Last week Melmoth and I headed up to Birmingham for the International Comic Show, a definite highlight of which was Bryan Talbot’s Grandville. As well as the opportunity to pick up a hand-badgered copy, Bryan gave a talk on the book within the anthropomorphic tradition, starting with his original inspiration, a book of illustrations by Gerard who worked under the pseudonym of JJ Grandville. As well as old animal favourites like Beatrix Potter and Wind in the Willows characters, he covered some areas I wasn’t at all familiar with, like the early 20th century popularity of animal cartoons in tabloids, the Daily Mirror’s Tiger Tim being countered with Teddy Tail in the Daily Mail and then Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, the only one still going.
The setting for Grandville is a Steampunk version of Belle Epoque Paris, in a timeline where France won the Napoleonic War and England only recently regained independence. Our hero, Inspector LeBrock, can detect with the best of them, starting the adventure with some distinctly Holmesian deductions, but is also a man’s man (badger’s badger?) who’s popular with the ladies (sows?) and handy with his fists when needed, a bit like Daniel Craig’s Bond. An apparent suicide (in Nutwood, home village of Rupert Bear, whose father shows up in a couple of frames) leads to a deeper conspiracy, as these things do, and lots of fights, chases and a spot of “badger-on-badger action”, as the man put it.
Grandville is utterly gorgeous, as the preview images show, and packed with details. One frame is based on Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere (with a slightly different bartender), where our hero orders a Bass ale as seen in the bottom right corner of the original; the whole palette of the surrounding pages is then taken from that image. Another frame, in the apartment of an exotic badger dancer, takes the furnishings from a photograph of Sarah Bernhardt’s apartment. There are a few humans around as well, part of a menial underclass, including Spirou as a bell-boy and Becassine as a maid, long running European comic characters I wasn’t at all familiar with. There’s also a white terrier who may seem familiar to readers of Tintin, but Talbot cunningly conceals his true identity by naming him Snowy Milou.
If I was forced to criticise it in some way, perhaps at gunpoint, like if a slightly odd mugger leapt out brandishing a pistol and demanding comic book criticism instead of money, there are some slightly unsubtle political allegories, and the plot isn’t terribly original, but those are piffling trifles really, and overall I wouldn’t hesitate to award it the highly coveted KiaSA “Best Steampunk Graphic Novel With Badger Protagonist EVER” award. It’s a fantastic setting, in many senses, so it’s splendid news that there’s already a sequel in the works, “Grandville Mon Amor”. C’est tres bon!