*The Tale of One Bad Rat — Recommended

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?”

The Tale of One Bad Rat cover
The Tale of
One Bad Rat
Buy this book

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.

4 Responses to “*The Tale of One Bad Rat — Recommended”

  1. Dan Coyle Says:

    This was an excellent book. Really well thought out and researched, not a single flaw in its storytelling.

  2. Paul Sizer Says:

    Hands down one of the top 10 graphic novels that I will continue to recommend when people ask “how powerful of a story can you tell with just comics?”.
    An absolute must for anyone interested in modern comic storytelling.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I’m currently working on a long-term project for this site, to list a “comic canon”, works everyone should at least be familiar with. This will be one of them for just that reason.

  4. Coming Up: Books Due in February 2010 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Talbot’s Tale of One Bad Rat is getting a new hardcover printing (DEC09 0034, $19.99, April 28). This book is part of my canon, […]




Most Recent Posts: