Rumours of mystery artist Véronique Tanaka began to surface two or three years ago: a Franco-Japanese fine artist who had produced an experimental, wordless comic called Metronome, who had met Bryan Talbot at the Angoulême comics festival, and so impressed him that he agreed to represent her, and to promote her work in comics circles.
Except, it turns out, that Véronique doesn't exist. Metronome does, and it was drawn by Bryan himself. In the newsletter of Nottingham comics shop Page 45, Stephen Holland of Page 45 asked him how come?
Stephen Holland: So, Bryan, apart from the obvious thrill of doing anything covert, what was this experiment in misdirection all about?
Bryan Talbot: Well, the whole thing was an experiment. Totally different style, all done on computer, totally silent, on a strict sixteen panel grid, sixty-four pages in 4/4 time. The book is even read differently - from bottom left on the verso page to top right on the recto page. And I've never done manga before. It was an experiment in comic storytelling. While I was working on it, I realized that no one would even recognise it as being by me so I thought, as part of the experiment, why not put it out under a different name? At first I considered English names, which got progressively more exotic until I thought a Japanese one would suit the style. Then I thought "Why not take it even further and make it a woman's name?" I did some interviews as Véronique and actually stated that it was a pen name. On page 35 of the book, in panels 13 and 14, the shadows behind the bridge spell HOAX.
Stephen Holland: Oh my god, it does! But what provoked you to create METRONOME in the first place? Because on the surface at least it's a far cry from anything you've done before.
Bryan Talbot: For the same reason I create other comics - I got the idea and thought it was original and worth doing. My first intention was to make it completely existential but I couldn't help crafting a story into it. This is what I said in one of my Véronique email interviews in response to the question: "When did you conceive Metronome?":
About eight years ago, after reading a short story, La Plage by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It is an existentialist piece of writing. It is no story. Some children walk along a beach. They leave footprints in the sand. Seagulls fly off when they get near, fly about and land in front of them. A church bell is tolling in the distance. That's it. They walk, waves come in, the birds fly off, the bell rings. Each thing repeats. It is as if the moment is going on for ever. It is frozen in time and also taken out of time to exist in its own space. But the atmosphere is fantastic. It made me start to think of a story that could be told in repeated images. Images that at first seem random but all gain significance as the pages turn.
Stephen Holland: And, I have to ask, how did its publisher NBM react to you coming clean when they had a book in their hands that they could have marketed from the get-go as another Talbot masterpiece? I'd have been so pissed off it's not true (although rather delighted in retrospect to find I had the rights to a Bryan Talbot book!).
Bryan Talbot: NBM accepted the book not knowing it was by me. I claimed to be simply acting as Véronique's agent. After NBM took the book, but before they published it I did come clean with boss Terry Nantier and, to his credit, he didn't try and persuade me to put it out under my real name. It's had some really great reviews but not sold in any great numbers, so I've decided to 'come out' and see if it does any better.
Stephen Holland: It's a shame you never came to sign here, as I suggested at the time, in high heels, wig and lipstick. But it's never too late if you fancy...?
Bryan Talbot: Naah. I'd be a real dog!