Bryan Talbot

Teknophage (1995) #1-6

Neil Gaiman s Teknophage  6Let’s see how long it takes me to describe Teknophage. Our reality is just one of an infinite (I think) number of realities, a multiverse woven together through the will of one single creature—the Teknophage, or Mister Henry Phage. He’s a giant dinosaur. On his planet, through mutation, he became hyper-intelligent and then discovered how to access the quantum realm and create a multiverse (or so Phage says during an interview). Sixty-five million years later, Earth is experiencing its 20th century and Phage is kidnapping humans to work in his giant mobile skyscraper hell building as it roams the planet Kalighoul. I think it can jump through the dimensions and go anywhere, they just happen to be hanging out on planet Kalinghoul.

Phage’s empire runs as a commercial enterprise, where his vice presidents scramble up the corporate ladder, hoping to someday be worthing of becoming… Phage’s dinner. Phage doesn’t eat very often because he’s got this special nap he takes as he digests his subordinates and seems to absorb them in some way. It’s unclear. Phage doesn’t like doctors so it’s entirely possible he’s never been fully diagnosed. Sometimes when Phage doesn’t like things he zaps them with his heat vision. By things I mean his “employees”—it’s unclear if middle management makes any actual money. They clearly live better than the many enslaved people who man the proverbial oars, but the upper management at least seems to enjoy their position having reached it. Though we don’t see what they do for leisure. Probably something awful.

The “hero” of the story is real estate developer Rob, who’s out at a farm he’s swindled from an old lady when he gets zapped to planet Kalinghoul. We’ve already seen Kalinghoul, with writer Rick Veitch and artist Bryan Talbot introducing it in the framing device, with this Oldish English narration cryptically describing the situation with Phage and so on.

It’s like “Monty Python” and, I don’t know, Dickens or something. I’m not English enough to know the specifics. Teknophage is extremely British; it’s about some dystopian steampunk revolt against a giant dinosaur ruler; it’s like a 2000 AD story but unqualified in its success. Talbot and Teknophage creator Neil Gaiman are English, Veitch is not. Neither’s Rob. In fact, Rob being an American figures into his behavior.

See, once Rob gets to planet Kalinghoul, he tries bartering his Earthly possessions for local money and gets ripped off. He also gets married to the woman ripping him off, which is sort of just desserts because it turns out she’s the alien abducted daughter of the old lady whose farm he just swindled. Her name is Clarissa and she’s a revolutionary in addition to being a con artist. She runs with Boog, a rough old British guy trope, who’s her surrogate father. When Clarissa goes on mission, Rob decides he’s got to save her—he’s suffering intense guilt over swindling her mom–even if it screws up her mission, which involves getting taken in for conversion, where they boil down your soul and turn you into a robot.

The writing on all the fantastical steampunk stuff is great. When the comic gets to an expository section, it’s a delight thanks to Veitch’s enthusiastic prose. It’s always entertaining.

Will Boog get Rob to realize being a capitalist maybe isn’t the greatest idea on Kalinghoul (or anywhere else)? Can Clarissa survive her undercover assignment as Phage’s new secretary (tasked with recording his life story)? Will Phage ever digest his meal? The meal who yells at him for quite a while and provides Veitch with some great comic relief.

Though there’s a lot of great comic relief amid the great comic.

Outstanding art from Talbot. His figures aren’t the greatest, unless he’s doing a little more caricature, but the settings are amazing and Teknophage himself is just as delightful visually as narratively. He’s an amazing antagonist. He’s kind of an anti-hero but also not.

Despite being from a comic book company I hadn’t heard of–Tekno Comix—until reading this title, Teknophage is actually in print (collected) as well as digitally so it’s readily available and well-worth the read.

Enough for me to continue on into the non-Veitch issues… not sure yet.

Ragnarok (1983)

Ragnarok is a “video [comic] strip.” There’s no animation, though occasionally there are electric crackles, just panning, scanning, and zooming across illustrations while three voice actors perform multiple roles. There are sound effects–minimal ones, which sometimes works to great effect, sometimes doesn’t. There’s no credited director or editor. The illustrators get credit, as does writer Alan Moore. It’s a shame the editor doesn’t get that credit though, because they do a fantastic job. Even when Ragnarok hits the skids, the editing is good.

