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5.0 out of 5 stars Bryan Talbot's A Tale Of One Bad Rat Graphic Novel Review, May 6, 2010
This review is from: Tale of One Bad Rat (2nd edition) (Hardcover)
The graphic novel "The Tale Of One Bad Rat" by Bryan Talbot is an Eisner Award winning story about Helen Potter, a woman who was sexually abused by her father for 8 years while she was a child and teenager.

The current second edition has excellent hardcover design, paper quality, and illustration color reproduction. The graphic novel, a story in 3 parts, was originally published in four individual comic books. I enjoyed having the whole story in one professionally crafted volume.

I'm not a person who writes many reviews. I don't enjoy writing reviews for the sake of writing reviews. I tend to only take the time to write reviews when I estimate I've found a great artwork that may be underrecognized or underappreciated in some way. I'm not alone in admiring this graphic novel. I was initially introduced to this book because it was recommended by both Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

This is an exquisitely well-thought out story. And Bryan Talbot is a master storyteller, writer, imagist, and draftsperson. His linework, line weight, and drawing abilities leave me with firm rememberances. His ability to paint and color is comparable to Milo Manara - and I mean that as a high compliment. His colors support a concert of details used to set compelling and accurate emotional atmospheres. Talbot doesn't just lay down flat colors. In studying his illustrations, you can see the care of every color weight, stroke direction, and visual texture.

The story begins with Helen living on the streets after running away from home. The story arcs through her beginning processes of recognizing she was sexually abused and trying to understand the harm the abuse did to her. The story is about trying to recover from incest by taking dramatic and active steps to repair what can be rebuilt. Helen reads many self-help books about child abuse and incest, she separates from her abuser, and she eventually confronts him.

Many of Helen's dialogues and thoughts are taken from research Talbot did after reading many books about sexual abuse of children and interviews of sexually abused women from many different countries. The story intimates the famous author (Helen) Beatrix Potter may have suffered from similar abuses as a young woman. And the story parallels similar steps and locations both Ms. Potter's took to separate from their fathers to become self-defining and self-reliant individuals.

This book was created to bring more attention to addressing the serious and common problems of sexual abuse: "It's been estimated that one in three girls will be molested before they're eighteen. Approximately 90 percent of that abuse is committed, not by the stereotypical stranger in the raincoat, haunter of the schoolgates, but by a close, male relative."

The story appears to have been written to emphasize that sexual abuse victims commonly take on the self-perception they are bad - even when bad things have primarly been done to them. Some children who experience incest may believe their parents must be good, and they make an incorrect reasoning progression and assume they must be a cause of their parent's bad behavior. Also, sexually abusive parents often verbally and emotionally abuse their child, communicating they are ugly, unpopular, or unlikable. This can lead a child to self-loathing, a misperception they are a bad rat - when they are not.

The story champions the concept of judging individuals by their individual actions and not by their stereotype. Helen literally has a pet rat she rescued from being dissected at her high school. And later in the story, she has an imaginary friend who is a rat, with whom she discusses, vents, and works out her problems. She researches and discovers for herself many good qualities about vilified rats. The "rat" exploration and theme is a fascinating juxtaposition in a story that also focuses on the misbehaviors of men - who would ironically often be referred to as "rats" for their incestuous behavior. Talbot appears to be emphasizing the distinction between reality and appearances, emphasizing compassion for literal rats who are well-behaved social creatures and disdain for figurative "rats" who are ill-behaved social creatures. The book's title can be easily interpreted to infer not all rats are bad.

Helen used art, creativity, and storytelling, like Beatrix Potter likely did, to address the difficult problems she was facing but did not feel able to discuss or face directly or publicly. Our art is often our heart on our sleeves, and sometimes artists use allegory and metaphor to address serious problems, problems they don't feel safe or proper discussing openly or directly. Sometimes they draw what they cannot say or communicate through words.

Talbot does a masterful job of drawing, painting, and writing many things that need to be communicated openly, directly, and often.
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