully drawn by Camilla D’Ericco and was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Short Story, so I was very pleased with that collaboration.
(A page from Little Red Riding Hood by Bryan Talbot and Camilla D’Ericco)
I expect David thinks that way because, as far as I know, he’s only ever written one graphic novel, Kickback, so he’d obviously be very precious about it. Kickback was a great noir thriller that I enjoyed very much and suited David’s style down to the ground because he’d written it for himself. Writing for other artists does work when it’s the perfect marriage of style of story and style of artwork, something clearly exemplified by V for Vendetta, not forgetting that Alan was still a writer/artist when he wrote V. Alan was always good at choosing the ideal artist to suit story style and atmosphere. Halo Jones. Bojeffries. Watchmen. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Need I say more?
PÓM: Something else I know I’ve asked you about before, back in 2009 – is there any prospect of seeing The Nazz being published as a single volume? One of the reasons I have renewed hope for this is that I see that another series written by Tom Veitch, The Light and Darkness War, has been republished recently, so I was taking this as a good omen…
BT: A couple of publishers have expressed interest in the last few years but nothing’s ever come of it. I’d love to see it available, in one book, but Tom always thinks they’re trying to rip us off!
PÓM: Have you ever felt the urge to maybe write a novel, with just the words, and no pictures? I know you have done it the other way around, with Metronome, which is itself a fascinating piece of work – I don’t think I ever asked you about that, now that I think of it, so what was the idea behind that, while we’re at it?
BT: I do actually have a folder full of notes for a contemporary crime novel. I don’t know whether I’ll eventually get around to writing it, as I’d have to fund myself for about six months at least while I write it, as I doubt that, without having a track record as a prose writer, any publisher would give me an advance. The story would suit the prose form, rather than comic form. I have written a prose book, of course – The Naked Artist, a collection of outrageous anecdotes about the comic business, that you can read on Kindle for next to nothing.
After finishing the four- or five-year slog that was Alice in Sunderland, I really wanted to do something fast. I’d had the basic idea for Metronome, a silent experimental non-linear story told in iconic images in 4/4 time, about fifteen years earlier and had, from time to time, thought of it and made notes and rough sketches. It was just a matter of digging out the folder, structuring the story page-by-page and sitting down to do it.
I produced the whole 64-page book in six weeks. It’s the only GN that I’ve done completely on computer, including the structure. I drew it in a style I named ‘existentialist manga’, a very fast style that I think looked nothing like anything else I’d drawn, often using stark, repeated imagery, on a 4×4 sixteen-panel grid. The 4/4 time fitted in well with the fact that one of the two protagonists was a musician. As part of the experiment, I decided to put it out under a pseudonym. As it was in a manga style, I decided to use a Japanese name, then changed it to Franco-Japanese, then changed it again to a female one, to make it as far from mine as possible. That was how it ended up being credited to ‘Veronique Tanaka’.
(a sequence from Metronome by “Veronique Tanaka”)
I sent photocopies of the book to various publishers under the pretence that Veronique was a conceptual artist that I’d met in Angouleme and for whom I was acting as agent, and it was picked up by NBM. I then had to come clean with them that I was the artist! After it was published, I even did two email interviews as Veronique, with a whole invented history, and had excellent reviews from people such as my friend Stephen Holland, of Page 45, who had no idea that she was me. I did intend to go on to produce more books as her, as a hobby, now and again, but Metronome had very poor sales, despite it appearing in a list of top ten graphic novels of the year in the New York Magazine. Here’s what ‘Veronique’ said in an interview when asked about the inspiration behind the story, and it’s actually true!
About eight years ago, after reading a short story, La Plage by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It is an existentialist piece of writing. It is no story. Some children walk along a beach. They leave footprints in the sand. Seagulls fly off when they get near, fly about and land in front of them. A church bell is tolling in the distance. That’s it. They walk, waves come in, the birds fly off, the bell rings. Each thing repeats. It is as if the moment is going on for ever. It is frozen in time and also taken out of time to exist in its own space. But the atmosphere is fantastic. It made me start to think of a story that could be told in repeated images. Images that at first seem random but all gain significance as the pages turn.
PÓM: Finally, are you involved with the running of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in the Lake District? I see you listed as a patron, but I’m not sure if that involves any of the actual heavy lifting!
BT: No, other people do all the hard work, especially the organiser, Julie Tait and her team. All I do is invite one or two guests each year (after suggesting them to Julie and getting official approval) and do a talk or interview or some such event. One year I interviewed Joost Swarte on stage while he did a live drawing performance. Last year Mary and I judged the windows trail – the various comic exhibitions mounted in participating shop windows – and this year, I’m actually doing a Grandville display in one of them.
