By Avi Weinryb
July 22, 2007 - 04:14
Cover art for 'The Tale of One Bad Rat'
Dark Horse Comics should be commended for having the guts to publish a book that tackles child molestation. At the time of its original publication, very few comics even made mention of this crime, let alone explored it through the eyes of the victim. This trade paperback collects the original four issue miniseries in one seamless package, chronicling the journey of Helen Potter, a British girl pushed into homelessness because of her abusive father and unloving mother.
On the rainy streets of London, Helen’s only friend is her pet rat. In between hallucinations of her own death, Helen wanders aimlessly, always on the lookout for a half-decent place to spend the night. She carries awful memories of her abuse-filled past, and she resists any forms of affection. A misplaced arm on Helen’s shoulder can send her into a fit of panic.
A budding artist, Helen needs only to overcome the past. This is easier said than done. Memories of her father haunt and torture her. Helen finds solace in the works of children’s author Beatrix Potter, a woman who overcame great odds to become a creative literary force. As Helen wanders, she begins to follow in the footsteps of Potter, moving towards the same farmland the famous author once inhabited. But even as Helen moves further away from her past, she begins to realize that the only way of defeating her demons is by confronting them.
Talbot’s writing is top-notch. An industry veteran, the author knows how to tell a tale well. The author got his start in the English underground comix scene, eventually making his way to the mainstream where he contributed to Hellblazer, Sandman, and Batman. Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat contains temporal shifts and transitions that would easily trip up a novice writer. For Talbot, they provide the opportunity to offer a unique reading experience. The journey into Helen’s past is overwhelmingly distressful. The dialogue of characters is realistic in its execution. When Helen finally confronts her abusive father, telling him how she feels, it is clear that the author has done his research. Talbot understands how to evoke different character voices. The colloquial speech of London street urchins stands distinctly against the burr of an English farmer.
Equally impressive is the artwork. Talbot offers a strong palette of reds, blues, and yellows. Characters are photorealistic, many having been based on life models. Expressions of joy, fear, and disdain all carry a life that exists beyond the printed page. There is no exaggeration – only true emotion. The book looks and reads ‘real’ which aids in conveying its serious subject matter. This graphic novel may centre on a despicable issue, but this does not prevent the book from being a pleasure to read. It is a well made piece of literary art, carrying great merit along with its courage.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good book, visually based or otherwise. This is a strong work, and it deserves to be read.
9.6 / 10
Avi Weinryb is an editor and feature writer at The Comic Book Bin