EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mary & Bryan Talbot Discuss Dark Horse Comics' DOTTER OF HER FATHER'S EYES
Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is the graphic novel debut of professor/scholar Mary Talbot and a very personal new entry to the already impressive career of Eisner and Eagle Award-winner Bryan Talbot. The latter talks about her transition to the medium and the former discusses bringing the story to life visually.
Part personal history, part biography, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes contrasts two coming-of-age narratives: that of Lucia, the daughter of James Joyce, and that of author Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. Social expectations and gender politics, thwarted ambitions and personal tragedy are played out against two contrasting historical backgrounds, poignantly evoked by the atmospheric visual storytelling of award-winning graphic-novel pioneer Bryan Talbot. Produced through an intense collaboration seldom seen between writers and artists, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is smart, funny, and sad--an essential addition to the evolving genre of graphic memoir.
While Bryan Talbot has become well known for his work in the comics medium, Mary has carved a place for herself in the world of academia by identifying the role of language in defining and shaping gender roles. This background played a key role in the creation of her first graphic novel, she says, “My background informs what I do, naturally. I’m keen to explore my existing interest in gender issues in new ways. Hence the narrative portrayal of, for instance, women’s changing opportunities in the twentieth century, in a format as far from a lecture as I could. I was making a concerted effort not to be preachy – showing not telling, in memoir format. There are risks that go along with that, of course.”
To help with the “showing” part of storytelling, she had the help of her husband, whose impressive comics resume includes some very respected works such as Sandman, The Tale of One Bad Rat, and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. With Dotter being so close to home, his usual process had changed: “In most writer/artist collaborations, the artist receives a script and then illustrates it. With Dotter, the collaboration was on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis, so Mary had ongoing input to the artwork and I to the storytelling and script.”
“My job was interpreting Mary’s story as directly and as straightforward as I could. She avoided using text boxes to simply describe the scenes, saving them to express facts and opinions,” he continued, “thereby avoiding the common problem in many graphic autobiographies of the image merely repeating the text.”
The partnership also included coming up with a visual look for the story, which was “a simple, direct style, a little sketchy. You can see that I actually used three different but similar styles, for the different threads of the story. The autobiographic sequences 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,” Bryan Talbot explained, “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. I thought the dip pen and blue somehow suited the Art Deco style of the 20s and 30s I was portraying. The blue shades also give a melancholic feel to those pages.“
Thanks to modern technology, and the ever lowering attention spans of students, Mary is “no stranger to using imagery. These days a good lecture has to be visually interesting, after all. The big difference for me was developing an engaging narrative voice, rather than concentrating on being well-ordered, systematic and clear in presenting ideas/facts. I was very conscious that I didn’t need to use text boxes to describe what was going to be in the visuals in any case. That’s certainly different from a lecture, where you repeat the same things in as many ways possible, in the hope that some of it sticks!”
As to what themes stick from Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, Mary Talbot shared, “we’re hoping readers will make their own comparisons between their experiences, mine and Lucia's. It’s hard to say more precisely than that, since everyone’s upbringing is not the same. By presenting two intertwined coming-of-age stories, at different points of the twentieth century, I was able to explore aspects of social history in a concrete and vivid way. I suppose we’re hoping that readers will be led to reflect on gender politics and social expectations, shifting attitudes about "proper" behaviour.”
“Come to think of it,” she went on, “there is something more specific. Many readers will probably have children of their own. Perhaps the book will make them realise the importance of those children’s memories of their parents. Hm.”
Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is written by Mary Talbot with art from multiple Eagle, Hugo, and Eisner Award-winner Bryan Talbot, who also happens to be her husband. The book from Dark Horse Comics hits store shelves February 8, 2012!