renegade classicist of the comics
Portrait of the artist by
Jason Ford Madox Hirst MA
Considered to be the "godfather" of modern British underground, bridging the underground movement of the early 1970's to the emergence of the English 2000 A.D. Generation at that decade's end, Bryan Talbot has carved out a presence in the comics industry that mixes the classicist spirit of his storytelling, writing and art into the relentless social and historical commentary for which he's become known. Bryan Talbot, said to be the best kept secret in the comics, is perhaps the primary predecessor and influence of raw talent, the likes of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis, among many others, who all came out of Britain in the 1980's to grace the graphic storytelling form with critical relevant commentary, geared for a more mature audience than the mainstream comics had known at the time.
From the artist's early British underground work,
two advertisements published in Brainstorm Comics during the early 1970's.
Influenced by the likes of Leo Baxendale, still in the early grammar school years, Bryan began drawing Bash Street Kids style cartoons in class and developed a love for the craft which precariously landed him in a one year foundation course at the Wigan School of Art, at the onset of his college years. Contending with the trendy abstract art curriculum taught there, the artist found little opportunity for the study of realistic and figurative drawing techniques and went on to finish a graphic design course at Preston, devoid of any illustration, life drawing or any figutative art instruction he'd later need as the comic book creator he aspired to become. Bryan's self-education as an illustrator began soon after he finished the course, in the public libraries, where he supplemented the college years by digging into perspective, composition and anatomy books to hone the artistic skills he was developing.
The Omega Report, 1975,
a Sci-Fi, rock music and comedy lampoon for Brainstorm Comics.
The first station in his professional career in the comics landed Bryan Talbot in the British underground publication, Brainstorm Comics from Alchemy Press in 1975. The period is remembered for his work on Chester P. Hackenburst, a series which was reprinted in 1982 and later adapted for an American audience by Alan Moore in DC Comics' Swamp Thing. Another memorable creation of that era, The Omega Report, appearing also in Brainstorm, blended a mix of science-fiction, rock music and comedy themes into a private detective m'lange and heralded the artist's emergence into the ground-level and mainstream comics which awaited.
Frank Frazakerly, a space opera parody for Ad Astra, 1978.
the beginning of Bryan Talbot coming into his own with the Frank Frazakerly series, a space opera parody for Ad Astra, which was also later collected into a single volume. The true mark he would make in that year, however, came with the epic saga he began producing for Near Myths, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. The project would be almost 10 years in the making and would gain Bryan Talbot the critical acclaim as the definitive father of the mature graphic novel form which came out of Britain in that era.
From the first appearance of Luther Arkwright,
The Papist Affair in Brainstorm Comics, 1976.
Issue #6 of the 9 issue Valkyrie Press edition of Luther Arkwright,
The Doors of Perception, 1988.
Having its origin in The Papist Affair strip in Brainstorm, Luther Arkwright was a complex multi-faceted and intricately woven tale that aspired to bring the comic book form to closer parity with its classical counterpart in literature. In this fiction saga, the artist overlaid the defining elements of known opressive fascist regimes onto a fictional puritanical England setting and colored the work with political-religious- philosophical overtones, sex, drugs and the use of raw adult oriented language not yet explored in the comics. The Adventures of Luther Arkwright would go on to define one of the more important contributions which Bryan Talbot would make to the comic book medium, earn an array of acclamations and awards and become hailed by the creators who'd draw the inspiration from it at the onset of their careers, including Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis and Rick Veitch , among many others.
Issue #9 of the 9 issue Valkyrie Press edition of Luther Arkwright,
The hand of God, 1988.
The 10 year span in which Bryan produced Luther Arkwright also saw the artist's emergence into the illustration field, including work for role playing game books across Europe. In 1983 he began working with 2000AD, the UK's above ground comics tabloid which quickly became the definitive comics publication in Britain at the time. Bryan's work there included Nemesis the Warlock with writer Pat Mills which gained numerous awards, collaborations with Alan Grant and John Wagner on Judge Dredd, full color strips for IPC annuals and a 20 page RPG strip in the first issue of Diceman.
A cover from the Artist's work on 2000AD, 1987.
Moving into the American comics arena, Bryan's work graced the well known mainstream publications such as, Hellblazer, Sandman, The Nazz and Legends of the Dark Knight, all gaining numerous top level awards in their field, including the Haxtur award, and Harvey award and Eisner award nominations. His work also found its way to independent publications such as Cult Press' Raggedy Man series and Tekno Comix' Teknophage and Shadowdeath series.
Cover for The Nazz #1, Michael's Book, DC Comics 1993.
Cover for Shadowdeath #6, Tekno Comix 1994.
Throughout this era of his career, Bryan Talbot also created a variety of comic strips for publications as diverse as Imagine, Street Comics, Slow Death, Vogarth , Paradox Press' Big Books, The Radio Times , Wired, Knockabout, I.T. and The Manchester Flash . The artist also teamed up with top European writer Matthias Schultheiss to create Brainworms for Xpresso. He has produced magazine illustrations, including covers for DC Superheroes Monthly , Sinclair User and Computer and Video Games , art prints and posters, badges and logos. In 1992 he was honored as one of the contributors to the first Arzak Portfolio published by Moebius' Starwatcher Graphics and has also worked as a graphic designer for Longcastle advertising agency and British Aerospace.
illustration for the opera Walpurgisnacht.
