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Comic Book / The Tale of One Bad Rat

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The Tale of One Bad Rat is a graphic novel written and drawn by Bryan Talbot, published in 1994.

It tells the story of Helen Potter and her pet rat. Helen is a homeless girl on the run from her sexually abusive father and an uncaring mother. During the course of the story, she follows in the footsteps of Beatrix Potter before she finally manages to reach a sense of closure and healing.

Author's notes on the story.

This comic provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Helen's father sexually abused her. And Helen's mother is indifferent to her daughter to a rare degree. In one scene, the mother actually states that she never wanted her [Helen].
  • Fantasy Sequence: Used frequently, especially in the first half. Helen imagines herself committing suicide several times, or interprets other characters and scenes as fable animals or beings from other times.
  • Flashback: Used to show some significant events in Helen's life before she ran away from home, eg the Free the Frogs scene.
  • Free the Frogs: Before the main story starts, Helen frees a batch of rats which are scheduled for dissection. The one that doesn't run away, she adopts as a pet.
  • Imaginary Friend: After Helen's pet rat is killed by a cat, Helen still imagines it following around, now in giant form.
  • In-Universe Catharsis: Quiet, introverted Helen finally breaks down and screams out her pent-up anguish and frustration about her sexually-abusive father and hateful, uncaring mother to the world, literally shattering the panel in the process.
  • Parental Incest: Being molested by her father is the main issue that Helen has to come to terms with.
  • The Runaway: Helen. She starts as an example of an abused runaway, but then travels northwards as a vagrant.
  • Run Away Hide Away: First the squat in London where several other vagrants, teenagers on the run, and other people are staying. Then the pub Herdwick Arms, where the owners take her in and give her a job.
  • Shown Their Work: From the beginning, this was meant as a modern-day analogue of the life of Beatrix Potter and the Lake District or England. Bryan Talbot decided on sexual abuse as the reason for Helen running away from home as a simple reason, without thinking much about it. Then he started to research the psychology of abused children.
  • Show Within a Show: Helen imagines herself finding a lost book by Beatrix Potter, The Tale of One Bad Rat, which is told and drawn in the style of her books.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Averted, Helen's only companion is her pet rat, and she can get quite indignant when people say that rats are dirty or creepy.