Coming up in October: British and French editions of this ambitious international anthology commemorating the end of the first world war. Our contribution is a four-pager entitled ‘Make Germany Pay!’ For it I returned to two sources for Sally Heathcote Suffragette, the memoirs of two leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union: Emmeline and Fred Pethick-Lawrence. Fred and Em were pacifists throughout the Great War. After it, Em campaigned tirelessly against the punitive conditions of the Armistice and the continued hunger blockade of Germany leading up to it.
We’ll be involved in launch events for both editions. The first is in France at the 7th Salon du Livre d’Albert et du Pays du Coquelicot (the land of the red poppy, ie Picardy). That takes place on 6-7th October. The second is at the 6th Lakes International Comic Art Festival which runs from 12-14th October. There are events and exhibitions of artwork at both festivals.
These are the launch events we’re involved in (that we know about so far!):
Saturday 6th October
3pm Quelles sources aujourd’hui pour parler de la Grande Guerre? (What sources today to talk about the Great War?)
with Mary Talbot, Kris, Jean David Morvan & Joe Kelly
11.30 Reimagining history …writers and comic creators (Panel 1, Friday Sessions)
Panellists: Mary Talbot, Orijit Sen, Joe Kelly and Charlie Adlard. Chair: Nataša Lacković
4pm Traces of the Great War – The Official UK Launch (hosted by Nataša Lacković & Pascal Meriaux)
The anthology is a collaboration between the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Kendal, and the Amiens BD festival On a Marché sur la Bulle. It’s commissioned by 14-18 NOW and La Mission du Centenaire de la Première Guerre Mondiale.
An eye for an eye and the world only ends up blind.
A hundred years ago this year, a number of women were eligible, for the first time ever, to vote in the UK general election. There are quite a few centenary celebrations of women’s partial suffrage going on and I’m pleased to have been invited to take part in this one, organised by UK Parliament Education and Engagement Service (click on the link below):
Thursday 8th March is International Women’s Day and I’ll be at Sunderland University, helping them celebrate the British centenary of the partial franchise for women.
Last week Bryan and I trekked over the snowy landscape (well ok, by train) to Ormskirk, where we were pleased to be the keynote speakers at a Suffragette Symposium. Edge Hill University began as the first non-denominational teacher training college for women and its graduation gowns still proudly display the WSPU suffragette colours of purple, white and green.
Photos tweeted by @GenSexEHU
After our talk there was a screening of Suffragette. You can read my review of the film here.
The full programme for the 4th Lakes International Comic Art Festival is now online and available to download here. It’s fabulous, packed with an enormous range of events. Tickets are now on sale, so now’s the time to take a good look at what’s on. As in previous years, it takes place in October in in Kendal, in the the south of the beautiful English Lake District. This year it runs from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th.
I’ll be appearing with Bryan to talk about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. We’ll be in the Council Chambers in the Comics Clock Tower (aka Town Hall) with Paul Gravett on the Sunday at 2.30 and we’ll be signing outside the Chambers afterwards.
In the run-up to the festival we have some judging to do for the Beatrix Potter Reimagined competition. All the submissions will be included in a Beatrix Potter Reimagined exhibition at Kendal Library, from 7th to 28th October, sitting alongside some fabulous BP reimagined artworks by Charlie Adlard, Duncan Fegredo, Hannah Berry and Luke McGarry. The winners of the competition will be announced during the festival.
Meanwhile we seem to have only just returned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival and we’re off to the Avilés Comics Festival in Spain. It’s all go at Talbot Towers, I tell you!
Here’s a short report on Edinburgh from Joe Gordon, who chaired our session there.
On the trip to Avilés that’s coming up we’ll be promoting the Spanish edition of Red Virgin. It’s published in Spain later this month, alongside a fourth printing of the award-winning Sally Heathcote Sufragista, the Spanish edition of Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Both are published by Ediciones La Cúpola in Barcelona.
A new teen anthology from Amnesty International, Here I Stand will be published by Walker Books on 4th August 2016 and available here.
At a time when we are seeing a nightmarish surge in hate crimes, this anthology is, unfortunately, all too relevant.
Nicky Parker, Amnesty International
This thought-provoking collection brings together twenty-five leading writers and illustrators. Their stories and poems are poignant, challenging, heartbreaking, angry and haunting. They cover important and relevant issues likely to resonate with teenagers today, such as bullying, race hatred, child sex abuse, freedom of speech, identity and gang honour. All of them touch upon the importance of having the courage to speak up against injustice.
Bryan and I have once again teamed up with Sally Heathcote Suffragette co-creator Kate Charlesworth to create a 6-page strip for the anthology. Deeds Not Words concerns the real-life suffragette Lady Constance Lytton who, some may remember, had a brief cameo appearance in Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Deeds Not Words is produced in the same style that we used for the graphic novel.
Other contributors include John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, poet Jackie Kay, Costa-winners Frances Hardinge and Christie Watson, Carnegie 2016 winner Sarah Crossan, Matt Haig, Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell, AL Kennedy and imprisoned Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Suffragette is a snapshot of the women’s suffrage movement before the First World War. Its main focus is on its impact on the family life of Maud Watts, laundress, wife and mother. And, believe me, that impact is devastating.
It’s amazing that this film’s only just appeared. With the singular exception of the BBC’s 6-part TV drama Shoulder to Shoulder, the suffragettes have scarcely been given worthy treatment on film, ever. And the TV drama was screened 40 years ago and buried for decades. So it was a particular pleasure to watch Suffragette with its stunning sets and costumes and splendid performances by the cast, including Carey Mulligan as the protagonist Maud. The film makes it very clear indeed that the suffragettes weren’t just middle-class women chaining themselves to railings.
