The Tale of One Bad Rat
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The Tale of One Bad RatThe abuse of children remains one of society's great taboos, so finding thought-provoking, intelligent work about the subject, in any medium, is unusual. Tackling a matter like this is a great responsibility, as it's entirely possible that the abused might come across the work and perhaps look to it for guidance or hope. Creating a piece of fiction around something that could be a matter of life or death is a brave move for any artist.
Yet this is what Bryan Talbot has attempted in this work. Treading a careful line between fiction and solid research, he has created Helen - a heart-wrenchingly believable girl, mentally torn apart by the actions of her father. The story follows her through the process of coming to terms with the abuse, recapping on the past through her memories as she tries to find a place for herself in a world full of people she can't talk to and is incapable of connecting with.
The books of Beatrix Potter provide Helen with an escape route from her childhood hell and, as she grows up, she finds parallels between her life and that of the author. From her preference for animals (and particularly a pet rat released from the school science laboratory) to her vivid imagination, she gets inspiration and comfort from Potter's work, finding out more about the woman behind the books as she explores deeper into the writer's world.
Talbot's fine balance between images and words is masterful, with speech pared down to a minimum when pictures are enough, but with enough dialogue in place as it's required. He uses the pet rat as a tool to get into Helen's brain: her affinity with the animal providing the only opportunity she has to talk out her problems. But it also provides us with an insight into the mind of the abused - an attempt to show us what might be going on inside this poor girl's head.
It's a powerful tale, crafted to perfection, capable of bringing a tear to the eye and a glow to the heart. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea - it's a modern fairy tale with serious themes that aren't all that pleasant to look upon, and it certainly can't be categorised as escapism. But it's an important piece of graphic fiction that any reader with a heart and a conscience will find more than worthy of their time.
Dark Horse (US)
Titan Books (UK)
Originally published as
The Tale of One Bad Rat 1-4