Bryan Talbot’s name has been difficult to avoid recently since he won the Costa Prize for Biography with Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (co-written with Mary Talbot). That would be achievement enough, but he also found time in 2012 to release the third volume in his wonderful Grandville series, Grandville Bete Noire. The Grandville books have become a Christmas treat for me, replacing those annuals of long ago, and this latest album was the first present I reached for once the unwrapping was over.
With each volume Talbot succeeds in adding depth to the world of Grandville and the character of Detective Inspector LeBrock. For those new to the series, Grandville is an alternate Earth where animals are in charge. LeBrock is a badger, for example, and a whole menagerie of animals is featured in every episode. Talbot has particular fun with the villains in this case, a cabal of evil capitalists headed by a toad, but including a vulture and a couple of fat cats. The genre is steampunk which makes some aspects of Grandville seem old fashioned while others are technologically advanced. Humans do exist but are seen as a lower form of life; that they are beginning to protest might hint at plot-lines to come. Everything is rendered in a style that is not in the least cartoony and one of the most wonderful things about Grandville is that it’s difficult to imagine it working in any other form.
Grandville Bete Noir is concerned with art and capitalism. It begins with a classic locked room murder (though the solution is far from traditional) as an artist is murdered in Paris. LeBrock is called from London to help. The artist, Gustave Corbeau (a play on Gustave Corbet and the French for raven) had been working on a design for a mural for the Revolutionary Council – France has recently freed itself and is heading for elections. In the background a sinister group of businessmen are plotting revolution…
The book works as both an adventure and a satire, and in an illuminating afterword Talbot demonstrates its connection to historical events – in particular the link between art and politics. Ultimately Talbot uses his medium to present something that is both thoughtful and highly entertaining – and you can’t ask for much more for Christmas than that.