On the Friday afternoon, we drive a couple of the guests to The Mason’s Arms in the Winster valley for lunch, to show them a little of the Lake District. It’s the pub portrayed in Bad Rat as ‘The Herdwick Arms’. We’ve done this with old friends Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer, last year with Bryan Lee O’Malley and his partner Mary, and, one year, Darwyn Cooke and his wife Marsha. Very sad to think of it, as he died not many months later. This October, we’re taking Sergio Aragones and Stan Sakai and driving them around to do a little sight-seeing. So, no, I don’t participate in the immense task of organsing the event.
The festival itself, though, is absolutely amazing. Ever since I first attended the Lucca Comics Festival in 1981, I’d had a dream of Britain one day hosting such an event. There have been comic marts and cons in the U.K. Since the 60s, and now there seems to be one somewhere every weekend, but the Lakes festival is absolutely unique. It genuinely is a European-style festival, on the lines of Angoulême or Lucca. The venue, Kendal, is small enough for us to take over, so it genuinely is a town ‘en fête’.
The heart is the Brewery Arts Centre, which hosts many of the events, but it takes place in many venues all around the centre of town – the Town Hall, filled with publishers, retailers and artists’ booths, The Shakespeare Centre, the Wildman Gallery, the library and the shopping mall, to name but a few, and all within about five minute’s walk of each other. There are banners in the street, the exhibitions in shop windows that I mentioned, and a flag bearing the Bat sign flutters from the spire of the clock tower. Ruskin’s Bar hosts parties and has a comic mural wall. You get the picture. The great thing is that the festival is non profit-making and many of the venues, such as the Town Hall, are free entry and we get a great deal of participation from the residents of Kendal, many of which would never otherwise enter a comic convention. This really is another thing that sets it apart.
There’s a comic-themed film festival during the weekend and there’s even a festival beer – something that I’ve only ever seen at festivals in Spain and Finland. The Finns have a big presence this year, with their own ‘Finnish village’ area, and a Tove Jansen theme. I’d list some of the stellar comic creators we’ve had as guests, from the U.K., the States, Europe and Japan, but it would be far too long. European master Benoit Peters has very strong ties with the festival, through which he is now the Comics Professor at Lancaster University, and the festival runs the British Comic Laureate, the current incumbent being Charlie Adlard.
It hosts a 12- or 24-hour comic event every year, has an academic comic conference and publishes specially commissioned comics and graphic novels, most recently Dave McKean’s critically-acclaimed Black Dog. It’s hard to believe it’s now in its fifth year, as it doesn’t seem very long since I had an email out of the blue from Julie, asking me if I thought a comic festival would be a good idea. She lives in Kendal and had asked Sean Philips, another Lakes resident, about it and, apparently, Sean told her ‘email Bryan Talbot’. I responded with a very long email, describing in detail the sort of European-style festival I’d dreamed of, including a description of the one in Angoulême. Her enthusiasm was such that she replied immediately to say she’d do it! She even went to Angoulême a couple of months later to see the festival for herself, and has been several times since.
Julie is a professional festival organiser, with a long CV of literature and art events under her belt, so was eminently qualified to run it. There have been several attempts to get a town to host a proper U.K. comics festival, with the whole town taking part, as opposed to the profit-oriented conventions or media cons, in the past, notably in Glasgow, and I even had the council here in Sunderland interested for several months before the person who was going to be the organiser changed jobs. Sorry to go on at such length, but you can see that I’m still blown away by the fact that my dream finally became reality!
This year the festival will be a special one for me, as Grandville Force Majeure will be launched there, a full month before the official publication date. There will be a special ‘Grandville, the Last Chapter’ event on the Saturday, followed by a signing in the Page 45 room at the ‘Comics Clock Tower’ (the town hall) and there’s a competition for the best Grandville costume. Incidentally, in November, London’s Orbital Comics will be hosting an exhibition of art from the books and I’ll be signing there too.
FPI would like to thank both Bryan and Pádraig for taking the time to share some of their thoughts here. Each of the preceding Grandville albums has featured on our annual Best of the Year list, and I have little doubt the new one will too. Grandville: Force Majeure is published in November by Jonathan Cape in the UK and Dark Horse in North America; if you are lucky enough to be at the Lakes festival in October Bryan will be launching it there weeks ahead of the official publication.