Lots of people have tried to “fix” the Graphic Story category by suggesting nominees, and this graphic novel, the second in a series, was one of the most touted, especially from British quarters. It is the first graphic story nominated that’s not from the “Big Two” (American publishers Marvel and DC, representing multimedia conglomerates Disney and Time Warner, respectively), nor based on a licensed sf property from another medium, nor Girl Genius or Schlock Mercenary. Breakthrough? I guess.
Grandville seems to be from the “kitchen sink” tradition of throwing together a lot of varied tropes and hoping that something original comes out. The setting is alternate history/steampunk: Britain lost the Napoleonic Wars, and is just coming out of a near-two-century French occupation. This has somehow led to a late Victorian/art nouveau aesthetic and lots of clunky steam-powered machiney…and blimps! The story is political thriller/Sherlock Holmes/noir. And, most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals in the style of a nineteenth-century French cartoonist. Sometimes I felt like Bryan Talbot was trying to say something with these odd juxtapositions. Most of the time, I got the feeling that he just thought they were cool.
Scotland Yard Detective and Sherlockian badger Archie LeBrock is on the case when his arch-enemy, a former British resistance fighter and all around psycho, escapes on the way to the gallows. Archie descends into a gritty underworld to discover his whereabouts and how he escaped, and on the way, he uncovers a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top! Don’t they always?
I did find this story rather predictable, and the character designs rather pointless. The art is interesting – there’s a lot of richness in the backgrounds, and the storytelling is fantastic. That said, there was an angularity to the character designs that I found a bit off-putting. And, overall, I think it either needs to be prettier to hammer home the cartoonish quality of the characters, or it needs to be uglier to fit the gritty style of the story. Instead, it sits somewhere awkwardly in between.
This is a fine, but somewhat clichéd story with interesting, but flawed art. I liked it better than some of the perennial nominees, but I don’t think it’s the cure to what ails this category.