Grandville Mon Amour
by Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse Books
This one I picked up because I saw the promotion. I've always liked Bryan Talbot's stuff, going back to a DC deluxe painted miniseries called The Nazz. A fevered story of ancient Hindu meditation techniques and superpowers. Then there's Luther Arkwright, an SF adventure with dirigibles and alternate universes inspired by Moorecock's Eternal Champion cycle and my favorite One Bad Rat, a thoughtful story about child abuse filtered through the imagery of Beatrix Potter. I already mentioned his geographical history Alice in Sunderland yesterday.
Grandville Mon Amour is the second volume in Talbot's Steampunk, anthropomorphic animals, Holmesian mystery adventure series. Yes, walking talking 'funny animals' but in a serious and dramatic adventure story. Eventually you just roll with it and go with the story - and then in one scene there are suddenly two human characters, two petty criminals derisively referred to as dough-boys and then never mentioned again. Its a vertiginous moment that had the effect of making me focus in on the whole different animals playing different characters thing again. The 'dough-faces' were introduced in Grandville, the first book in the series as a rare type of hairless chimp treated as second class citizens by all the other talking animals.
An artist as skilled and experienced as Bryan Talbot doesn't create effects and reactions like that in his readers by accident, which made me think about the anthropomorphic style itself. The most well known examples are the comics we read as little kids. Donal Duck and Mickey Mouse, comics based on animation characters but expanding their lives into houses and histories. Comics that encompassed a range from short simple humour stories to movie serial style high adventure, the best and best known by master story-teller Carl Barks.
Bringing a more adult take to funny animal universes allows an artist to capture the childhood resonance the style brings to then subvert that resonance to more adult aims. Robert Crumb explored our darkest sexual impulses and neuroses through the intercession of cheerfully stylized funny animal strips, In Maus, Art Spiegleman illustrated the Holocaust and his own tortured relationship with his death camp survivor father with the Jews presented as mice and the Nazis as cats.
Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics discussed how a very simple, cartoony design, particularly of faces encourages identification with the reader because its the same way our brains are wired to perceive our own faces. When juxtaposed with a very detailed and hyper-realistic external world a lot of perceptual buttons get pushed whether the reader realizes they are or not.
By suddenly dropping human characters into an anthropomorphic animal story with no fanfare or explanation Talbot subverts a style already designed to subvert our expectations. Always nice when that happens.
But I might have missed this book if I hadn't seen the sneak peek published in British comics magazine Comic Heroes in their regular Sidekicks compilation and the clever promotional trailer created for the book available on Youtube. I suspect we will see more and more of these, as done well they're an excellent way to highlight the tone and feel of a book to the audience its meant for.
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