The History of Irish Comics part 1

Published On August 11, 2009 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

No, this is not some strange comics-related sequel to Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1, it is in fact the start of what promises to be a fascinating look into the history of comics and cartooning by Irish creators. As Patrick Brown notes at the beginning, its not the easiest topic to research: “It’s difficult to compile a history of Irish cartooning from the available secondary sources. Most cartoon histories use cartoons to shed light on historical events and contemporary attitudes, and have little interest in the cartoonists and their art. For obvious reasons, political cartoons are well represented in such histories, but cartoons on more general subjects are of little interest to historians and are much harder to find.”

This first chapter deals with Irish cartoonists prior to the advent of the 20th century, starting with Henry Brocas, whose work spanned the end of the 18th and early decades of the 19th centuries. As many of the works from this era would be produced specifically for the many periodicals which sprang up in Western societies at the time Patrick has not only looked at what he could find out about the cartoonists, how they worked, methods, prevailing styles and so on but also at the types of publications and how the cartoon work they published reflects the events of the time and the stance of the particular publication – for instance, was it a journal which supported nationalism and independence, so we’re getting historical and artistic context at the same time.

O'Connell driving foreign toads vipers from the land William Tell

(“O’Connell driving the foreign toads and vipers from the land” by ‘William Tell’, part of a series of 12, shamelessly borrowed from Patrick’s blog)

I’ve retained a fondness for history books ever since my school days (the benefits of good teachers who encourage the kids to read more, bless ’em) and, perhaps because of my comics interest, always found the period cartoons which often illustrated those books fascinating, especially the way that a good cartoonist could take events you had spent five pages of text reading and summarise them – usually humorously too – in a single frame. I must admit I know practically nothing about the historic cartoonist scene in Ireland; I’m well aware of some excellent contemporary creators like Bob Byrne, Bren B, PJ Holden and Cliodhna Lyons who have been a successful part of a new, vibrant Irish comics scene which is rapidly becoming as confident as the well established UK small press scene, but its fascinating to look back to the cartooning antecedents that pre-date the creators we know and love today (the closet academic in me who recalls writing many an essay is also impressed that Patrick properly references his sources at the end). Highly recommended – bookmark now.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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