(OR an appreciation of Bryan Talbot’s Grandville series)
Recently I borrowed the Grandville series from my local library, I had a little inkling about the series after it was recommended to me by a friend, when I told him how much I enjoyed reading Blacksad and Maus. These stories had a world inhabited with anthropomorphic animals, that is, animals who had taken the role of humans. In the case of Blacksad, it was a deliciously dark, noirish tale about a private investigator who happens to be a black cat. He investigates everything from cold war espionage to racism, it was reminiscent of the best noir films such as Chinatown, and was nothing short of inspiring. Maus was centred around the experience of the Holocaust and its impacts on certain individuals (mainly the writer’s father) who lived through it all. The Jewish characters were depicted as Mice, and the Nazi’s were cats, and the Poles – pigs. It was an immersing read, harrowing, intriguing, horrorific yet uplifting and sometimes humourous too. The fact that the characters were depicted as animals did not detract from the overall enjoyment (if I can use that term) of these particular stories.
And so, I finally managed to read all three books (for now) in the Grandville series, and to say that I was blown away by them is an understatement!
They were an absolute joy to read.
The main character is an anthropomorphic British badger; Detective Inspector Archibald “Archie” LeBrock of Scotland Yard, and his sidekick, Roderick Ratzi (who of course, resembles a rat). The partnership is more than reminscent of a certain Detective Holmes and his assistant, Dr.Watson.
The story is a mixture of steampunk, alternative history with a dash of Quentin Tarantino and film noir thrown into the mix. It’s set in a world in which France won the Napoleonic Wars and invaded Britain, and in which the world is populated mostly by anthropomorphic animals.
The first book, entitled Grandville, sees LeBrock investigating a murder which leads him to visit “Grandville” (Paris) in order to solve the crime, which itself leads him to uncover a political conspiracy. Here he meets Sarah, a Badger whom he falls in love with. But there will be some tragic consequences, as those he is investigating want to silence him. It is important that the first book is engaging and spectacular, and Bryan Talbot passes with flying colours. Immediately the reader is taken into this intriguing world, where animals are the civilised ‘people’, whilst the people themselves, or ‘dough faces’ are seen as second class citizens. There’s a lot of other influences in Talbot’s creation which I will talk about later.
In the second volume, Grandville Mon Amour, LeBrock attempts to track down an escaped serial killer; Edward ‘Mad Dog’ Mastock, whom he previously brought to justice. There’s also a deeper conspiracy running through the goverment and those in authority which Detective Le Brock and Ratzi need to uncover. This is another enjoyable book full of excitement and intrigue. We also start learning more about our main character and his history.
Grandville Bête Noire, the third volume, revolves around a sinister Toad (who more than resembles the famous Toad from the Wind in the Willows! He even resides in ‘Toad Hall’!). He, thanks to his legion of Automon (robot) creations, plans to overthrow the current French goverment and appoint himself as ruler. In the midst of all this, the ‘Dough faces’ have an uprising, no longer content with being second class citizens. And Detective Le Brock’s relationship with Billie gets more complicated. This is another fabulous addition to the series, there are so many talking points I cannot outline them all. However, two of the funniest moments involve Le Brock’s meeting with Professor Quimby (an obvious nod to ‘Q’ From the Bond films!), and Ratzi’s encounter with a bunch of drunk, out of work artists in a pub. Bryan Talbot’s artwork is simply exquisite, his mastery over both the script and the art is outstanding. Especially exciting is the way Bryan weaves the story along, the plot is really layered and full of surprises, not only for this book, but all three altogether.
One of the aspects I love about the series, is the sometimes topical political undertone running through the books. Some of the commentary is subtle, others maybe not as so. But I really enjoyed them. Also the use of English language, words such as “Bally” and “what?” and “Bugger”, helps to give the work a quintessentially British flavour. And of course, being British myself I absolutely loved their inclusion.
But perhaps the key reason why I enjoyed the stories so much, was the fact that growing up as a boy, I was a big fan of The Wind in the Willows and Rupert Bear (who gets a cameo in the first book). Bryan Talbot himself cites these creations as a major influence to his work not to mention French artist J.J Grandville, who’s anthropomorphic art were a big influence on Talbot’s work.
This is a superb series, I fell in love with it almost immeditately, it draws you into this alternate world filled with danger, mystery, romance and conspiracy, and by the end you don’t want to leave it. So it gladdens me to know that a fourth book entitled Grandville: Noël is planned for release this Christmas.
You can say that on this evidence, I cannot wait!
You can find out more about Grandville, and indeed its creator, Bryan Talbot, on his official website;