Monday, April 16, 2007

Lecture report - Bryan Talbot at the Merril

I sat down to read Bryan Talbot's new book, ALICE IN SUNDERLAND (more detailed post on it to follow [right here, in fact]) last night. Planned to just read about a third of the 320+ page book, but wound up staying up until 3AM to finish the whole thing. It was just that good. The experience tipped the scale on me deciding to go to Talbot's presentation at the Merril Collection at the Lillian H. Smith Library in downtown Toronto.

[An aside on the Merril Collection, if you get a chance, check it out. It's a non-circulating collection, primarily of science fiction and fantasy, but also with over 1400 items across all genres in their graphic novel holdings. Among the things I read while hanging out there prior to Talbot's lecture was Dave McKean's hard-to-find PICTURES THAT TICK book (not that impressive, sadly, I'm glad I read it but more glad I didn't buy a copy the one time I saw it for sale), the Goodwin/Simonson ALIENS: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY film adaptation (some classic genre fun, with great artwork), DC RARITIES ARCHIVES v1 and COMIC CAVALCADE ARCHIVES v1 (both of which I didn't buy because I was really only interested in them for the 4 pages of Sheldon Mayer's Scribbly each include, and spending $10-$20 a page seemed excessive). There's a lot more I'll want to read next time I get to spend a few hours there, and the staff are exceedingly helpful and the reading room very pleasant. They also have another special collection in the same building of classic children's literature]

The proceedings started with one of the librarians giving the background of the Merril Collection (I knew Judith Merril best as "The UnDoctor" when she did introductions to local public television showings of DOCTOR WHO in the late 1970s), and then introducing Mark Askwith, who apparently is working for some cable channel I don't get these days. Askwith gave some background on the highlights of Talbot's career, ARKWRIGHT, ONE BAD RAT, various SANDMAN stories with Neil Gaiman, and then introduced Talbot.

Talbot spoke for about an hour with a slide-show presentation. Early on there are a few pages from one of his early "underground" type stories where he used some themes related to ALICE IN WONDERLAND, showing how he had always wanted to do a major work on the theme, but didn't have a direction to approach it until his wife's work took them to Sunderland in the British north-east and he found out about the lesser known connections between Carroll's life and work and the region (thanks to the book A TOWN LIKE ALICE'S by Michael Bute, who pops up in SUNDERLAND for a few pages), allowing him to approach it as both a history of Carroll's books and of the region. Most of his presentation then looked at individual pages of the new book and discussed how they fit into the larger picture of either the history of Sunderland, the history of Carroll or the history of comics, occasionally adding some details and anecdotes that didn't make it into the book. He also talks a bit about his work process and artistic choices, like where he deliberately evokes the styles of some older comics as it seems appropriate for the scene (Jack Kirby for the Battle of Hastings, Herge's TINTIN for his trip to Morocco, 1950s "Boy's Own" British comics for the heroic tale of Jack Crawford, Sir John Tenniel at various times, of course, like the adaptation of "Jabberwocky"). He also talks a bit about his artistic process in this book, which is heavily based in digital manipulation of images to get various effects, with a step-by-step look at how he took an image of the boat that Alice Liddell travelled to America on, added waves, smoke and birds and tinted it for final use. Some other interesting anecdotes on the production include how he got permission for use of photos of the Bayeux Tapestry with some product placement and how he sampled the colouring of some old comics to make the Jack Kirby inspired segment more authentic. There are several dozen interesting asides like that.

Following his lecture, Talbot took a few questions from Askwith and from the audience. Among other things he briefly talked about his upcoming prose book about comic creator stories, THE NAKED ARTIST, some more technical aspects on the production of the book and his past works.

Talbot then did some signing for the assembled masses, with his table also having a few prints he was selling (including a nice Arkwright 30th Anniversary piece), plus some of his original artwork including some nice Jabberwocky pieces used in SUNDERLAND. I got him to sign my copy of SUNDERLAND, as well as my copy of EX-DIRECTORY, a decade old collection of some of his scattered shorter works.

Overall a very enjoyable evening. Talbot's schedule has him doing events throughout the UK for the next few months, so I highly recommend that you check out his show if it comes near your town. Hopefully if the book does well over the next little while he'll add some more North American dates.

You can find ALICE IN SUNDERLAND at your local comic shoppe, or buy it on-line from various places. Panel To Panel has an interview with Talbot conducted by Steve Bissette discussing many of the same matters that Talbot does in his lecture, and is also selling the book with an exclusive signed bookplate.

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