At the Costa Awards this week and I had my fingers crossed for Sally Gardner’s incredible Maggot Moon, a classic children’s book with massive ‘crossover’ potential. It wasn’t really a great surprise that the judges plumped instead for Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, but there was another book on the list that I’d have loved to have seen recognised – Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, by Mary and Bryan Talbot.
This graphic memoir (comic book to you and I) begins this very day, February 2nd – James Joyce’s birthday. It’s the jumping off point for a narrative that weaves the young lives of Mary Talbot and Lucia, daughter of James Joyce. The two were born generations apart, but had in common their ‘cold, mad, feery fathers’ – Mary’s dad James had been a Joycean scholar.
It’s a brilliant, effortlessly inventive book that marries the written word with illustrated storytelling beautifully. Reviewers have been busy using it to trumpet the long awaited ‘coming of age of the graphic novel’. How Bryan Talbot must have rolled his eyes. He was part of the 80s generation that produced books like Watchmen and Maus, ‘grown up’ comics that weren’t all about men in tights with half concealed identities and fully concealed sexual hang-ups (though that’s exactly what Watchmen was).
The fanfare for Dotter of her Father’s Eyes would suggest that there’s been little of any worth in the world of comics for the last 25 years. Which is utter nonsense. The book is in fact the continuation of a long line of books that have drawn on autobiography, from Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar in the 60s, through Maus and Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest to more recent examples by Joe Sacco and Alison Bechedel.
It’d be great if Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes did open more people up to reading comic books, and particularly fitting because there are few people who’ve done more for the form than Bryan Talbot. Back in the 80s when the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller were scooping up the garlands, he was also innovating with works like the breathtaking Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Which you can read more about soon.