Dotter of Her Father's Eyes: Mary and Bryan Talbot Discuss Their Dark Horse Graphic Novel

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Mary Talbot is a newcomer to comics. Her husband Bryan is anything but, having spent the last forty years or so making an indelible mark on the industry with a body of work that has frequently broken new ground for the medium.

But this latest project, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes released this February through Dark Horse, is something just a little bit special. The graphic novel marks the Talbots' first collaborative effort in the field, and Broken Frontier asked them how it came about…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Obvious first question, Mary: what prompted you to write this Dotter of her Father’s Eyes in this particular way?

MARY TALBOT: Bryan prompted it initially, with the simple suggestion: ‘Why not write about your relationship with your father, the Joycean scholar?’ I’ve had academic work in print for years, but early retirement has opened up my horizons to other kinds of writing. The idea of producing a graphic novel script really appealed to me. I wasn’t too sure about autobiography, though, so I starting looking into ways of making it interesting, or so I thought.

James Joyce had a daughter, as I was vaguely aware, so I went into that as a possible angle. That’s how it started.  Bryan was keen on producing something different too, I think. He’d had an idea for a collaborative project lined up with the narrative poet, Dorothy Porter, who he’d met at a Literary Festival in Brisbane. Sadly, she died before anything came out of it.

BF: How do you find writing for the graphic novel format?

MARY: Writing for the graphic novel format? It’s great! I love explaining something, telling a story or whatever, using a combination of words and images. The richness of the whole medium is brilliant. I’m still very much a novice, of course, but I have a very experienced advisor... [Laughs]

BF: Mary, the way you’ve described your childhood really makes it come to life-but it’s very much a warts and all account, it comes across as almost brutally honest. Did you have to consider whether to take that approach?

MARY: I’ve got a feeling a memoir that isn’t warts-and-all honest wouldn’t be worth reading. I wouldn’t have written it at all when my parents were alive. I don’t think I’d have been able to.

BF: I do like the little ‘corrections’ to Bryan’s art, as with the bit about the kids being segregated in the classroom. Whose idea was that little touch?

MARY: The first of the footnote comments came about when I wasn’t keen on the way Bryan had drawn my mother in one panel. He had her in an apron as worn by the stereotypical 1950s American housewife! Rather than ‘correcting’ his drawing, he suggested that we make a joke of it. We then went through looking for places to fit in more of them. I like the way it highlights the collaboration and adds an element of meta-textual commentary.

BF: The narrative isn’t precisely linear-it tends to veer off in unexpected directions, giving it a very natural, conversational feel, as though you’re remembering things as you go along. Was that the intention?

MARY: Yes, exactly. The traveller in the present-day segment is drifting off into a reverie; it’s triggered by a combination of the noisy kids in the train compartment and her reading material.

BF: The parallels you draw between your life and Lucia’s are fascinating, but neither your father nor Joyce came out of it looking too great at times. You’re obviously a devotee of Joyce’s work, but how do you see him as person?

MARY: By all accounts, Joyce was pretty hopeless at a lot of things, including making a living. This was hard work for everyone around him, especially his family. He seems to have doted on them in his way, but he was obviously very self-absorbed. The title of his brother Stanislaus’s biography was My Brother’s Keeper, which speaks volumes.

BF: Bryan, the use of different colours to differentiate between the scenes featuring Mary and those featuring Lucia was obviously a conscious decision-but why those particular colours? I can understand the shades of blue for Lucia, nicely melancholic, but many of the scenes showing your life and Mary’s seem to be almost sepia toned? Deliberate, or am I imagining it?

BRYAN TALBOT: It was deliberate, to give those sequences a sense of being in the past and also to give them their own recognisable atmosphere, to colour-code them, if you will, to make them distinct from the Joyce pages. They were drawn with a soft B pencil on textured watercolour paper with touches of spot colour to suggest the way that memory works – thinking of the past we always remember some things more vividly than others.

You’ll notice that more colour appears gradually as events become more recent. The present day sequences are in a clear ink line technique with flat colour. The Joycean sequences were inked with a dip pen on smooth Bristol board so that the blue wash would have a different texture than the sepia wash. Actually both washes were done with lamp black and tinted on computer. I thought the dip pen and blue somehow suited the Art Deco style of the 20s and 30s I was portraying.

BF: What’s next? I gather there’s a historical graphic novel in the works; can you tell us anything more about it?

MARY: The next book is largely set in Edwardian England. It will probably run to about 150 pages – and it’s a corker. That’s all there is to say at this time!  

BRYAN: I’m around halfway through Grandville Bête Noire and as I have two further Grandville books lined up, I’ll not be drawing Mary’s next one, though I’ll probably do some work on the panel breakdowns. We’re currently trying to find a suitable artist.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, by Mary and Brian Talbot, goes on sale February 8, 2012 from Dark Horse Comics. The 96-page graphic novel has a cover price of $14.99.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jan 28, 2012 at 11:08am

    I'll definitely be picking this up in Feb. Nice interview Tony.

  • Kstewart

    Kstewart Jan 9, 2013 at 5:46pm

    Thank you for getting a copy if this for me Andy Oliver. It's fantastic!!!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jan 9, 2013 at 6:21pm

    It's an amazing graphic novel isn't it? Fully deserving of all the press attention and awards recognition it's got.

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