Lessons Drawn From Our History

In Blog, Culture, History, Illustration, Interviews, Politicsby Rashers Tierney2 Comments

The Cover of Big Jim

We got mad excited when word got to us that Paddy Lynch and Rory McConville were scribbling away on a graphic novel about the Lock Out.

The wait is over and it’s been launched in The Workman’s Club this Thursday. We caught up with the lads for some background on the comic.

Oh and to get our Fund:it moving, they’ve thrown in two signed copies of Big Jim with two original ink drawings to raffle at the end of the campaign. Get on it!


So, where did this whole Big Jim project start from?


Rory: Back in 2010, when I first heard that O’Brien Press were venturing into graphic novels, I sent some of my earlier work in on spec. They got in contact and I went up to Dublin for a meeting. They broached the idea of a Larkin project to come out in 2013 and asked me to find an artist to put together a proposal. I contacted Declan Shalvey and asked if he could recommend someone. He suggested Paddy and after looking at his website, I knew his style was ideal. We threw together a proposal and got the green light



Did both of you come to the project with an interest in the period? If not, then how did you get yourselves up to speed on it all?



Rory: I’ve always had an interest in history and had just studied the Lockout the year before for my Leaving Cert. Much of what I was taught in school was focused on the pursuit of national sovereignty. Not that the Lockout was ignored but it possibly didn’t get as much covered as it should do. Even if I had been really into the period, there was always going to be a huge amount of research to do.


As to getting up to speed; simple as reading reading reading. This book is as much a story about the people of Dublin and for me, many of the most interesting parts were the smaller stories of people caught up in the greater conflict.


When I see an illustrator carrying their note book, I always take a peak. I’m amazed at the amount of redrafts and sketches that go on. A lot of work goes into it. How much time was spent on the conceptual drawings for the project and what inspirations were brought to bear?



Paddy: Loads, especially with a book like this. As part of the original submission I produced a bunch of character and location sketches and treatments. It was ongoing though, no matter how much research you do up front you’ll always come across holes and gaps  when it comes to drawing the actual pages. I took reference from a whole variety of sources – sketching from life, taking my own photographs, books (I have a small library now devoted to the period), online research, film and television series set in the period etc. During the periods that I was drawing the book, I basically felt like I was living in 1913. It almost consumed my every waking thought!


At the end of the day though, you can’t get too bogged down in detail, with comics you’re building a particular world that comes to life through the artists own style. You’re never going to cover absolutely every ‘camera’ angle with visual reference and you have to rely on your own skills to fill in the blanks. Something that’s obviously traced or drawn verbatim from a photograph is going to stick out like a sore thumb next to another drawings that isn’t. Striking that subtle balance is one of the satisfying challenges of drawing comics.


In terms ofinspiration, I brought whatever mishmash that a lifetime of reading comics has had on me thus far, but two that were particularly of influence on me were – firstly, Chester Browns ‘Louis Riel‘ – for his fearless artistic approach. He sticks resolutely to a 6 panel grid, the drawings are minimalistic and cartoony, and he approaches the whole story from a wonderfully dispassionate angle. He never denies or tries to cover up the fact that you are reading a comic and the whole book is better for it. 


Secondly, King, Ho Che Andersons biography of Martin Luther King. Anderson takes a much broader approach to his image making than Chester Brown, incorporating some collage and photo montage into the drawings. I felt that this was an interesting way of hammering home the fact that these events did actually happen and remind the reader of the context of the book they’re reading.


 In your research for the book, what were some of the more fascinating things you discovered about Larkin?

Rory: Certainly, the theatricality of his behavior was something I hadn’t been overly familiar with. Of course, his efforts to sneak into O’Connell Street on Bloody Sunday were quite bombastic but if he’d had his way, he would have snuck in inside a coffin.


What really fascinates me about Larkin is that the same qualities that made him a brilliant also greatly contributed to his downfall. He was probably one of the most stubborn men ever born. His refusal to compromise was absolutely incredible but came at a huge cost.


You’re obviously a keen illustrator Paddy, did you ever look back through copies of the newspapers that were circulating in the 1913 period to look at some of the ways the mainstream press at the time represented Larkinism? What did you take from that? Donal Fallon talks about it over at Come Here To Me.


Paddy: I did. In a couple of places I reproduced some of the cartoons, and in other places I recreated actual headlines from newspapers at the time. Again it’s all part of this ‘world building’ you do, any extra details you can throw in that give clues or hints at the larger picture help.


The Dublin One City, One Book reading of Strumpet City has been my favorite 1913 act of commemoration so far, have you noticed anything else out there that deserves a plug for rabble readers?


Rory: Well there’s no shortage of One City, One Book events taking place at the moment. If I had to pick one in particular though, it would be the tenement tours they’re doing. The last one is on the 24th so I don’t know how much good that will be to people though.


I haven’t been on one myself but it sounds like a fantastic idea. I think the actual horrific conditions people were living in is something that really needs to be highlighted more. One of the statistics that always sticks out to me is that in 1913, Dublin had the same death rate as Calcutta.


Actor Ger O’Leary vividly brings Larkin’s speeches to life around the city. He seems to think they have a great relevance to where we are today. What do you guys think? Are Larkin’s ideas relevant today?


Rory: Absolutely. I would say the greatest benefit that came from Larkin’s work was making workers more aware of their collective power. The 1913 Lockout changed Ireland fundamentally and made sure that workers would never allow themselves to be mistreated in such a way ever again. That’s permeated all the way down to the present.


Paddy: Of course, what is great about Larkin is simply that he was a fearless champion of repressed people and he inspired great action and loyalty among them. Today, many of the circumstances and details may be different, but the central idea that working people shouldn’t be taken advantage of or exploited unfairly by employers is as important as ever.


Bit of a more general question now here lads, but ye’ve been kind enough to give us a few copies of the comic to try boost interest in our Fund:it campaign. Do you think there is a shortage of print outlets for illustrators in Ireland at the moment? Has the web been as much of a game changer for this form of art as it has with music? 


Rory: I dunno if this might be too comics specific but anyway.


For me,the web has changed everything. It’s opened up a whole new avenue to connect with other collaborators as well as promote your work to a much larger audience. It’s what allowed me to connect with collaborators all over the world when I first started making comics years ago. Even in Ireland, I would never have found out about Paddy’s work if it weren’t for the internet.


With comics specifically, there’s a lot of  print small press cropping up in Ireland at the moment. Certainly more than I’ve ever been aware of (however by the same token, I’m becoming aware of it through the internet) There’s quite a lot of small press that springs up and then falls away quite soon after. I’d love if we could establish something that came out regularly enough, just to ensure there was a more continuous presence.


Paddy: As far as illustration goes, I don’t see it so much as a shortage of print outlets but that more of these outlets (whether it’s because they’re strapped for cash, laziness or lack of imagination) go down the admittedly cheaper route of purchasing stock photography and illustration rather than commissioning original work. That’s a real shame, and I would like to see more homegrown media outlets opting to support local artists and illustrators. Hats off to the O’Brien Press for taking the leap of faith and commissioning these original Irish graphic novels over the last few years. It’s a real indicator of the growing pool of Irish talent and confidence of that pool!


The web has most definitely been a game changer as far as making contact with other artists and getting your work out to an audience. Again, though, there are a lot of great websites that aren’t making enough money to pay the rates for illustration that a traditional print outlet might.


In terms of the whole print vs web debate I do think that the web is a fantastic repository for a lot of the more ephemeral information and publications. It forces those putting work out in print to up their game and justify their continued presence, which is never a bad thing.






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