Published on June 18th, 2014 | by JCDoyle0
The Graphic Novel Man – A Documentary DVD Review
The key to Bryan Talbot’s success is his absolute focus on the work at hand and this is the main concept that comes across in this interview style documentary. He is an artist and writer who has been plying his trade for well over forty years but he is as passionate and obsessed with his work as he ever was.
The DVD is split into three sections and each has a different focus on Bryan Talbot’s work. The first part, Secret Origins, is a look at his long career and the influences on his work but more importantly it is littered with testimonials from people who have been influenced by him. You know you are in for a treat when Michael Moorcock provides an introduction to the program. The list of guests interviewed is like a who’s who of British Comics. People such as Pat Mills, D’Israeli, David Lloyd and Neil Gaiman all speak in awe of the talented Mr Talbot. There is nothing left out of the discussion as it moves from his early days working on underground comics through to his first successes and right up to his modern work. If you’ve never read any of his work before or you are already a huge fan, there is something for you to take away from this documentary.
One of the most interesting things highlighted in the documentary is the vast range of styles he uses in his work. He is like a chameleon who changes his style to suit the narrative and comic that he is working on. During the documentary he is described as “the David Bowie of comics” and this is a very apt description of his work. To look at the art in the early Adventures of Luther Arkwright and then compare this to his work Batman or The Sandman and you would be forgiven for thinking they were drawn by different artists. Alice in Sunderland is a perfect example of his changing style as it morphs from one section of the narrative to the next. Different aspects of the story are illustrated in contrasting styles to not only help the reader follow the various strands of the story, but also to set different tones and feelings to each story within the main story. Bryan Talbot at one point explains how he wanted to make The Tale of One Bad Rat more accessible to people who don’t normally read comics so changed his style drastically to mimic the work of the Tin Tin books as this was felt to be easier for the uninitiated to follow. And then he talks about how his obsession with Victorianism led to the design behind his Grandville books. As the documentary unfolds, one thing becomes clear, each of the graphic novels that is discussed is original in style and content and aimed at different audiences.
It’s fascinating to hear people speak of Talbot’s work and how moved they are by his talent. The documentary gives the viewer access to so many well respected writers, artists and publishers views, something that wouldn’t be easily accessible in such volume anywhere else. Interspersed between these gushing high praises is the man himself discussing his life and work. He is a thoughtful man and extremely knowledgeable about his self taught craft, something which is emphasised on several occasions. The program flies by and is over way too soon. Even with the additional two short documentaries, one about his working method and the second a commentary of him at work, it feels as if there is so much more to tell, which of course there is.
The two additional features highlight the craft itself and illustrates just why Bryan Talbot is so highly respected. He is methodical in his attention to detail and he collects so much research before embarking on a project. He himself refers to his scripts as ‘Alan Moore style’ referencing the long, detailed writing that Moore is famous for. Talbot says he is the writer, director, costume maker and editor for each of his comics, which helps to explain the quality of detail that goes into each book. The second feature, showing the actual physical side of his art, is mesmerising and impressive to watch. There is no better way to portray an artist’s craft than to show him actually at work.
If you are interested in Graphic Novels or the history of British Comics or the process of producing award winning comic books, then this DVD is worth picking up. It’s reference material, an education in history and the process in making comics but above all it’s a fascinating insight into someone that Neil Gaiman correctly labels as “one of the greats”.
The Documentary can be bought from the Digital Story Engine web site (http://digitalstoryengine.com/) which has further information and a funky little trailer. It can also be picked up from some brick and mortar shops (you’ll have to ask in store). I would highly recommend picking up one or two of Bryan Talbot’s graphic novels although after watching the documentary you’ll find yourself itching to read one of the many books mentioned throughout.