30 September 2011

Heart of Empire by Bryan Talbot

It has been a little while since I've said anything about comics and even longer since I said something nice about Bryan Talbot so it is time to make amends.

My comic reading is progressing less well that I hoped, mostly because I have been working away, but I suspect that I am just about reading more comics than I buy. Tomorrow's trip to Ace Comics in Richmond may prove me wrong!

I was able to take advantage of one of the long train journeys from Cardiff to Richmond to read my signed copy of Heart of Empire by Bryan Talbot, the follow-up to The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

I bought this back in February at SFX Weekender so, by my standard, it got to the top of my read pile quite quickly.

At first glance it is a very different animal from Luther Arkwright. For a start it is in colour. And that brings other artistic changes with it as the fine detail of the black and white line drawings is replaced with the bolder coloured block.

The story follows on from the original but can be ready without it. It's a few years later and Great Britain is at a crossroads with several parties vying to push things their way.

Central to all this is the Princess Royal who is approaching her twenty third birthday.

Some of the previous themes are reprised, such as the machinations of foreign powers and the real lives of the poor but that is almost stretching the point as the story is a different beast with a different cast in a different society, but in the same country and the same multi-verse.

The story reads a little easier than its predecessor that, in-line with its underground heritage, had some pages and panels that were thick with text that took some effort to get through.

If anything, Heart of Empire rebounds a little too far the other way and the size of the text in the speech balloons sometimes looked a little large for the panel but that really is being picky.

The story itself sweeps along, throws quite a few surprises, gives us some strange characters and situations, says (or implies) a lot about injustices under the British Empire, and pleases in all the ways that stories should please.

Good though the story is, the art work is even better.

I picked page 22 as an example simply because it is fantastic.

There are obvious hints of Grandville here but it's the richness of the image that makes it so special.

And if you think you've understood all the references, you haven't.

To prove it, you can read what Bryan himself says about this page.

I get the impression with pages like this that Bryan simply cannot stop drawing things - there is much much more in this picture than the story needs.

My favourite unnecessary flourish is the sign for the tram stop that is based on the Art Nouveau ones of the Paris Metro stations.

But whether you understand all the thinking behind the pages or not does not matter as it's easy to see that this is the work of a master.

The version of Heart of Empire that I have has a bloody awful cover (it's not the nice one shown above) which is a real shame as it hides a work of genuine class. I just hope that I've done a little to prove that.

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