Mary Talbot, the daughter of James and Nora Athernon, is just that—their only daughter. Raised with four brothers in the poor 1950s with teachers for parents, she had a fairly rigid upbringing, especially when it came to her Joycean scholar father. In her graphic novel Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, released last month by Dark Horse Comics, Mary juxtaposes memories of her childhood and young adult home life with those of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of her father’s literary idol, James Joyce.
Lovers of biographical and autobiographical works will find the stories very fulfilling. History buffs will enjoy the backdrop, and the art of Bryan Talbot is beautifully detailed, as always.
Some refer to Lucia Joyce as “the dotter of her father’s eyes,” the phrase that gives this work its name. Athernon, an eminent Joycean scholar, called Mary everything from his “frail blueveined child,” a phrase coming straight from Joyce’s “Pomes Penyeach,” to his “little tuckoo,” from the first, very strange, page of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” And, as you learn on the first page of Dotter…, Mary eventually came to refer to him her “cold mad feary father,” from “Finnegin’s Wake,” which is fitting—this work is as much a meditation on her father and his presence as it is about her own memoirs.
The parallels between the two father/daughter relationships make for an interesting, and because of the fathers, also intense read. Joyce began as a fun and creative father, and was, and still is, loved by many for his writing. However, as he and Lucia both become older, he became more demanding of her, eventually becoming one of the instigators to help cut down her career. Athernon was a brilliant but always demanding father, loved by many for his passion about literature, especially his research of Joyce. He, too, tried very hard to keep a hand in molding Mary’s career, but was less successful once she was in college. Interestingly, Lucia’s and Athernon’s deaths are even connected, but I’ll leave you to read the book to find out for yourself how.
Mary allows her feelings about the compared stories color the reader’s experience with the novel, literally. Her husband, graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, uses dark blues to describe the biographical past with Joyce and Lucia, while Mary’s personal memories are colored in subdued sepia tones. In Mary’s past, a few things are drawn in brighter colors: precious rationed orange juice, fancy family clothing, illustrated books, her father’s cigarettes, a do not enter sign on Mary’s bedroom door… These choices, along with the decision to fully color the few pages of Bryan and Mary’s present included in the book, help to identify what is important in a scene, as well as portray how the author feels about it. They are also very successful in transferring readers from one section to the next seamlessly: you are always aware of whose story you are reading.
This novel also has the behind-the-scenes story of Mary and Bryan: although both are published, this was their first time working together. According to Mary:
“I think what’s been most distinctive about this project is that I haven’t just completed a script and then passed it over to an artist. We’ve been able to work on the book together, with an intensive and ongoing creative interaction that’s usually missing from writer/artist collaborations.”
Mary has previously published many scholarly works on gender, language, media, and consumer power. Her knowledge of these subjects added a lot of depth to her considerations of hers and Lucia’s relationships with their fathers, as well as society’s interactions with the women as they grew up.
While Dotter… was the first graphic novel Mary has undertaken, it is known that she wrote short stories and poetry when she was younger. As for Bryan, he is well acquainted to the graphic novel medium, writing and drawing many stories, such as The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and his Hugo-nominated Grandville series. He has also worked on social commentary collaborations with greats like Neil Gaiman.
Mrs. Talbot’s about page says that Mrs. Talbot is currently working on another graphic novel, a historical story set in Edwardian England. If hers and her husbands’ prior work, especially together, is any indicator of what is to come, I await this new graphic novel eagerly. Meanwhile, I’m going to read back through Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes.
Have you read Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes and think I missed out on something? Do you love the works of James Joyce? Have you studied any of Mary Talbot’s books, or read any of Bryan Talbot’s other graphic novels? Feel free to discuss below!