- Posted by Johanna on July 19, 2006 at 8:30 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Bryan Talbot
- PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books; $14.95 US
The cover of Bryan Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat will be familiar to anyone who grew up reading the fables of Beatrix Potter. It’s got the same title type, the same white cover with a softly colored spot illustration, but instead of a charming animal, the picture is of a homeless teen begging for money.
Helen Potter lives on the street, accompanied only by her pet rat. She fantasizes about suicide, blaming herself for the “sin” of being abused by her parents. As a child, she loved the Potter books, copying the illustrations as a way of escape. She’s not yet comfortable enough to create her own art, internalizing her disgust as “why would anyone care about me or anything I create?”
Talbot’s work is as beautifully drawn and colored and as easy to read as Potter’s, as he illustrates both rural life and the ugly urban world of the mid-90s. His large amount of research pays off in authenticity for his settings and characters. The grounded real-world setting makes Helen’s visions, signs of her visual imagination, even more shocking until she learns to accept them and herself.
Helen is approached by the religious, who want to save her; hookers, who want to enlist her; and a group of petty thieves, who adopt her. She thinks she’s worthless and can’t bear to be touched, not trusting anyone, especially herself. The only time she opens up is when she’s talking about how misunderstood rats are, rather like herself — she’s the “bad rat” of the title, at least in her own perception.
Helen winds up retracing the path of Beatrix Potter’s life, from her childhood home (a place she disliked as well) to the lake country as a kind of refuge. The astoundingly lovely scenery gives the reader a respite from the soul-churning content elsewhere, just as it provides the healing Helen needs.
This graphic novel is one of the classics, a book that speaks to everyone and demonstrates the maturity of the medium. Its beauty encourages the spirit, providing hope for growth while overcoming a terrible past.
More information can be found at the creator’s website.