To me, more than any other medium, there’s an immediacy and an intimacy to comics. At their best, comics feel less like something I consume and more like something I experience. It’s not just words and pictures on a page — it feels like a conversation between me and the creators.
And because of that, I think Dotter of her Father’s Eyes (Dark Horse Comics, 2012) is either a conversation you want to be having or one you’re just overhearing. If it’s the latter for you, you’re still going to get something out of it, but for me, it was absolutely the former. This is a book where I find it impossible to pull my own personal experiences out of how I reacted to it. And to me, that’s why this book is so powerful.
One part memoir, one part biography, the stories that Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot are telling aren’t unique on their own, but there’s a grace and thoughtfulness to the way in which they tell them. There’s light and humor to balance the darker moments.
But let’s be clear — while this book is credited to both Mary and Bryan, this is Mary’s story. Even when the book recounts Lucia Joyce’s life, it still feels like it’s absolutely Mary’s voice telling it. Bryan just seems to be along for the ride — he’s less the driver and more the vehicle. That’s not at all to discount his art. This is Bryan Talbot we’re talking about, after all, but he does have the good sense to use his art to compliment Mary’s story. It’s a charming and loving collaboration (of course, lest you forget that it is Mary’s tale, she points out in a footnotes some of the things Bryan got wrong in his artwork. That’s pretty adorable).
Bryan’s art does give the stories told here some structure. Colors help place the action — full color for the brief modern-day scenes, sepia tones for Mary’s childhood (and neatly, as Mary gets older, more and more color is added into the scenes) and cold blues for Lucia’s life. Except for the scenes in the present that frame the book, panel borders are usually soft or nonexistent as images flowing into each other much like memories.
The stories are both told in a mostly lineal fashion. Mary starts off with her childhood and Lucia’s childhood and progress forward from there, but the shifts between Mary’s life and Lucia’s life feel natural and give the book a strong pace and a sense of drama.
While there are obvious parallels between their lives — they were both daughters of troubled fathers who were looking for their place in the world — Mary doesn’t necessarily push the connection. She clearly relates to Lucia, but she also understand Lucia’s story isn’t hers. It was just one Mary wanted to tell so she could better understand her own life.
I wasn’t left with the impression that Mary necessarily forgave her father, but I don’t know if she needs to. More, I think she just accepted that he was a part of her life.
And that’s where it did get personal for me. Mary’s story isn’t mine, but it’s still one I relate to all too well. I admire her strength and honesty in telling it. When I finished the book, I knew someone else in this world understood what all of this feels like. I know don’t spend all my time thinking about these things, but I also know I still carry it with me.
I’m glad that Mary (and Bryan, let’s not forget!) shared these stories with me. Through this book, I feel like I have a new friend.