The video strip is split into three chapters, with the second one just a setup for the third. The first, however, is easily the most impressive. It’s this taut space Western with a prospector and his claim under attack from a gang of hooligans. Will Ragnarok–a peace-keeping regulator–get there in time to save the prospector? The voice acting on Ragnarok is never great, but it’s better in the first part, and the hooligans (and the prospector) are all awesome. Lots of personality both in the performance and in the script.

Moore closes the first chapter with some musing about the universe, man’s place in it, and even a prospector’s song. It’s kind of awesome, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.

The common denominator for trouble is the lack of banter. It’s where Moore shows the most personality with dialogue. The second chapter, which has Ragnarok investigating a distress call and finding a super-intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex from another dimension bent on conquering the universe, has very little banter. It has some–Ragnarok mouthing off to his computer interface, which has a heavily pixelated female appearance and the moniker Voice–but the well-spoken, psychically-powered, megalomaniac T. Rex hasn’t got any chemistry with Ragnarok. They’re both playing the straight sentient and Moore writes Ragnarok as something of a buzz kill anyway. When he’s got good company, he’s fine; without it, he’s dull.

And that dullness fully eclipses all in the third chapter–except the editing, of course–as the T. Rex finds its way to Ragnarok’s home base and wrecks havoc. Moore introduces a new supporting cast of terrible characters, from an overbearing, questionably talented commanding officer called “Mother”–it’s not clear if she’s actually mother to all the regulators (the bad guy in the first chapter was called “Father”, maybe a further adventure would’ve introduced cloning backstory)–to a dimwitted female sidekick for Ragnarok. The T. Rex appropriately calls her “Simple Jane,” so Moore was intentionally playing her as a dope? Not a good sign.

There’s a lot of lame fight “scenes,” without much detail in the illustrations, and the showdown between the T. Rex and Ragnarok leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the third chapter itself.

Still, it’s competently executed and the voice cast does work at it. It’s just a shame Ragnarok never lives up to the potential of the first chapter’s writing or does justice to whoever did the rather solid editing on the video strip.



Character origination by Bryan Talbot; written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Mike Collins, Mark Falmer, Raz Khan, Ham Khan, Don Wazejewski, and Dave Williams; released by Nutland Video Ltd.

Voices by David Tate, Jon Glover, and Norma Ronald.

The Unwritten 31.5 (January 2012)

844157Carey–with plotting assistance from Gross–internally spins off Unwritten with these .5s. I’m guessing, anyway; this one is my first .5. Carey uses Wilson Taylor’s journals investigating the Cabal’s history.

Michael Kaluta handles the art on the first story, regarding Pullman silencing some monks in ancient China. It’s a decent story with a good twist at the end, but it lacks any wow factor.

The second story, however, has the wow. Rick Geary perfectly illustrates the tale of a newspaper cartoonist who has to face the realities of being a storyteller. It’s quietly frightening, especially the postscript. Carey again utilizes a twist. It’s less showy than the first, but more successful.

The third story–beautiful Bryan Talbot medieval stuff–has the best twist because the reader’s in the dark about it for a page. The story progresses before the revelation.

The issue’s an excellent exercise from Carey and company.


Men of Letters. 1: Here is the Man of Virtuous Words; artist, Michael Kaluta. 2: No Honest Man Need Fear Cartoons; artist, Rick Geary. 3: Copy Errors; artist, Bryan Talbot. Writers, Peter Gross and Mike Carey; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Joe Hughes and Karen Berger; publisher, Vertigo.

The Tale of One Bad Rat (1994-95)

I read The Tale of One Bad Rat in one sitting. It was originally published as a limited series, but it’s in three parts and the first part is too long for an issue so it didn’t seem like a natural stopping point. Talbot weighs the book uniquely, with the first act taking far longer than the second two. In some ways, it’s in two acts, with the second and third parts comprising the second act.

It’s not something I’d traditionally read in one sitting–it’s very serious and very depressing and the first part–and most of the second part–seem like they could easy end very badly for the protagonist. But without a good stopping place, I found it impossible to pause.

In the collected edition, Talbot talks a lot about the creative history behind One Bad Rat, but I only skimmed that essay. I’m not really sure if I want to know the source of the story. It’s both heartbreaking and glorious, with Talbot producing a work far more significant than the more popularly lauded comic books (those with mainstream success).

Much like Bruce Springsteen’s 9/11 album, “The Rising,” Talbot’s in the precarious position where he cannot fail. He can’t make any mistakes or his book becomes cheap and exploitative.

And he doesn’t fail. He succeeds. And The Tale of One Bad Rat is an incredibly good, incredibly unpleasant graphic novel.

Talbot’s artwork is wonderful, the photorealistic faces (not scenery) encompassing the beautiful with the horrific.


Writer, artist and colorist, Bryan Talbot; letterer, Ellie DeVille; editors, Dick Hansom and Randy Stradley; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

The Dead Boy Detectives 4 (November 2001)

As expected, the series comes to a solid, if unspectacular, conclusion. It seems like Brubaker front-loaded a little, filling the first issue with content and having to pad a little throughout the remainder.

There’s not really much memorable about the issue, storytelling wise–it’s never clearly stated why kids can see the ghosts, for example, while adults can’t. Especially since the kids in question are jaded teen runaways, who undoubtedly are more mature than, well, lots of the adults the leads pass by undetected.

Talbot’s the star here. He’s got some amazing panels, simultaneously horrific and charming. The issue has one big action sequence and he and Brubaker match up beautifully on it… Brubaker’s writing, at the standard thriller revelation moment, is very strong. What he doesn’t do in plotting, he makes up for in his excellent scenic writing.

It’s too bad Vertigo didn’t publish more Dead Boy mysteries.


The Secret of Immortality, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Bryan Talbot; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Daniel Vozzo; letterer, Willie Schubert; editor, Will Dennis; publisher, Vertigo.

The Dead Boy Detectives 3 (October 2001)

And here’s where there’s some more connection to The Sandman series (I think, not really knowing, but they spend some time talking about people who aren’t in this book, so I assume they’re in the Sandman book).

Again, I’m not sure how Brubaker’s writing the leads. They’re so naive, even when they’re impaired, it’s hard to believe they spend a hundred years (or whatever) watching and reading detective stories. There’s a lot of sex in them–especially since one of them makes a James Bond reference at some point in the series–and Brubaker writes them asexual.

It’s kind of cute, in that same way the art’s precious, but it cuts back severely on the characters’ potentials. Having a single goal–to be detectives–and nothing going on the back burners makes them too flat. There’s no drama to them, no conflict.

Still, it’s a solid series, just not monumental.


The Secret of Immortality, Part Three; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Bryan Talbot; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Daniel Vozzo; letterer, Willie Schubert; editor, Will Dennis; publisher, Vertigo.

The Dead Boy Detectives 2 (September 2001)

Ah, perhaps my apprehension comes from this issue… it’s not bad at all, but it’s more focused on the backstory of a supporting cast member than it is on the two leads (who act really silly at one point, playing dress-up with wooden swords, an activity I associate much more with eight year-olds than the leads in this comic). It’s a nice showcase for Talbot’s artwork (except the ghost eyes again), since it lets him do stuff modeled after wood carvings of the Middle Ages and such, as well as the modern London scenes.

Brubaker’s working in a framework here–there are chapters, they open with text exposition–and it feels fine… but again, I’m apprehensive. I don’t want to get too enthusiastic because I know (or think–or kind of remember) it takes a hit.

But it’s shocking how well-produced Vertigo limited seres used to be.


The Secret of Immortality, Part One; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Bryan Talbot; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Daniel Vozzo; letterer, Willie Schubert; editor, Will Dennis; publisher, Vertigo.

The Dead Boy Detectives 1 (August 2001)

I’ve read The Dead Boy Detectives before and I remember it not working out, but this first issue is fantastic. Brubaker brings a fairy tale slash Mark Twain feel to the story and Bryan Talbot’s art is, there’s no other word for it, precious. The two detectives–Charles and Edwin, I think–are adorable in a way no regular teen detectives ever could be… they’re ghosts. Teenage ghost detectives. I’m shock DC hasn’t turned it into a film property yet.

The case–it’s just one case, I think–hasn’t really taken off yet, though they’ve done a lot and given Talbot a lot of time to show off. My only art complaint is the eyes. The ghost eyes. It looks too emo for its own good.

But a great first issue; not a lot of limiteds have those… especially not today.

Brubaker writing so much dialect is my only complaint.


The Secret of Immortality, Part One; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Bryan Talbot; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Daniel Vozzo; letterer, Willie Schubert; editor, Will Dennis; publisher, Vertigo.

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