Review by Frank Plowright
Adam Murphy continues the same endearing and informative approach that characterised Season 1. For those who’ve not read it, this involves the disinterment of various historical celebrities who then appear in their decayed state to have Murphy’s investigative microphone placed before them.
The resulting ‘interviews’ occupy two pages (although Leif Erikson and his extended exploring family require four) in which the celebrity’s career and historical importance is examined. These are carried out with an irreverence and eye for the gruesome to endear them to younger readers. As that is the intended audience, though, some rumours concerning Catherine the Great, for instance, remain off the agenda. Having noted that, Vlad the Impaler’s atrocities receive a full airing.
Again, the possibly more obvious choices (Shakespeare, Queens Victoria and Elizabeth, Guy Fawkes) are more than matched by figures of repute not as widely known. It’s surely not the case that only one reader will have to go scuttling in the direction of Wikipedia to locate further information about 17th century entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, now considered visionary for her illustrative books about the insects of Surinam.
As previously, everyone but the most dedicated historical scholar will learn something. Season 2 is packed with anecdotes and factoids ranging from the gross (the exploding corpse of William the Conqueror) to the almost tearfully heartwarming (the church bells of Cobh ringing out Dance of the Cuckoos for the arrival of Laurel and Hardy in Ireland). One admirable aspect is Murphy not shying away from the unpalatable to present day readers. For all of his status as English national hero over the centuries, Francis Drake was little more than a pirate for most of his career, the official sanction notwithstanding. His involvement with slavery and no bones attitude to the persecution of Catholics entrench him as a man of his era.
Interviews are split with the occasional double page spread offering further insight, into what followed the departure of Pocohontas to London, or Elizabeth’s fashion and make-up, and its purpose. As in the first book, the conclusion is a spread of all the celebrities interviewed, this time boating on a river, or otherwise occupied in the surrounding area.
Murphy’s cartooning is a simple and all-purpose style that enables not only the talking heads of the interviews, but departures into their exploits. This is no mean feat considering he crams up to twenty panels to a page, and rarely less than fifteen.
Corpse Talk really is the sugar coated pill for the child reluctant to learn. Bring on Season 3.