Zoran Stefanović

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes

(A review for Serbian edition published in „Politika” daily /The cultural supplement/, Belgrade, Serbia, August 2, 2014.)

Ćerke, a graphic novel (original title: „Dotter of Her Father's Eyes“, 2012), written by Mary M. Talbot, drawn by Brian Talbot; translated into Serbian by Vesna Jokanović, „Omnibus“, Belgrade, 2013, B-5, color, 104 pages, ISBN: 978-86-87071-17-9.

The relationship between parents and child is a perfectly timed future. It is either a bomb or a blessing. It will have effects for decades later, it will affect next generations too.

Art knows that, and usually discretely shies away from testing a particularly subtle relationship: of daughters and fathers.

That is why documentary graphic novel Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, a child of Mary Talbot's narrative effort and an artistic vision of her husband Brian, is a rare bird. And it has been executed in a very unusual way, compared to other works of both authors, Mary as an academic researcher (Language and Gender, Media Discourse: Representation and Interaction) and Brian as a world-renowned cartoonist („The Adventures of Luther Arkwright“, „Judge Dredd,“ „Batman,“ „The Sandman“, „Hellblazer“, The Tale of One Bad Rat, „Grandville“…).

Belgrade publisher „Omnibus“ has published this graphic novel as a seventh book in its edition „World Traces“, its editor Živojin Tamburić's favourite library, following the carefully selected works by Miguelanxo Prado, Hannah Berry, David Small and Raymond Briggs. The book is in colour, graphically and technically well presented in this Serbian edition, with the format ideal for this type of story. It is enriched with wise, informative and precise foreword by Pavle Zelić, a Belgrade author and scriptwriter of the younger generation (which must be read after reading the graphic novel, in order not to be surprised prematurely).

Dotter of Her Father's Eyes is based on two narrative flows, seemingly unconventionally intertwined. The first one is the growing of Mary and her relationship with the estranged father, who, being a world-renowned expert on James Joyce, was so immersed in this life mission of his, that he practically lived next to his children rather than with them. This flow is both lovely and painfully accurate and an honest document about growing up in post-war Britain, quite similar to its eastern relative, the socialist Yugoslavia.

The other flow is like Carroll's mirror: Joyce's family resided, during the interwar period, first in Paris which after the Great War swelled as the centre of the new world's avant-garde collective energy, of hope and creativity, and then in London, where lives finally got to change, especially for Lucia, Joyce's daughter. In a very quiet second plane of both stories, an overwhelming factual basis is perceived, dramatically utilized to the very limits within the procedure corresponding to the Joyce's own.

The final effect of all this leads to a rare experience: to the point where the reader, lulled by the carefully managed story, like the one from a television documentary, receives an electric shock and from the last pages of the book clearly understand what he had just read. And what are the morals of the story for him and his loved ones — both back and forth.

A wise and balanced visual approach of Brian Talbot has properly expressed deep intention of the narrator: relaxation, documentarity, colour play within the two mirror-worlds and their nuances, dosages of each artistic process smoothly harmonized with the tone of the two dramas.

Awarding of this book, the jury of the Costa book awards for 2012 explained in this way: „A strikingly original graphic memoir which links two lives in a highly imaginative way ... A gem of a book.“

There are all sorts of truths here. But books, awards and big though cheap words are too many. And too few are books which deliver such amounts of invisible truths and testify to the wisdom without imposition, as Dotter of Her Father's Eyes does.

The work of the Talbot couple shows how imperatively important is to make trips outside of our primary careers and daily life. We need to give vent to ourselves in the key points of existence and through such a catharsis return to the world a fraction of our hard-won personal realisation. •

Zoran Stefanović (1969) is an award-winning Serbian author, publisher and cultural activist. He is also co-author of a first critical lexicon about comics in Eastern Europe, The comics we loved: Selection of 20th century comics and creators from the region of former Yugoslavia, together with Živojin Tamburić and Zdravko Zupan, with preface by Paul Gravett.

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