‘The collaboration was easy and almost continuous’ – Peter Wild interviews Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot about The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes

The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes is a graphic memoir concerning author Mary Talbot’s difficult relationship with her father, a celebrated Joyce scholar, a story mirrored by the biography of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia – who also had some difficulties with her father. ‘I wasn’t at all convinced that my troubled relationship with my Joycean-scholar father would be of interest to anybody on its own,’ Mary Talbot told us. ‘So I broadened the father-daughter relationship theme by bringing in James Joyce and his daughter Lucia…’

Peter Wild (PW): As an English Lit graduate with a love of comics, I was particularly thrilled by The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes: it satisfies the hard intellectual kernel of me that as an undergraduate did battle with Ulysses and Finnegans Wake whilst at the same time entertaining the eternal child in me who loves to absorb words and ideas and images fused together in a beautiful melange. To begin with, whose idea was the book? Did it start out as an idle conversation over tea one night?

Mary Talbot (MT): In conversation one evening, yes. To start with, Bryansuggested that I try my hand at memoir writing, something that he would illustrate. I was looking for a new project and producing a graphic novel script sounded like an interesting new direction. I wasn’t sure about the autobiographical aspect, though. I wasn’t at all convinced that my troubled relationship with my Joycean-scholar father (whatBryanhad in mind) would be of interest to anybody on its own. So I broadened the father-daughter relationship theme by bringing in James Joyce and his daughter Lucia.

PW: It’s almost a cliché to say that all collaborations involve an element of compromise on the part of the collaborators. Given that you are a husband and wife team, was that process of collaboration easier or more difficult?

MT: It’s the first time I’ve worked in collaboration with an artist, apart from the odd spot illustration, so I can’t really comment. It was certainly more fun than collaborating on collections of academic papers.

Bryan Talbot (BT): Because we live together, the collaboration was very easy and almost continuous. In most writer/artist collaborations, the artist simply receives a script and then illustrates it. Sometimes there is a little to-and-fro, such as when I’ve worked from scripts by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore or Pat Mills, which involved phone discussions and faxed artwork. With Dotter, the collaboration was intense and on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, with Mary making artwork suggestions and myself suggesting improvements in dialogue and text. And we’d usually discuss the work in progress at dinner every evening.

PW: Although The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes is a collaboration, as I’ve said, it feels (at least to this reader) like it ‘belongs’ more to Mary, as – among other things – it tells the story of her relationship with her father, a celebrated Joyce scholar. A question for Mary – was it at all difficult to see some of the more painful elements brought to life in comic form?

MT: It was all a long time ago, so not really. AndBryan’s familiarity with my personal history helped. Perhaps if another artist had brought them to life on the page I might have found it disconcerting.

PW: I thought marrying the story with the life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a stroke of genius – and what an eye-opener it was. I haven’t read Carol Loeb Shloss’s biography of Lucia but I have read Ellman’s biography of Joyce and John Wyse Jackson and Peter Costello’s biography of Joyce’s father but in neither of those books did I get the sense of Lucia that emerges from The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes. Nora Barnacle and Samuel Beckett don’t come out of it well at all. Did you feel that this was a story that warranted a re-evaluation?

MT: Yes indeed. More recent accounts – particularly Shloss’s biography of Lucia and Brenda Maddox’s of her mother, Nora – helped me to imagine Lucia’s perspective.

PW: Mary – your ‘day job’ (as it were) is in academia. What have your colleagues made of your first foray into the world of graphic novels?

MT: I’ve taken early retirement, so it’s no longer my day job. One former colleague is thrilled to bits, but then she’s Dr Mel Gibson, comics scholar! I’m sure they’re all pleased (if a little surprised). I was at Sunderland, the university that awarded Bryanan honorary doctorate a few years ago, after he brought out Alice in Sunderland.

PW: Bryan– I hear you’re hard at work on the next instalment of Grandville! I can’t wait to see it. The first two have been among my most favourite re-reads of this last four or five years. What can you tell us about it? Is your plan to craft a sequel or do you envisage this as an ongoing series?

BT: I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. I’m having huge fun writing them. There is a story arc behind everything but they are very much designed to be stories that can be read alone. I’m about half way through Grandville Bête Noire right now. As you can probably tell from the front cover (which is on my website) the story is a partial pastiche of James Bond, the villain of the piece based on Toad from Wind in The Willows. I’ve scripted the fourth in the series, Grandville Noël and have the fifth book roughly plotted. I do have ides for further Grandville stories but I’ll see how I feel after these first five before committing myself.

PW: Mary – I was pleased to see that you appear to have been bitten by the graphic bug! What can you tell us about the historical graphic novel you’re working on?

MT: Well, it’s still under wraps, really. It’s mostly set in Edwardian England, it’ll probably run to 150 pages and it’s a corker!

PW: The ‘music’ of Finnegans Wake permeates the book (as it permeates the head of anyone who manages to read the thing). I wondered what you made of the prospect of Mark Millar’s proposed graphic adaptation that promises to be ‘Mulholland Drive meets Hard Boiled on acid.”…

BT: Never heard of it!

MT: The Finnegan’s Wake ditty certainly rattled through my head as I was working on the script, but that’s because I used to hear it at home, I think.

The Dotter of her Father’s Eyes is published by Jonathan Cape and is available now

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