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Talbot, Bryan

Entry updated 12 June 2023. Tagged: Artist, Author.

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(1952-    ) UK Comics artist and author, a prolific and at times excitingly experimental author/artist of much work since the beginning of the 1970s. After the nature of comics, most of his work escapes realistic trammels as with the material assembled as Bryan Talbot's Brainstorm: The Complete Chester P Hackenbush and Other Underground Classics (various original works here assembled; graph coll 1982). In SF Magazines, his comic strip Frank Fazakerly, Space Ace of the Future ran from October 1978 to September 1981 in Ad Astra. He has illustrated episodes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman sequence.

Talbot is of strong sf interest for his two main Graphic Novel sequences, the first of them being the Adventures of Luther Arkwright beginning with "The Papist Affair" (1976 The Mixed Bunch 1) and produced through various incarnations, sometimes confusingly arrayed, a situation common to the comic/graphic novel world, where distinctions between the two modes can be procrustean and/or adventitious [see Checklist below for a cursory breakdown]. The main iterations of the sequence seem to be The Adventures of Luther Arkwright Volume 1 (first appeared 1978-1980 Near Myths, 1982 Galaxy Media and Pssst!; graph 1987), The Adventures of Luther Arkwright Book 2: Transfiguration (various sources; graph 1987), all of this material, possibly resorted, later released as The Adventures of Luther Arkwright (graph 1997). The overall story is significantly influenced by Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, whose various implementations of his Multiverse concept shape the sequence, as does the primal conflict waged in much of his work between Peace and Chaos, with Balance always a precarious enclave in time and space Between the Wars. Arkwright himself and his companion/enabler Rose Wylde, who is a Temporal Adventuress, might normally reside in a high-Technology zone of Balance amongst the theoretically innumerable Parallel Worlds that make up what they can perceive of the multiverse; but their ability to transact the worlds has brought with it responsibility. Much of the extended story is set in a version of England where the seventeenth-century Civil War has been interminably prolonged by the Chaos-bringing Disruptors into a strange version of the twentieth century, with an Oliver Cromwell figure receiving Nazi salutes. After dying once and being reborn with Superpowers, Arkwright achieves some Balance for England. A sequel, Heart of Empire; Or, the Legacy of Luther Arkwright (nine parts or chapters 1999 Dark Horse Comics; 2001), is set decades later in 2007, with Queen Anne on the throne – in public a statuesque Victoria-like figure, in private cursed with psychic vampirism (see Vampires). Her child with Arkwright, Princess Victoria, must use her brilliance as a theoretical engineer and inventor (see Inventions) to combat dynastic savageries, a revolutionary movement, interference from the Roman Catholic Church, and her obsessional need to identify her dead twin brother as the revolutionary Gabriel Shelley. Some echoes of Ada Lovelace are detectable, not only as undertext. Victoria eventually finds her father Arkwright in a parallel world, and together they save the Empire.

The second sequence, the Grandville series comprising Grandville: A Fantasy (graph 2009), Grandville Mon Amour: A Fantasy (graph 2010), Grandville Bête Noir: A Fantasy (graph 2012), Grandville Noël: A Fantasy (graph 2014) and Grandville Force Majeure: A Fantasy (graph 2017), presents a sophisticatedly Equipoisal rendering of a Steampunk-inflected Alternate History version of a more or less contemporary Europe 200 years after a now francophone Britain lost the Napoleonic war. The sequence is conceived as an extended Beast Fable series primarily based on the British anthropomorphic tradition, a central example being the cast of The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) as depicted in later editions of the tale; and on British Comics characters in general, the work of Leo Baxendale (1930-2017) being specifically acknowledged, among others. There are signs also of the later dogface character created in America by Carl Barks to represent similarly liminal figures, with round black noses, droopy ears and four-digit hands [for Barks and Beast Fable see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Socially dominant members of the large cast are conceived therefore as long-jawed anthropomorphized animals with four fingers on each hand, though Talbot eschews the round black noses and droopy ears of the original Barks version; occasional humans, who are known as doughfaces and tend to resemble Tintin, perform menial tasks.

Once given the impossibility of dogfaces in the "real" world, the tales, set mostly in a Paris rendered in homage to the world depicted by J J Grandville, are not themselves fantasy. Twenty-three years after Britain has finally regained autonomy, the badger-headed protagonist, Chief Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, who resembles Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes embroiled in a succession of conspiracies that draw him and his foppish rat colleague Detective Ratzi to Paris (by a Channel bridge), where he must combat terrorists and serial murderers (see Crime and Punishment). The third volume, Grandville Bête Noir, features "analytical engines" (see Charles Babbage; Computers), retro warrior Robots and a plot by a cabal of enormously rich fascist entrepreneurs to overthrow the French government, and en passant to suppress figurative art – a scheme which, as Talbot argues in an afterword, reflects a real-life 1930s campaign by the young Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1971) to promote abstract art, thus precluding the insertion of socialist commentary into state-commissioned artworks. The series is declaredly complete in its five published volumes, which have been assembled as Grandville Intégral (graph omni 2021; vt Grandville Intégrale 2021).

In his earlier career, Talbot's habitual multi-layering of storylines and visual elements generated an intoxication that could sometimes stall, perhaps through early immersion in the Underground Comics world, with its culturally loaded contrarian disregard for narrative clarity. There may be some justification in eschewing transparency of story in a world where clarity might be understood as either agitprop or as spanieling patriarchal late capitalism at heels; but the costs were considerable. In his later work, however, he has created a narrative style which transforms the disruptive murkiness of the 1970s into sequences that transparently move and tell; but which invite the reader/viewer to stop short, and to become aware of the sometimes shocking depths within and below. This ability to fix story in its place, while continuing to allow story to be told, lifts Grandville very much above pastiche, or joke; and even more complexly shapes Talbot's in part quasi-autobiographical Alice in Sunderland (graph 2007), set in his adopted home town Sunderland, and invoking (amid much else) both Lewis Carroll's real-life association with the town and his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

A retrospective collection of his book and magazine illustrations is The Art of Bryan Talbot (graph coll 2007). The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends (2007) assembles humorous anecdotal commentary on the comics scene, including Fandom and Conventions. Later collaborative work with his wife Mary M Talbot as principal author deals with realistic themes: Dotter of Her Father's Eyes (graph 2012) became the first graphic novel to win the Costa Biography Award. Rain (graph 2019), though its description of a flood due to Ecological vandalism and Climate Change is not literally fantastic, contributes to what seems an inevitable dissolution of distinctions between fantastic and ostensibly non-speculative renderings of the world in the twenty-first century. [JC]

see also: 2000 AD; Eastercon; Worldcon.

Bryan Talbot

born Wigan, Lancashire: 24 February 1952

works (selected)


The Adventures of Luther Arkwright


individual titles



previous versions of this entry

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