Saturday, 9 March 2013

Follow the Badger!

It's not often you hear Rupert the Bear mentioned in the same sentence as Quentin Tarantino - but those are two of the influences on Grandville, the graphic novel series starring Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard (who is a badger).

Mary Tourtel started the Rupert Bear comic strip in the Daily Express newspaper, but it really reached its glory days under the artistry of Alfred Bestall, who also introduced some of the more surreal elements into it. Rupert is basically a boy with a bear's head, and his friends are all sorts of other animals, including Bill the Badger, Edward Trunk the elephant, and others. Also living in the village of Nutwood is a human Chinese conjuror (who built himself a pagoda by the village green) and his pretty daughter Tiger Lily, one of the few female characters. Alfred Bestall worked on the strip, and the Annuals, for 38 years, up until 1973, and was succeeded by Alex Cubie, John Harrold and the present illustrator, Stuart Trotter.

In Grandille, too, most of the characters are basically human shaped, but with the heads of different animals, and their names reflect what kind of animal they are - so LeBrock the badger is assisted by Detective Ratzi, a rat, and the squirrel police sergeant at the beginning of the book is called Nutkin. Rather charmingly, Rupert Bear's father appears in the background of one picture, clipping his garden hedge - and the village is called Nutwood.
Inspector LeBrock is called in to investigate the murder of a diplomat, and his investigations soon lead him to Paris, the Grandville of the title. This is a reference to the French caricaturist Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard, who died in 1847, who worked under the nom-de-plume of JJ Grandville (according to the note at the front of the book). Bryan Talbot's other main influence is the French science fiction illustrator Albert Robida, who died in 1926.
In this alternate universe, Napoleon won his war with Britain, and the French Empire is the supreme power in Europe, with Britain reduced to a provincial backwater. Anglophobia is rife in France, ever since English anarchists blew up a great tower in the middle of Paris. There are quite a few clever political allusions in the story. I particularly liked the French prime minister, previously head of a small far-right wing party, called Jean-Marie Lapin (he's a rabbit, of course). There's also a lot of violence, which is where the reference to Quentin Tarantino comes in.
It's not just political allusions, either. There's a scene referencing Tin Tin, too - and all I can say about that is "Poor Snowy!"
It's also a popular story in Steampunk circles, thanks to the pseudo-Victorian fashions and things like the Channel railway bridge and the dirigibles.
But it's the character of LeBrock himself who makes the story so enjoyable - the scene where he asks for a full English breakfast in a posh French hotel for instance, is a delight.

Looking at the credits on the back pages, I found that I'd seen some of Bryan Talbot's work before. He was responsible, with Pat Mills, for Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, and I rather liked Nemesis, and his living starship the Blitzspear. It's quite refreshing to have a demonic alien as the good guy and the human Torquemada ("Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!") as the bad guy.

Bryan Talbot has also worked on Sandman (Neil Gaiman's comic series), and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and Alice in Sunderland, among others.

There are sequels to Grandville - Grandville Mon Amour, and Bete Noir - and we wants them, my precious!

No comments:

Post a Comment