Monday, March 7, 2016

Gods and Things

The Tale of One Bad Rat: written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (1994-95/This edition 2010): Writer-artist Bryan Talbot's tale of abuse and recovery as filtered through a young woman's interest in both Beatrix Potter's life and work is a lovely, tough comic that actually appeals to people who don't normally read comics. As the afterword to this new(ish) edition notes, the book now shows up a lot in middle schools and high schools and counselling centres. 

It isn't a boring pamphlet, however, but a sad and funny bildungsroman (and, indeed, a kunstlerroman) about teen-aged Helen's efforts to deal with the trauma of her sexual abuse at her father's hands. She runs away, first to London, England and then elsewhere as she pursues her vision of Beatrix Potter's life and works all the way to the Lake District where Potter (a pen-name) wrote her famous and influential children's books.

Helen's accompanied by her pet rat for the journey. The demonization of the rat in Western culture resonates with Helen's own experiences as an abused and otherwise unwanted child. Helen also grows towards having her own artistic voice to express her pain and anguish, at first by copying and recopying Potter's illustrations from memory. Gradually, Helen begins to draw new material of her own.

The Tale of One Bad Rat is a moving graphic novel, beautifully illustrated throughout by Talbot whether the scene is a vista in the Lake District or a grimy London house where various runaways are squatting. Highly recommended.

Nameless: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn (2015): Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham forge a weird, somewhat non-linear journey into neo-Lovecraftiana in this six-issue Image Comics miniseries. Surprises are part of the package, so we'll stick with a bare plot description: something ancient and terrible is falling to Earth inside an asteroid, and only the eponymous Nameless and a crew of private astronauts can stop it. 

Nothing is really that simple, of course, as the graphic novel bounces off everything from Mayan mythology to the Arthur Machen horror story "The Black Seal" on the way to an apocalyptic climax.

Why Nameless is literally Nameless (or, as he notes, 'Nameless is a name!') is only one of the mysteries that may or may not be answered by the bulk of the miniseries. Morrison plays with narrative unreliability here, while artist Burnham does a nice job of illustrating moments of extreme grue, normal city streets, and the occasional squirmy Lovecraftian God-thing. The ending is tricky, like everything else, so pay close attention to what's happening in the concluding panels. Recommended.

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