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DF Interview: Bryan Talbot talks last Grandville GN, series development for TV
By Byron Brewer
Grandville is a Hugo Award-nominated British graphic novel series written and drawn by Bryan Talbot. It is a mixture of the steampunk, alternate history and thriller genres set in a world in which France won the Napoleonic Wars and invaded Britain, and in which the world is populated by anthropomorphic animals. The main character is Detective Inspector Archibald LeBrock of Scotland Yard, a badger.
Talbot’s series was recently optioned for television, even as the writer/artist has completed reportedly his last book in the series.
To discuss all things Grandville, DF and the one-man British creative team met for a spot of tea. Here’s what we found out.
Dynamic Forces: Bryan, congratulations on the news that your graphic novel series Grandville has been optioned as a live-action TV series by Euston Films. Before we discuss more on the GN, what can you tell us about the TV series? Will you be a part of the creative team or producer on the show?
Bryan Talbot: In the contract, I’m down to be an “executive producer” and an “advisor” but I’m not sure what this will actually involve. All I can tell you at this point is that Euston Films, part of the huge Fremantle organization, has bought the option and are working with TV writer Julian Simpson, who has structured the first 8-part series and scripted the pilot episode. They are currently in the process of attaching a director. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that it actually gets made.
DF: Quite an honored series, the third entry, Grandville Bête Noire, was nominated for a Hugo Award. What inspired this great series of GNs for you?
Bryan Talbot: The second one, Grandville Mon Amour, was also nominated for a Hugo and the French edition won the Prix SNCF for best graphic novel, an award given by the French National Railway network, and voted for by their customers! I can tell you the inspiration very precisely. I’ve had a book for decades on the work of the early nineteenth century French artist Jean Ignace Isadore Gérard, who produced many satirical anthropomorphic illustrations under the pen-name JJ Grandville. Looking through the book one day shortly after finishing Alice in Sunderland, it occurred to me that Grandville could be the nickname for Paris in an alternative reality where it’s the biggest city in a world populated by animal characters. I like crime fiction and had the notion that I’d like to produce a detective story at some point for a while. The two ideas sparked something in my mind and, about a week later, I scribbled down a plot structure, started typing it up and had written the whole first draft of the script in 5 or 6 days. Every other graphic novel I’ve done has taken weeks, if not years, to reach that point. This was incredible. It was like taking dictation. The story wrote itself.
DF: For the uninitiated (you know who you are), tell us fundamentally about the world of Grandville that you have built. One aspect I as a reader really love: steampunk!
Bryan Talbot: It is set in the present day, but in a world where, 200 years ago, France won the Napoleonic Wars, guillotined the royal families of Europe, and its empire now dominates the world in a sort of steampunk version of 1890s Paris - La Belle Epoch – complete with art nouveau design. Twenty years before the first story begins, Britain had won its independence after a long campaign of resistance bombings and civil disobedience, but is still connected to France by the Channel railway bridge. Microsteamconduit technology is quite advanced and Paris boasts automaton servants, sky trams and iron flying machines. As I said, it’s populated by animals, though there are some human beings in this world. They are second-class citizens with no rights and are only used for menial labor. The animal-headed Parisians have nicknamed them “doughfaces”.
DF: Tell us all about Detective Inspector Archibald “Archie” LeBrock of Scotland Yard. Who is this bold badger and is there any part of his character that is reflective of his creator, as all great characters are?
Bryan Talbot: LeBrock is a massive badger with the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes but, being a badger, he’s also a bruiser, who’ll happily beat the crap out of a bad guy to get information. He likes to think that he has a sense of humor, but it’s a bit suspect. He’s also working class and is sometimes uncomfortable in posh situations. One of the reasons that I chose a badger is that they are extremely tenacious animals and, often in the stories, LeBrock has to fight his way out against enormous odds. He’s more like my late maternal grandmother than me – working class, hard-as-nails and swears a lot. He’s a lot cleverer than me and good at gun play, fencing and fist fights, which I am not!
DF: Please introduce us to some other characters in the Grandville series.
Bryan Talbot: His best friend and adjunct is Detective-Sergeant Roderick Ratzi, a dapper, aristocratic rat who talks like Bertie Wooster (a character from the stories of PG Wodehouse). There’s LeBrock’s lady-love, Billie, a Parisian prostitute, who’s a beautiful, intelligent badger and extremely resourceful in emergencies. Commissioner Rocher (a raccoon of the Paris Prefecture) is a friend and ally but his own boss at Scotland Yard, Commander Carew, a panda, is an upper-class twit. His housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, is a guinea pig version of Holmes’s Mrs Hudson. Villains include Edouard “Mad Dog” Mastock, a terrorist and serial killer; Apollo, a charismatic unicorn with a messiah complex; and Tiberius Koenig, the sadistic tyrannosaurus boss of a French criminal empire.
DF: Tell us about doing all these graphic novels as a one-man-band, writer AND artist. What are the advantages and what are the disadvantages for a creator?
Bryan Talbot: The advantage is that I have total control over the book. The disadvantage is that each book takes a long time to produce and any mistakes are purely my responsibility.
DF: As an artist – and especially one who, when you first set out, is trying to establish a “world” that almost becomes a character it is so unique – how do you use your tools of layout, panel design, et al to establish mood that flows with the script/action. What other tools are important here?
Bryan Talbot: I always design facing pages at the same time. They have to work together, to be harmonious. We read the text in a linear manner but our eyes take in both pages while we’re reading. It’s involuntary: our eyes constantly scan the images around the panel we are concentrating on. It’s what French comics experts call “glissage” (sliding or gliding). So they not only have to work visually together but it’s necessary to avoid having an image on the facing page that detracts from the storytelling. For example, if you have a mystery about the identity of a character on a left-hand page, having a panel that reveals the identity on the right-hand page totally destroys the suspense. This is why, whenever possible, it is important to keep reveals and surprises on the first panel of the left-hand page, meaning that the reader only sees them immediately on turning the page. Also, it’s possible to encapsulate whole atmospheres within facing pages, the atmosphere or mood changing when the page is turned. This can be done with changes of layout, color or, in some comics, drawing style. It would take too long to go into here, but there are many ways that the artist can dictate the reading speed – the action can be speeded up or really slowed down, according to the demands of the story. To lead the reader’s eye from panel to panel and to give the story a visual flow, I always use compositional lines that run through one panel to the next. Scenes can be given their own mood by use of color, or by softening or hardening the focus, use of light and shade or by the composition. Verticals and horizontals in the composition give a static quality, diagonals give movement. Comics have a huge toolbox. People have written entire books on this stuff.
DF: What can you tell us about Grandville: Force Majeure? What is it about and will it really be the end of the series run?
Bryan Talbot: 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. In the story, Detective Inspector LeBrock is wanted for murder and on the run from both the law and the vile 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 humor. Yes, it 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 color. 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. You have to remain focused 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 my wife Mary. I’m currently drawing her fourth graphic novel.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Bryan Talbot for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Keep tuned to DF News for more on the development of the Grandville series for television. Grandville: Force Majeure from Dark Horse Comics hits stores Nov. 1st!
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