Following on the success of last year's "Grandville," writer-artist Bryan Talbot's latest alternate history wonderland, Dark Horse will publish a second original hardcover volume in December titled "Grandville Mon Amour." In these books, Talbot, recognized as an innovator of the steampunk genre, presents a Europe dominated by the French empire, with Paris standing as the greatest city in the world. After England lost the Napoleonic Wars, the island nation fell to France, its royal family put to the guillotine. Also, notably, Napoleon and his successors are lions, while "Grandville's" lead Detective Inspector LeBrock is a powerfully-built badger. CBR News spoke with Talbot about "Grandville Mon Amour" and his plans for future editions in the series.
The prevalence of anthropomorphized animals might be the first thing readers notice about "Grandville's" unique set-up, but it doesn't take long before several story elements flesh out the setting. The first book introduced - and then radically shook up - a world in which Britain had only recently gained its independence from the French Empire. This has a number of cultural implications, such as relegating the English language to a coarse regional dialect, but the full scope of how this world differs from our own has yet to be revealed. With most of book one taking place in Paris, though, readers might be curious to see more of Detective Inspector LeBrock's home city of London and how it operates in this world. "The story begins in London and the climactic finale is there," Talbot said of "Grandville Mon Amour." "The cultural and social backdrop will become apparent over time, though, as my primary intent is to tell a ripping yarn. The story is intended to be a real page turner and most everything else is subservient to this.
"I'm setting these stories in a world that is fantastical but one that is taken for granted by the characters. A little like the three protagonists in ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' who weave their way through the American Civil War without once having to stop to deliver a chunk of exposition that informs the audience of the causes and culture of the milieu. We are imparted this sort of information, but only in passing, when it's an unobtrusive part of the storytelling and fits naturally into conversation or plot."
As readers enter book 2, the upheaval in France due to the death of Napoleon XII alters the relationship between the imperial power and its former colony. "There's been a revolution and France is now being run by a provisional Revolutionary Council. If anything, this has actually improved relations with the Socialist Republic of Britain, especially now that they are no longer blamed for the Robida Tower atrocity," Talbot said, referring to French landmark that had been destroyed during Britain's revolution, allegedly by anarchists.
Though the central characters of the book are badgers, dogs, rats, foxes, and the like, humans do have a role to play in the world of "Grandville" - as servants. "Originally, I simply thought it was funny to reverse the roles, to have humans as an underclass in an anthropomorphic story. In book four of the series, this situation plays a central part of the story," Talbot said. "Of course, it's mirroring our own western society, tainted as it is by the institutionalized racism of the past, and hopefully making privileged readers consider how they'd feel to be regarded as second class citizens."
Talbot mentioned in a previous CBR interview that the first "Grandville" was a response, in part, to British and American governments lying to their citizens in the lead up to the Iraq war. For "Mon Amour," he revealed that there is a real-world inspiration but "it's more general." "It could be seen as statement on terrorism and its consequences, the way it dehumanizes the exponents and destroys or scars lives. You could make parallels with Irish terrorists – on both sides. But still – it's a fun adventure story folks! I think it's a good thing to have hard-edged topics that make people think alongside an exciting ride."
The first "Grandville" unfurled as a detective mystery mixed with espionage, but "Mon Amour" opens with a villain clearly defined - a former revolutionary turned cold-blooded murderer named Mad Dog Mastock, who's escaped the Tower and is heading for a rampage. Asked how LeBrock's skills might apply differently to these two types of cases, Talbot said, "his deductive abilities, tenacity and sheer ruthlessness are equally applied. The major difference between the two stories is that if the first one was a little like Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond directed by Quentin Tarantino, [whereas] ‘Grandville Mon Amour' is a little like Sherlock Holmes meets Dirty Harry directed by Alfred Hitchcock!"
Mad Dog and LeBrock have a bit of history between them as it was the detective-inspector who first brought Mad Dog to justice, though LeBrock nearly beat the villain to death in the process. "About six months prior to the start of Grandville Mon Amour, LeBrock tracked down Mastock and violently put an end to his series of horrific murders of London prostitutes, disfiguring the maniac in the process before he could be dragged off by six policemen. Since then, Mad Dog has been incarcerated in the maximum security prison of the Tower of London awaiting his execution," Talbot said. "The story begins with his brutal escape whilst being dragged to the guillotine."
All of this and more is revealed gradually, through images and bits of dialogue rather than through a lengthy flashback sequence or other device. "I'm quite pleased at how I painted their shared history in a very few words as the story progresses, not pausing for any lengthy recaps. The ‘Grandville' books are exercises in brevity – paring down information to be passed on to the readers as efficiently as possible without appearing forced," Talbot said. "There's an anecdote about the script of the original ‘King Kong' movie. It was far too long and rambling and moved at a snail's pace. The opening scene at the docks lasted about ten minutes and involved a boring conversation describing the ship and why it was there. This was eventually cut down to one line of dialogue in the finished film - ‘Is this the moving picture ship?' This told the audience everything it needed to know, added pace and took away nothing. That's what I've been trying to do with the ‘Grandville' books."
There is also some subtlety at play in the latest "Grandville" book's title, which Talbot describes as "a joke." "As you'll know, the title's a parody of that of the famous avant garde French Nouvelle Vague film ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour,' so it's as if my detective-thriller starring a hard bastard badger is being put on an equivalent level of sophistication," the artist said. "Still, echoing that film, a character with whom LeBrock becomes romantically entangled becomes synonymous with the city of the title. With the exception of the first book, the titles are all going to be ‘Grandville' followed by a French word or phrase that most English-speakers understand."
Talbot told CBR that he has "made copious notes" about future installments of "Grandville," but is waiting to see how the first two volumes perform before beginning work on further books set in the universe. "Having said that, the first one has been published in half a dozen countries, with more to come this next year," he said. "If it seems to be popular, and all the reviews have been great so far, then I have plans for at least three more stories. The third has a more definite science fiction orientation, the fourth religious conspiracy and the fifth a gangster theme."