The Art of Bryan Talbot Review
There are plenty of comics writers and artists (and combinations thereof) who have never been fashionable, but who do good, interesting work, and even dive in and out of “mainstream” comics as they go. I’m thinking about people like P. Craig Russell, Eddie Campbell, and – most to the point right now – Bryan Talbot. They mostly keep control of their own work, so they never end up as fan favorites for their run on Ultra Punching Dude, but, as consolation, they do get to do their stories their way.
The Art of Bryan Talbot is a 96-page album-sized softcover, with text by Talbot and a short introduction by Neil Gaiman, which traces Talbot’s varied career. After the requisite page of juvenilia, the book moves into Talbot’s first published comics, the “Chester P. Hackenbush” stories in his Brainstorm comic of the mid-‘70s. It all looks very late-underground; interesting but clearly at the far, tired end of a movement.
After that, Talbot’s career goes all over the place, with stints on “Judge Dredd” and “Nemesis the Warlock” for 2000 AD, a pile of art about the singer Adam Ant, some random minor comics projects, and posters/pin-ups on musical and SFnal themes. Talbot refers to himself as a “jobbing illustrator” at one point, and that describes his work in this section. It’s all technically well done, and the pieces are generally excellent for what they are, but they’re extremely various. (Also around this part of the book is a longish section of life drawings Talbot did for a class in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Pencil life drawings are great for an artist’s development, but can be slightly less compelling in the middle of a book of ink and color comics art. They really don’t seem to mesh with the other pieces of art surrounding them.)
By this point, Talbot’s also started his first major work, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and art from that is interspersed with Adam Ant, Nemesis, and Judge Dredd. (For a very odd mix.) And the end of the book features art from Talbot’s ‘90s projects, where he seems to have been able to avoid the “jobbing illustrator” work and concentrate on things like The Tale of One Bad Rat and the second Luther Arkwright project, Heart of Empire. (There’s very little here from Talbot’s most recent graphic novel, Alice in Sunderland; I would have liked to have seen more of that.)
There isn’t a strong through-line to The Art of Bryan Talbot; he’s done a number of different things in his career and the book covers most of them. That makes it usefully comprehensive, but a bit schizophrenic, unlike the work of some comics artist who stuck closely to a narrow row. I can’t see wanting this book to be otherwise, though, since that would have made Talbot a less interesting creator along the way. This book is primarily for Talbot’s devoted fans – and they’ll probably wish there was more Arkwright stuff, or a few more pages of Nemesis – but even those of us who are less fanatical about him will find it of interest.
The Art of Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot; introduction by Neil Gaiman
NBM, 2007, $19.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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