The Radio Times, 1997.
In 1981 Bryan collaborated with science-fiction writer Bob Shaw on the Granada TV Arts program, Celebration, to produce Encounter with a Madman, directed by David Richardson. In 1994 he produced concept illustrations for a TV movie adaptation of a Ramsey Campbell story, Above the World, directed by John Sorenson.
From original studies for The Tale of One Bad Rat, 1995.
Bryan Talbot's next major contribution to the comics medium would come, however, from a project which inadvertently turned into a platform for a sharp social commentary on the issue of child abuse, The Tale of One Bad Rat. What began as a marginal plot device in the original loose plot for this work eventually captivated the artist and compelled him to turn it into the major thrust and message of the graphic novel. Exhausting research then followed on the issues of child abuse and the rat species in order to endow the story with the credible and penetrating strength it became known for.
Cover for The Tale of One Bad Rat #1, Dark Horse, 1995.
The Tale of One Bad Rat, published by Dark Horse in 1995 would go on to win
an Eisner Award, a Comic Creators' Guild award, two UK Comic Art awards, two US Comic Buyers' Guide Don Thomson awards and the Internet Comic award for Best Graphic Novel of 1995. In Spain it won a Haxtur award, an Unghunden award in Sweden and a B'd'lys D'couverte award in Canada. It was also nominated for a British Library award, The National Cartoonists' Society of America's Rueben Award and a Harvey Award and was included in the New York Times annual recommended reading list. The Tale of One Bad Rat is now also presented as a curriculum item in several schools, universities and child abuse centers in Britain and America.
Last page of The Tale of One Bad Rat, Dark Horse, 1995.
Cover to Heart of Empire #1, Dark Horse, 1999.
Following The Tale of One Bad Rat for Bryan Talbot, came the awaited sequel to Luther Arkwright, Heart of Empire. This research intense saga continued the multiverse science-fiction epic of its predecessor by introducing Luthor Arkwright's daughter,
Princess Mary Victoria Elizabeth Boudicca Cordelia Miranda Arkwright Stuart. The name alone which the artist bestowed on the main character, told volumes of world of adventure, intrigue and the very dark humor the saga would become characterized for. A tale of high fantasy and low bawdiness, history run riot in a science-fiction multiverse of parallel worlds, at once serious and silly, mixing genres and having a wild ride with politics, sex, violence and religion. Heart of Empire was published in 9 volumes by Dark Horse and went on to win an Eagle Award, two Eisner Award nominations and
a nomination for Best Foreign Work at the
Barcelona Festival in 2004.
Cover to Heart of Empire #4, Dark Horse, 1999.
Cover to Heart of Empire #7, Dark Horse, 1999.
Since the release of Heart of Empire, Bryan Talbot has contributed work for Bill Willingham's Fables: Storybook Love titled Bag O' Bones and also for Ed Brubaker's Dead Boy Detectives, both for DC Comics' Vertigo publications.
A promotional page from Alice in Sunderland
by Bryan Talbot and Jordan Smith.
The artist's primary creative efforts, however, are being exerted today towards his next graphic novel now in production, Alice in Sunderland. This new work is a tale woven of dozens of short and long stories in which the common thread between them is the history of the city of Sunderland,
the story of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, Lewis' real-life original Alice. Both figures had an affinity with the city and surrounding area, which was also the place where Jabberwocky, the most famous nonsense poem in the English language, was written.
Page 6 of Alice in Sunderland, the first pre-promotion release from the artist.
The stories in Alice are told within the structure of an imaginary performance on the stage of the Sunderland Empire theatre, the shorter tales interwoven within the two main threads and consistently underpinned by the stage setting. The artwork is a mixture of black and white, line, monochrome and colour, line work, watercolour painting, collage and digital artwork. The dream theme of
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are captured and manipulated by the artist in this work, creating a surrealistic aura to the work which promises to be one of Bryan Talbot's landmark career achievements both as a prolific storyteller and as an artist, further stretching the boundaries of the graphic novel storytelling craft in the comic book medium.
Page 148 of Alice in Sunderland, now in production.
Bryan Talbot has held one-man comic art exhibitions in Lancashire, Tuscany, London and New York. He has appeared in numerous others and is a frequent guest at international comic book festivals. Editions of his comics are published in Italy, Spain, Germany, Brazil, France, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In the literary compilation, Adult Comics by Roger Sabin, (Routledge 1993), Bryan is cited as one of the primary creators of the Graphic Novel form.
Self-portrait by the artist, 1999.
Bryan Talbot. Storyteller, social and historical commentator, artist and innovator. Renegade classicist of the graphic novel borne through the comic book medium.
The article was compiled mainly from source materials available on
The Official Bryan Talbot Fanpage web site, produced with resolute homage to the artist by James Robertson. The website is an extensive undertaking presenting articles, interviews, biographies and artwork from the artist and his career, with significant landmarks at every station along the way. Additional source materials were also used from the Bryan Talbot Lambiek biography and a Popimage magazine interview with the artist.