Leabhair (Books)

Electronic Irish

A lot of people seem unaware of the two best online resources for historical texts relating to Ireland, both of which are entirely free to use. The first is “CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts”, a collection of hundreds of manuscripts and books in digitised form mainly written in Irish and English (of various periods) but also featuring works in Latin, Norman-French, German and several other languages. The 1300+ entries cover nearly one-and-a-half thousand years of literary and scholarly output on this island nation and are incredibly important, representing some 15 million words in total. The project is maintained and regularly updated with new materials by University College Cork (UCC) so you can be confident of its academic credentials. If you prefer the printed word to the electronic kind some of the texts are available through the Irish Texts Society and the School of Celtic Studies which is part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Fair warning, many of the published texts are quite expensive (though DIAS has a sale on at the moment with a few good discounts on offer).

CELT is continuously in need of funding so if you have a few euros, pounds or dollars to spare you can donate them here.

A second and a closely related site is Irish Script On Screen, a collection of digital images of Irish and Scottish manuscripts in various languages found in the collections of several universities and institutions in Ireland, Scotland and Australia. It is stored and maintained under the auspices of the School of Celtic Studies at DIAS and is growing every year with scanned images that span the centuries from the early Medieval period to the Industrial Age. I have to admit that I love this site and I’ve spent literally hours searching through it. It will make you ache that traditional Irish lettering is no longer in popular use, either in printed or written form. Like some Arabic texts there are manuscripts here, even relatively late ones, that are almost works of art so beautiful are they to the human eye (trying to link to specific images or pages is almost impossible due to the way the site is set up, so apologies if I can’t provide any ready examples. Take my word for it and explore for yourself).

I should also mention a useful addendum to both of the above which is eDIL: the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, maintained by the Royal Irish Academy and Queen’s University Belfast. It is a digitised and much expanded version of the early 20th century “Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials” originally published by the RIA in several parts. The latest revised online edition, again free to use, is fully searchable and is genuinely groundbreaking in terms of research into the earliest literary forms of the Irish language. In a similar vein is In Dúil Bélrai, a less comprehensive but again searchable English-Old Irish glossary from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Scotland. There is also a very useful list of other dictionaries and resources in general kept up-to-date by the excellent SMO. For comparisons or follow-ups on particular words you can use the Foclóir, the modern Irish-English/English-Irish digital dictionary maintained on behalf of the Government of Ireland along with Focal – Bunachar Náisiúnta Téarmaíochta don Ghaeilge, a more technical database of Irish terms (the former should eventually supersede the latter). Finally there is the now antiquated but still highly useful Foclóir Uí Dhuinnín from the University of Limerick which contains lots of old words and phrases no longer encountered in vernacular Irish (unfortunately).

Hope you might find one or two of those sites interesting over the weekend.

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Harry Potter To The Rescue!

Alex Salmond, the liberal centre-left politician elected by the people of Scotland is re-imagined as a fictional evil wizard in contrast to an author elected by nobody, nowhere. This is not an abusive image by Britnats; apparently it is just a bit of “fun” (Íomhá: the British Mirror newspaper)

It says much for the fantasy politics of British nationalism that a decision by the English-born children’s author JK Rowling to boost the already hefty warchest of the Unionist “No” campaign with a donation of one million pounds is being heralded by the right-wing press in Britain as “the most significant” celebrity intervention in the referendum campaign so far. Rowling is famous for her “Harry Potter” series of juvenile books in which a youth destined to greatness because of his superior parentage overcomes a nefarious opponent of lesser ancestry in a familiar Fantasy trope. The writer herself offered few substantive reasons for her opposition to Scotland’s right to be a sovereign nation beyond some egregious insults directed towards pro-independence Scots by referencing evil characters from her own books:

“…a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”

Of course when two ordinary Scottish citizens, Chris and Colin Weir, donated a substantial amount of money towards the “Yes” campaign from their recent lottery win both were vilified throughout the conservative and liberal British news media in an epic smear campaign. Rowling on the other hand is being hailed as the saviour of London’s hegemony on the island of Britain. To use a formula she might well appreciate it seems that for the British press:

Pro-British millionaires = good wizards

Pro-Scottish millionaires = bad wizards

Of course the Unionist newspapers are now spinning the story like crazy with hyped-up claims that the author has already been subject to a series of online attacks by “Yes” supporters in her adopted country (“attacks” being a code word for criticism or queries about her anti-sovereignty views).

Oh well, at least it adds a bit more more colour to an already garish debate. Though of course the one debate you are unlikely to see is the one between the head of government with an actual democratic mandate in Scotland and the head of government who has no mandate at all. Now that is a little bit Lord Voldemort, isn’t it?

Paddy Ashdown, IRA Volunteer

Paddy Ashdown, pillar of the British establishment, in times past with Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, all former, current or soon-to-be prime ministers of Britain

Paddy Ashdown is a former British marine commando and intelligence officer with MI5, the ex-leader of the Liberal-Democrat party (which is now the minority partner in Britain’s coalition government), and a senior European and UN diplomat. So his view on the conflict in the British Occupied North of Ireland and how it relates to his studies of the resistance movements of German Occupied Europe during WWII is interesting, to say the least. From the Daily Telegraph:

“His latest book, The Cruel Victory, which is published today, chronicles the largely neglected story of the French Resistance fighters on the Vercors plateau near Grenoble. They attempted to help in their country’s liberation as Allied troops fought on the beaches of Normandy in the days following D-Day, but were badly let down by General de Gaulle.

He believes Francois Huet, who commanded the Maquis (as the Resistance was known, after a scrub that cover the hillsides) was a heroic figure. “The thing that drove him was decency,” he reflects.

Huet survived, but too many of his comrades did not. The Sten guns and patriotism of the 4,500 Maquis fighters could not match the might of 12,000 well-trained Germans, who set about a campaign of rape and execution.

Some 840 French men and women were killed, 500 houses burnt to the ground and 650 more severely damaged.

Farmhouses were looted and burnt and animals were tied up in their barns before they, too, were set alight.

Ashdown relates all of this with real empathy for the Maquis, informed by his own service in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service before he entered Parliament. So, I wonder, does he identify with their spirit of resistance? His reply is not what I expect.

“If I had been a Catholic, discriminated against in the way they were in Northern Ireland, would I have been a member of Sinn Fein or the IRA? Given my hot nature and my slightly romantic view of life, it’s quite difficult to say that you can completely discount the fact.”

He does not, of course, condone the IRA or its “murderers of the first order”, but he believes “you are the child of your circumstances”.

“If you were brought up in a community that has been discriminated against and has had their human rights denied, what are you going to do?

“I imagine at the very least I would have been a political activist on behalf of Sinn Fein. Whether you tip that over into something else, I can’t tell you – but I ask myself the question.””

The Forge In The Forest, Ian Miller

Wraparound cover illustration for Michael Scott Rohan’s Ice Age-set Fantasy novel “The Forge in the Forest””, drawn by Ian Miller

Wraparound cover illustration for Michael Scott Rohan’s Ice Age-set Fantasy novel “The Forge in the Forest””, drawn by Ian Miller (Íomhá: © 1987 Ian Miller)

Ian Miller is a British artist whose distinctive, sometimes surreal style will be familiar to many readers of Fantasy and fantasy-tinged Science-fiction even if his name is not so much. Since the late 1970s his exquisite illustrations, executed most frequently in pen and ink, have graced the covers of countless publications, notably the Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer range of books and magazines from the Games Workshop. Perhaps my favourite examples of his work come from “The Winter of the World”, a trilogy of quasi-historical Fantasy books by the Scottish author Michael Scott Rohan set – unexpectedly - on the North American continent during the last Ice Age. In general I disdain the endless catalogue of High Fantasy tales published over the last four decades, a conveyor belt of faux Mediaevalism inspired by the commercial successes of the “Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” in the United States. Most are pale imitations of J.R.R. Tolkien or outright rip-offs (did anyone mention the “Sword of Shannara”?). All those Eddings and Jordans are as near to literary dross as it is possible to imagine, though thankfully there has been some light at the end of the tunnel in recent years with the emergence of writers like China Miéville and the popularity of urban-tinged fantasies (I haven’t read George R.R. Martin so I’ll reserve my judgement on his works. I will venture to say that they sound – the much heralded sex and gore to one side - distinctly traditional in both tone and setting).

However I was always impressed by Scott Rohan’s little series, despite its limitations and adherence to overly familiar formulae (the young hero unknowingly destined to greatness). Somehow his deft writing and commitment to an appealingly innovative pseudo-historic setting gave his publications a power that many other would-be fantasists would do well to take note of. I still have the books I first purchased in the late 1980s and In terms of literary merit I would place them well above many of their contemporaries, even those now regarded as “classics” of the genre. Unfortunately Michael Scott Rohan seems to have abandoned writing which is a great shame. By all accounts he was growing as a writer and one of his last works, the personally meaningful “Lord of Middle Air”, is particularly well-regarded.

However to return to Ian Miller, featured above is his 1987 cover for Scott Rohan’s “The Forge in the Forest”. It is perhaps not the best of his creative output but it is certainly one of my personal favourites. Appropriately a new collection of his artworks is now available, The Art of Ian Miller, and there is a glowing review by the Verge, as well as a typically idiotic LOL-speak overview from io9 (look at us! We’re cool! Really! