A literary graphic novel if ever there were one, The Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a hybrid of sorts. Partly, it is a biography of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia, a once promising ballerina who spent the last thirty years of her life in a mental institution. But Lucia’s tragic story is told via author Mary M. Talbot’s memoir. An account of her own childhood and relationship with her father, James S. Atherton, one of the world’s foremost Joycean scholars, the story explores Talbot’s ensuing and inevitable affinity with Lucia.
Wow that sounds complicated. But while the story is smart and complex, it reads quite easily. Artist Bryan Talbot, yes, the author’s husband, handles his wife’s meticulous research and the juxtaposition of settings – 1920‘s Paris and post World War II England – very effectively. Shifting between color schemes, yet maintaining a consistently tidy combination of neat but expressive line drawing and elegant wash painting, Talbot’s work here is indicative of true mastership.
The obvious thing to do right now would be to make some kind of pun about this being a labor of love. I’ll not do that. But we do have to talk about love. Because this story is very much about fathers and daughters and the ways in which social expectations and egos can wreak havoc on their already delicate relationships. While both of these men are renowned and revered, to their daughters, they are anything but.
The parallels do not stop here. I’ll not spill the beans, but art appreciation is often about identification, and these characters are kindred, for sure. Devotees of Joyce’s highly celebrated works will appreciate the numerous nods made by Atherton’s character, who is clearly engrossed and enamored with Joyce’s work, particularly Finnegan’s Wake. Atherton’s The Books at Wake is widely respected as the definitive guide and companion to Joyce’s notoriously difficult tome. No small task. Talbot gives us an inside view to the toll it took on Atherton, himself, and his family.
Hats off to Dark Horse Comics for putting out a book like this one. While the comics medium has, in the past decade or so, received some long overdue respect, it has still been relatively slow to shake its lowbrow reputation, especially here in the U.S. This book is a testament to the true potential of the medium, and to how far it has come.