Interview: Bryan Talbot on 30 Years of ‘Luther Arkwright’, Part Two
Yesterday, we began chatting with British creator Bryan Talbot about the creation of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Today, we look at the remastered edition and more.
CMix: You actually went back after 20 years and did a sequel, Heart of Empire, but that doesn’t seem to resonate in the same way. How do you view it today?
BT: I’m very proud of the story and the way I told it. I wasn’t interested in repeating Arkwright. I wanted to use the sequel to tell a different story in a different way. Perhaps, if I do another Arkwright, I’ll go back to experimental mode and just let rip. Any sophistication in the storytelling techniques of Heart of Empire is beneath the surface, not in your face. It shouldn’t be consciously visible.
CMix: Luther Arkwright has endured and you even adapted it for BBC radio with a Pre-Doctor Who David Tennant as the lead. Was it easy to adapt?
BT: I didn’t adapt it. They used their own scriptwriter. I sent a list of suggestions as to how they could make it work better as audio but when I eventually met the writer, after it was produced, they hadn’t passed the suggestions along. I still quite enjoyed it though. David Tennant and the other actors were great, the music and sound FX were fine. My only criticism is that it was too faithful to the original. Most of the dialogue was my speech balloons word-for-word. While these work fine on the comic page I feel that they should have made them more naturalistic for the spoken word.
Big Finish have also bought the rights to adapt Heart of Empire and Tennant has agreed to reprise his role as Arkwright but they’rehaving to fit into his now busy schedule.
CMix: There’s been talk for years about a film adaptation. What’s taking so long?
BT: That’s the film industry for you. Things seem to move at a glacial pace.
There’s always something supposed to be just about to happen, some big name writer’s become involved or a big production company is desperately interested but nothing seems to actually happen. Hollywood people seem to suffer from verbal diarrhea. About a year ago a producer got in touch with me to say how passionate he was about The Tale of One Bad Rat and how he had a director on board who loved it and so forth. I’ve never heard a thing from him since.
CMix: Let’s focus on the current edition. Comics Centrum did digital remastering. What was involved and why was it necessary?
BT: It was necessary because the publisher, Vaclav Dort, is an obsessive perfectionist. I loaned him all the artwork I hadn’t sold and good quality bromides of the ones I had and he spent five months rescanning and cleaning it all up. As a result, the pages are stunningly clear. They’ve never reproduced well before – pale details have bleached out or dark ones have filled in. The difference is startling. His edition was 14" high, which made it even clearer and gave it room to breathe (it was originally designed for the European A4 size, not the smaller US comic format). The Greek edition, published last spring and using the same files, was A3 size – 17" high, the same size as the original artwork. It weighs approximately half a ton. It’s incredible. I’d love an English language edition like this. The new Dark Horse edition uses the new files but is still US comic size.
CMix: That was done in 2005, so why did it take three years for a pristine English-language edition?
BT: They still had copies of the previous edition to sell.
CMix: Two years ago you put the remastered pages online as a web comic. What prompted the move and do you think it has inhibited book sales?
BT: The move came about because my webmaster, James Robertson, suggested it.
We’d already added it to the Heart of Empire CD-Rom (the "director’s cut" edition, complete with pencils, inks and 65.000 words of annotations) as an extra feature. I don’t think it’s impinged on book sales at all. People still want to hold comics in their hands. They’re nice artifacts in their own right.
CMix: While Luther Arkwright may be your best known work around the world, A Tale of One Bad Rat seems more popular in America. Why do you think that is?
BT: Actually Bad Rat is more popular than Arkwright. It’s been published in 10 or 11 countries so far with a Czech edition and a Norwegian edition due out before the end of the year and next year there may be a Greek one.
Arkwright’s only been published in eight or nine. Bad Rat is a linear non-genre story, clearly told that is accessible by anybody.
CMix: You supplemented your original works with mainstream fare such as Judge Dredd and Nemesis. What appeal is there to characters created by others?
BT: It’s a change, working from scripts written by someone else, a bit of a holiday. All I have to do is draw the book, so I can have fun and relax, not having to hold the whole thing in my head and worry about every little detail.
CMix: You’ve also done mainstream fare for Vertigo, most recently in Fables. What do you think of Vertigo’s evolution these days?
BT: No idea. DC stopped sending me comp copies years ago, so I just don’t see them on the whole. I read a couple of great books by Mike Carey, simply because he gave them to me, but I’m afraid I just don’t see Vertigo material. There’s so many graphic novels being published today I don’t get the chance to read everything. I also don’t read fanzines so haven’t even read any news about Vertigo. When the imprint was first created I read everything they did for many years. Perhaps you can describe to me what they’re up to these days?
CMix: It’s nciely evolved from its occult beginnings to encompass a far wider range of adult themes. You’ve done very little for the mainstream publishers, most notably a Batman tale. Is there any appeal to super-heroes?
BT: Not for me. I stopped reading super-hero books regularly in the 70s when I got bored of reading the same story over and over again: here’s the hero, here’s the bad guy, they fight each other, the hero wins. There can be great super-hero comics — Watchmen and Dark Knight proved that — but, generally speaking, I’m not into the genre. I also despise soap opera, which is what many superhero comics are, with their convoluted continuities and seemingly intentionally irritating characters. Pure melodrama. I like stories with a beginning, middle and end.
CMix: What’s next for you?
BT: I’ve nearly finished a new graphic novel called Grandville. It’s a steampunk detective thriller, loosely inspired by the work of the mid 19th century French illustrator Jean Gerard (aka "Grandville") and the early 20th century proto-SF illustrator Albert Robida. It has anthropomorphic characters – I’ve never done a "funny animal" book before, so it was a new challenge. It’s a fast-moving adventure – think Sherlock Holmes meets Quentin Tarantino with a James Bond finale set in a retro SF Belle Epoch!
CMix: As someone who has been credited as a graphic novel pioneer, what’s the current state of the graphic novel?
BT: There are more and better graphic novels being produced today than in any time in the medium’s history. More than enough to sustain the current boom.
CMix: Bryan, thanks so much for your time.
BT: My pleasure.