To convey the sheer scale of the women’s suffrage movement in a single, compelling story is no mean feat. Having set about to do just that myself in a graphic novel, I’ve a particular interest in the choices made for the film by writer Abbie Morgan and director Sarah Gavron. The similarities are striking, but not all that surprising. Like the film, Sally Heathcote Suffragette – the graphic novel I co-created with Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot – has a fictional protagonist who moves through history, alongside well documented, very real campaigners for women’s suffrage and wider rights. A lowly figure from the rank and file, she starts as an observer who’s sucked in as events unfold. We see her working conditions and the abuse she has to contend with. We live through her struggles. With a fictional character to explore the historical setting, I could range more freely than if I’d restricted myself to one historical figure and their biography. It made it easier to construct a compelling, focused story too.
Then there’s the hardcore civil disturbance. Needing a manageable story that’s neither too detailed nor too superficial, the film required careful decisions about what to include. So key scenes represent a wide range of repeated suffragette activities – some window smashing, a rousing rally, police brutality at a demonstration in Parliament Square, a traumatic force-feeding scene – just as they do in Sally Heathcote Suffragette. Film and book also share some iconic elements: the bombing of Lloyd George’s house, the tragic death and funeral of Emily Wilding Davison. In fact, the film movingly incorporates actual footage of the London funeral procession in June 1913.
That’s where the similarities end. Sally Heathcote Suffragette is no snapshot. As I was researching the women’s suffrage movement, what impressed me most was the sheer scale of it, how long it went on, the way it spanned across the country and across social classes. Like the Occupy and anti-austerity movements now, perhaps. I had no idea it was so vast, with so many different factions. Not just the Pankhursts. Not just the Women’s Social and Political Union. Not just London. I felt it was very important to get these things across.
Political activism, radicalization, direct action – these are highly relevant issues for us today. When I saw coverage of Sisters Uncut chanting “Dead women can’t vote!” at the premiere, I cheered them on from the sofa. A hundred years on from the suffragettes, women’s rights are still an issue. The protesters were highlighting domestic violence and the impact of the Government’s austerity cuts on support services.
Suffragette does a fine job of showing us what’s at stake for Maud as an activist. It does so by narrowing its focus closely on one ordinary working woman’s commitment to fighting for women’s rights and its consequences for her. What it doesn’t quite succeed in, for me, is presenting a slice of British social and political history. The fight for the vote was embedded in wider political struggle and the movement was rife with internal dissent. All of which is highly dramatic and engaging. Some inclusion of division and strife within the movement, some critical engagement with its charismatic leading figures would have made for a stronger film, at least for me.
The film is not only narrow in scope but also, for the most part, feels loose in its use of historical material. This is no doubt why I didn’t experience the same sense of shock that Shoulder to Shoulder generated. I only managed to source the TV drama after completing Sally Heathcote Suffragette. When I finally watched it for the first time, some scenes were startlingly similar. We’d used, closely and carefully, exactly the same source material. The most striking example was a scene of demonstration in Parliament Square in November 1910. This event was referred to afterwards as ‘Black Friday’. It was a police riot that lasted six hours; women suffered serious injury and some died from their wounds afterwards. Both TV and graphic-novel episode draw upon the same Times newspaper article, as chilling commentary: ‘Several of the police had their helmets knocked off in carrying out their duty, one was disabled by a kick on the ankle, one was cut on the face by a belt, and one had his hand cut. As a rule they kept their tempers very well, but their method of shoving back the raiders lacked nothing in vigour. They were at any rate kept warm by the exercise’. No mention of police brutality or the protesters’ injuries.
Spanish Sally’s a winner! The Spanish edition of Sally Heathcote Suffragette has been granted Best Graphic Novel Award for 2015 by the Madrid Booksellers’ Association. The publishers, Ediciones La Cúpula, will be releasing their second edition in December.
The Jury had this to say about the book:
The main character of the story, the redhead Sally Heathcote, represents thousands of women who in the early twentieth century in the United Kingdom planned and launched a struggle for civil rights which were banned to them, including the right to vote, essential to achieve the right to equality.
September draws to a sunny and fruitful close. At least, it does here in Sunderland. So I guess it’s time for another update. At the beginning of the month we enjoyed a five-day break in Hawkshead in the Lake District. Alwyn came over from Manchester for a hugely welcome overnight visit. We really don’t see him often enough these days, so it was lovely having him stay. Before taking him to the Mason’s Arms for lunch, we called at Cartmel Fell church close by.
Both locations may be recognisable from The Tale of One Bad Rat. In the graveyard, Bryan and Alwyn were, as ever, using their cameras to collect textures.
One shot that Bryan took inspired Alwyn to create this evocative tribute to his deeply missed friend Yo:
The following weekend we had a short trip to St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, for a book festival talk and exhibition opening (that I’ve mentioned already here).
We spent a day there sightseeing, taking in Victor Hugo’s very quirky and interesting house. Here’s Bryan in his garden and me in his workplace up in the garret:
So, what’s in store for October? Well, we’re gearing up for the 3rd Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal. I’ve posted about our contributions already here. Bryan’s ‘How I create a graphic novel’ session is now fully booked, but tickets are still available for the other events. I can’t wait to tell all about the next book! I’ll also have the pleasure of hosting Karrie Fransman’s event on Sunday morning. Finally, at the end of next month we’re doing a talk on Sally Heathcote Suffragette at Sunderland’s City library as part of the Sunderland Literature Festival. It’s on Halloween but, as it’s at lunchtime, we won’t be finishing off with apple-bobbing.