Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Claims about men being unable to express emotion irritate me no end. My father did anger very well."
A remarkable piece of British social history brought vividly alive by the legendary Bryan Talbot, DOTTER OF HER FATHER'S EYES is a personal memoir of Dr. Mary Talbot growing up under the fiery gaze of her "feary father" James S. Atherton - a renowned Joycean scholar - and draws remarkable parallels and striking contrasts with James Joyce's relationship with his own titular "dotter" on whom he doted. For me it's already a strong contender for the finest graphic novel of 2012 for its brilliances are manifold:
The segues between the narratives are fluid and deft, the parallels between the two time frames perfectly accentuated. The art captures the chic of the period if you were privileged as well as the dowdiness if you weren't. There are superb portraits of James Joyce himself, the visual flourishes on pages 37 and 83 are magnificent in every way, and the production values are superb, the rich paper stock doing full justice to the cream-coloured pages with their watercolour texture.
It kicks off one morning on February 2nd when Mary, at home, stumbles upon the ration book and social security card of her now-deceased father. This catalyses a day's reverie illustrated by husband and visual chameleon Bryan Talbot who has shifted styles yet again from the multi-media, photo-montage of ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, the slick, computer-coloured anthropomorphic steampunk of GRANDVILLE and the watercolour Lake District landscapes of THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT accentuated by black lines on an acetate overlay, to soft washes over pencil and ink in two distinct, colour-coded palettes representing very different past periods in time.
What unites them is what I loved most about Raymond Briggs' ETHEL & ERNEST: the candour and humanity which will resonate with readers. There's an eternal and - I would have thought - ubiquitous fascination in the relationships between parents and offspring and of school life often suffered under duress: everyone makes comparisons to their own. Like ETHEL & ERNEST it's also an infectious double-dose of vital social history brought alive for those of us who take so much for granted these days, like contraception and birth before marriage. So many of my friends have children without bothering to get married and we think nothing of it but go back but a couple of decades and it was a very real social stigma. Did you know that James Joyce left it years into his daughter's life to even consider marrying Lucia's mother? I didn't. Very brave of them both and almost certainly why they swiftly eloped from Dublin.
There's one halting sequence in which Mary gives birth enduring an extreme episiotomy which I was first presented with in portfolio form by Bryan and Mary over dinner. Also present: our own Jonathan whose wife was due to give birth within the month. I tucked those pages back into Bryan's bag very swiftly indeed while outwardly smiling: "Nothing to see here!" Please, please don't read this book if you are about to give birth until after the stork has delivered.
But it is as well to remember these things: sectarian divides still far from united, gender segregation, and the suffocating sway that any family can have over you. Like the LOGICOMIX graphic novel about Bertrand Russell which sold out of its first UK printing in under a week, DOTTER OF HER FATHER'S EYES will strike chords far beyond those interested in James Joyce and his own creativity; but it will be additionally fascinating both for those devotees and followers of Bryan Talbot, for there are insights to be gleaned into the comic creator's teenage years when first meeting Mary, and their shared trepidation of life under the threat of nuclear annihilation.
DOTTER OF HER FATHER'S EYES is published by Jonathan Cape on February 2nd 2012. It's a significant date, being the 130th anniversary of Irish author James Joyce's birthday and the 90th anniversary of the publication of Joyce's Ulysses.