Wednesday 6 January 2010

Review: Grandville by Bryan Talbot

Inspired by the work of the nineteenth-century French illustrator Gerard, who worked under the pseudonym 'Grandville' and frequently drew anthropomorphic animal characters, it tells the story of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard as he stalks a gang of murderers through the heart of Belle Epoque Paris. In this alternative reality France is the major world power and its capital is thronged with steam-driven hansom cabs, automatons and flying machines. The characters are mostly animals, though there is an underclass of humans, often referred to as 'dough faces', who resemble the 'clear-line' characters of Herge's "Tintin" books. Visually stunning, "Grandville" is a fantastical and audacious rollercoaster ride that will add to Talbot's reputation as one of the best graphic novelists in the world.

I simply do not read enough Graphic Novels, yet the few I have picked up recently suggest that there is a wealth of beautifully illustrated such items out there, all with great boy-friendly storylines. Last month I reviewed the brilliant Calamity Jack; in that review I stated that that I would be aiming to read more books in this genre in 2010 and Grandville is the first...... and I loved it! It is a fast and furious steampunk adventure, with more action scenes than a Daniel Craig Bond film. In fact, imagine James Bond being played by a huge, muscle-bound talking badger; cross him with Sherlock Holmes and place him in an alternative-history Britain which has spent two hundred years under the tyrannical rule of the French; add into this cauldron the topical subject of terrorism and an attack on a tower in the French capital with shades of 9/11 and the final result is Grandville. A very long-winded description, I know, but it's the best you're going to get - my mind is still reeling from this reading experience!

This image (borrowed from Bryan Talbot's official website) will give you a taster of the detail Mr Talbot puts into his illustrations, as well as the sumptuous quality of the rendering of his artwork. As a result of this incredible level of detail the book can be read on two different levels. Some readers will enjoy it simply for the fast-paced plot, the OTT action scenes and the aforementioned artwork. Other, probably older and more knowledgable readers, will start to spot the many clever references to classics of the genre, film noir and other elements of popular culture that Mr Talbot slips seamlessly into his work. And there are so many of these that like me you will probably want to read it several times in order to spot as many of them as possible. There are nods to such icons as Tintin and Rupert the Bear, as well as the works of HG Wells and Beatrix Potter, to name but a few. 

Grandville really is a rip-roaring detective/spy adventure story that will have you scanning the pages as fast as possible, pulled along by the frantic pace of the story. However, as I have already mentioned, it won't matter if you miss anything by reading so fast as I guarantee that you will want to re-read it for a second, third and probably fourth time at a much slower rate, even if just to feast your eyes for longer on Mr Talbot's amazing artwork and the huge array of characters he has created. Characters such as Detective Roderick Ratzi; Andre Pegasus, the equine Drug Baron of Paris; Snowy Milou, drug addict; and Honourable Citizen Turtell, the British Ambassador to France (and no prizes for guessing what sort of animal he is).  

A word of warning though - this book is definitely not for younger readers. There are many moments of sudden, and often gratuitous violence littered throughout and the language used by some of the characters is also occasionally a little profane. However, boys who have grown up loving Graphic Novels and wanting more, but of aimed at a more mature audience, will absolutely love this book. Whatsmore, it is published by Jonathan Cape in a lovely retro hardback style, and is well worth the asking price. There is also a sequel rumoured to be released later this year, entitled Grandville Mon Amour and I for one am avidly awaiting the next adventure of Detective Inspector LeBrock.   


  1. This is one I will be reading this year and thanks for the trailer I had not seen that before, makes me want to read it even more. I am also reading a bit more graphic work this year, and some manga, I know a lot of teenagers really into Death note and the like. Actually we tried to grow our graphic collection where I was working last year and the effect was startling, reluctant readers could not get enough they were coming in at lunch time to change books and a couple kept getting out the same title not because they hadn't finished, they just loved that particular title so much they kept re-reading it, for some of them it was the first time they had loved a book. The effect was great, our better readers were also devouring them and the girls. They also became a means of interesting them in more demanding reading something in graphic would spark their curiosity and interest and we could guide them onto more traditional books. The graphic collection was teaching them to love books. We did back the collection with promotion and as much encouragement as we could and it payed off. I had at least two boys 11 yr old who had never been to the public library before, join and they came back to me all excited about the local library, days like that I think wow and they pay me to do this.

  2. That's a great story - gives me hope that I may have a little success at some point with the boys at school. I would love to know what some of the popular titles were if you can remember them.