Graphic portrayals – Northern Ireland, graphic novels and the peace process

Dr Gordon Gillespie, who is a researcher at the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University Belfast, gave a presentation on “Graphic Portrayals: Northern Ireland, Graphic Novels and the Peace Process”, at the Linen Hall Library.

Gordon started with a clarification that he was going to talk about graphic novels/comic books, not cartoons, and material that was produced for commercial purposes rather than for political or propaganda motives.

He described how there is significant research on Troubles-related literature and movies, but that graphic novels have been largely overlooked. He said that this could be because there isn’t much material here to examine, and/or that it was seen as juvenile and trivial, and not worth much consideration. Gordon added later that as comic books are ephemeral by nature, what was produced wasn’t regularly saved, let alone analysed.

For Gordon, the “golden age” of Northern Ireland-related graphic novels was from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, which coincided with the developing peace process and was influenced by events on the ground.

He said that it was important to bear in mind that these stories were produced as part of the massive worldwide comic book industry, and how changes in technology played an important part in why Northern Ireland-related stories appeared. For example, advances in printing technology allowed publishers to produce smaller runs while generating a profit.

Gordon then went through a Northern Ireland chronology of graphic novels, which included:

  • V for Vendetta (1981)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
  • Watchmen (1986)
  • Web of Spiderman (1987)
  • Nightwing and Speedy (1988)
  • St George (1988)
  • Black Knight (1990)
  • Green Arrow (1991)
  • Crisis: Troubled Souls (1989)
  • Troubled Souls; Heartland
  • Judge Dredd (1991)
  • Dicks (1997)
  • Holy Cross (I, II, III) (1993-1997)
  • DNA Swamp (1997)
  • Keltor
  • Good Craic
  • Small Axe (2005)
  • The Punisher (2002)
  • Back on the Road (2008)

I suggest you watch Gordon’s presentation (below) for his description of the significance of each novel:

The last one on the list, Back on the Road, was published in association with the Ballynafeigh Community Development Association (BCDA), and I was privileged to attend its launch:

There is a remarkable drop in the amount of Northern Ireland-related stories published in graphic novels since the 1990s. Gordon suggested that this is due to the Northern Ireland situation as being deemed as “solved”, post 1998 Agreement, as well as comic book writers’ attention turning to new protagonists post-9/11. For me, Captain America comes immediately to mind.

I am pleased that Gordon has compiled this presentation of graphic novels and the peace process, namely because he is the best person for the task — an interesting mix of academia and pop culture. Where is our “Media Studies in Divided Societies” course offering in Northern Ireland?

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