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Mary and Bryan Talbot on Dotter of Her Father's Eyes

Written by Sarah Sed, Outhouse Contributor on Tuesday, January 17 2012 and posted in Features

An interview with the creators of Dotter of Her Father's Eyes.

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is a coming of age graphic novel that overlays Mary Talbot's life to that of Lucia Joyce, daughter of famed writer James Joyce.  Published by Dark Horse and created by Mary and her husband Bryan, the book has received high acclaim and praise from multiple press sites.  The Outhouse sat down with Mary and Bryan to discuss the book.

The Outhouse: First of all, I would like to say that I personally really related to Mary's relationship with her Father and her trouble with the kids in school.  My own Mother was constantly jumping from splendid to terrifying as I was growing up as well.  We also were poor and I had trouble relating to my classmates in almost the exact same way.  Some of the moments you shared were Déjà vu for me.  What inspired you to write a graphic novel?  How did you decide to share some of the more personal aspects with the world?

MARY: I'm really pleased to hear that you could relate to the story personally. The inspiration to write a graphic novel came directly from a suggestion of Bryan's to do so. I'd finished putting together a 2nd edition of a textbook and, since I'd recently taken early retirement, I was probably looking in need of something constructive to do!

Bryan suggested dealing with my troubled relationship with my father, the Joycean scholar, in a graphic novel script. I loved the idea of turning to a new kind of writing; Bryan was looking for something new too, I think. But I did feel awkward about the personal stuff, largely because I thought people would find it boringly self-indulgent. Initially it was to get around that perceived problem that I looked into Lucia Joyce's life story. I was considering just focusing on her at one point. Once I started to work on two interweaving plotlines, however, I could see how it would work and be valid as a single story. Then I'd no problem divulging autobiographical details at all.

OH: It's mentioned in the novel that there aren't many similarities between Mary & Lucia's lives growing up, because of the time periods they're set in, yet you decided to portray them both.  Why did you decide to keep with that particular plot point?  Did you have difficulty trying to develop a way to represent the different stories together?

dotter2MARY: Two girls, two different time periods. Lucia in the first half of the twentieth century, myself in the second half. How much has changed! 

OH: Bryan, how did you land on the three different color schemes and drawing styles for the different periods in time?  How did you come up with your own personal drawing style?

BRYAN: I'm not sure what you mean by my personal style. Do you mean the one I currently use in the Grandville books, or in Alice in Sunderland, The Tale of One Bad Rat, Metronome or Luther Arkwright? They are all quite different. I've always tried to suit my drawing style to the sort of story that I'm illustrating. With Dotter of her Father's Eyes I felt a simple, direct, style would be appropriate, a style that adult readers would be comfortable with, such as those of Posy Simmonds or Raymond Briggs. The idea of colour-coding the three threads seemed an obvious necessity, to avoid readers becoming confused.

OH: Mary, when you saw your husband's first depiction of you in comic form, what was the first thing that came to your mind?  Bryan, what was going through your mind as well?

MARY: The very first thing? Ohmigod I'm a Posy Simmonds character! Amazing!

BRYAN: I've drawn myself in comics many times before, so I didn't feel any different about drawing Mary. It's not supposed to be either a caricature or exact likeness anyway. I used the simple Herge clear line style, as the simpler the face, the easier it is for readers to relate to the character.

OH: You mention on your website that you benefited from an "intensive and ongoing creative interaction" when you both were working on the novel.  Was there a lot of feedback into aspects of the story and the artwork from both sides?  Did you both try to stick mainly to your separate strengths and it came together naturally?  Was the story and artwork pretty much formed in both minds before work began?

dotter3MARY: Being a writer himself, once Bryan read the complete draft, he had numerous suggestions. But his main input was when he started to visualize the story on the page. I'd left the page layout up to him, though the script was full of suggestions for images and I'd accumulated loads of visual reference material for him to use if he wanted to. Once he started drawing, the to-and-fro collaboration was continuous, more or less on a daily basis. On a few occasions, I didn't see a page until he'd finished it. That's how the little footnote comments came about. The first one in the book 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! Definitely not my mother! Rather than 'correcting' his drawing, he had the great idea that we make a joke of it.

OH: Both of you have known success in your separate fields and have been published before.  When you were finished with Dotter of Her Father's Eyes and the books were coming off of the presses, did you feel any different with this particular project? 

MARY: It's by far the most beautiful book I've been involved with. Collaborating with Bryan felt special too.

BRYAN: Yes, I feel the same. It's been a unique experience for me. I don't just mean the personal aspect. In most writer/artist collaborations, the artist receives a script and then illustrates it. As Mary said, the back and forth collaboration on this was intense.

OH: What can we expect from you in 2012?  Is there a second installment in the works?  A new project?

MARY: My next project is a historical graphic novel, 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. 

OH: The upcoming graphic novel sounds amazing! I am a huge fan of British shows, Downton Abbey being one of them, so your upcoming project is right up my alley and will have at least one reader. Since you're currently looking for an artist have you Mary, ever thought of trying your hand at illustrating your own comics one day?

MARY: If you like Downton Abbey then you'll love what I'm working on now. No, I've never seriously thought of illustrating myself. That really would be a steep learning curve!

OH: What comic books are both of you reading right now? 

MARY: The last comic book I read was Fred the Clown (Roger Langridge). I'll probably turn to Nelson next, the new collaborative graphic novel from Blank Slate Books.

BRYAN: I think it was Kiki de Montparnasse.

What is the most recent comic book or graphic novel you read that made you laugh until you cried?

MARY: That would be Fred the Clown.

OH: I'm a newbie to comic books. What would your recommendations be for someone who's looking to dive in?

MARY: Definitely Bryan's Tale of One Bad Rat. It's lovely - one of my favourites - and created with the newbie reader in mind. And, thinking of Downton Abbey again, Raymond Briggs' Ethel and Ernest would probably appeal to you, too. It's about Briggs' own parents and it's a very touching story.

OH: What would be the one thing that you want the reader to take away from the novel? 

MARY: In a recent review, the writer identified himself as a father who was working from home, with two daughters who were waiting for him to take them out to the park (Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool . He claims the novel led to a much shorter piece than he'd originally intended to write because it made him realise how important their memories of him would be. He took them to the park instead. If other readers respond that way, I won't complain!

Written or Contributed by: Sarah Sed, Outhouse Contributor

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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