'Grandville Bête Noire' world premiere in London
Grandville Bête Noire, the third in the Grandville series of graphic novels by British artist and writer Bryan Talbot, debuted last Friday at Foyles in London's Charing Cross Road. Talbot discussed his work in conversation with Kim Newman (Anno Dracula) before participating in a Q&A session and a book-signing. (Questions on the night included an incredulous "How do you make animals sexy?", to which no answer was given.)
The Grandville series is set in a steampunk-style, alternate-Victorian era where robots stalk the streets and messages are delivered by 'pneumail'. Britain is slowly emerging from a long subjugation by France following defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, while Paris, known as Grandville, is the glittering centre of the world. Most of the characters in the series are anthropomorphic animals, birds and fish, with the rare human 'doughfaces' treated as an underclass. The hero of the stories is Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, a badger whose brilliant deductive abilities are matched by his strength and ferocity in a fight.
The three books so far released have been in a full colour, hardback format, with covers inspired by the art nouveau movement. Bête Noire weighs in at 95 pages. A digital version is also available from Dark Horse Digital for e-readers and tablets.
The first book in the series, entitled simply Grandville, saw LeBrock and his dapper sidekick Ratzi uncovering a plot to create a fresh Anglo-French conflict, while the second, Grandville Mon Amour, pitted the duo against an escaped serial killer. [reviews]
Grandville Bête Noire finds France in the paws of revolutionaries following the death of the Emperor, Napoleon XII. The murder - in a locked room - of prominent painter Corbeau just days before he could complete his design for a mural celebrating the new regime leads LeBrock and Ratzi into a world of back-biting artists, nude models and the Nouvelle Vague.
While its predecessors drew on Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Bête Noire owes more to the James Bond movie franchise, with a sinister villain, a gadgetmaster quail and, of course, a love interest. It is also, perhaps, more overtly political than the previous books in the series, with a subtext that's interesting in the light of recent developments on both sides of the Atlantic.
Talbot's work is heavily influenced by British and European comic traditions, especially Rupert Bear, and this is reflected in cameo appearances and homages. Paddington Bear and the Smurfs can be spotted in Bête Noire, to name just a couple, while the villain of the piece has escaped from the pages of another children's classic. Nor are the in-jokes confined to comic books; there are countless textual and visual puns scattered throughout the work, including a brilliant Magritte gag I won't spoil here.
If you like Blacksad, you will probably enjoy the gritty and often bloody fantasy world of Grandville. (Talbot doesn't rule out a cameo by the feline private eye in a future book.) Bête Noire is, in my opinion, the strongest in the series so far, and deserves to be re-examined at leisure to pick up all the details after a first read to find out whodunnit.
The official release date for Grandville Bête Noire is December 12. A fourth and fifth Grandville book are in development, with the fourth to be entitled Grandville Noël.