‌•Comics & 1916: Graphic Brighton

Fri 9th Dec  |  Lecture Theatre 1  |  154 Edward Street, BN2 0GJ

2016’s Graphic Brighton festival and conference took place at the University of Brighton City Campus on 9th and 10th December, with the theme of war. Guests talking about their work included Dave McKean, Bryan and Mary Talbot, Kate Evans, Ben Dickson, plus the editors and the creators of “Brighton’s Graphic War” among many others.

On Friday 9th December there was an academic conference in the University’s building on Edward Street, with talks by Irish cartoonist Fionnula Doran, broadcast journalist Alex Fitch, and Justin Wadlow, curator of the French comics festival Les Rendez-vous de la Bande Dessinée d’Amiens.


In this paper I address the representation of the 1916 Irish Rising, running parallel— and in response—to the Great War, through comics. I will primarily refer to my own graphic novel, The Trial of Roger Casement, and the depiction of the protagonist’s journey from a respected, knighted human-rights advocate at the outbreak of war in 1914 to his execution for treason in 1916, at the height of British patriotic fervour. His mission—to seek political and military assistance for the Irish independence movement from Germany, the primary rival to Britain for European dominance—was thrown into chaos by the outbreak of hostilities.

The paper examines the challenges and opportunities of using the graphic novel form to depict the life of Casement, a man whose life and legacy has been fought over for a century. His private diaries, documenting his sex-life as a gay man in the pre-legalisation world, were seized by the British secret service and forwarded to Casement’s former allies and friends in the emerging human-rights movement. These diaries have since been debated and contested, with some allies claiming forgery and defamation while others have accepted them in their entirety.

The combination of word and image and disregard for taxonomical distinctions within the comic-book provides the ability to blur the lines between objective and subjective truths, and offers a multiplicity of meanings and interpretations to the reader. The graphic novel may provide a way for creators to engage with the 1916 Rising without becoming overwhelmed by the weight of history, offering the potential to deal with socio-political themes in a way that can combine history with poetry.

I will also look at the approach of other creators to similar figures from the 1916 Easter Rising in a new breed of Irish-history graphic novels. This will include Sean Charleton’s ‘James Conolly: The Irish Rebel’, the Nerve Centre, Derry’s short comics focusing on Winifred Carney and Gerry Hunt’s ‘Blood Upon the Rose’.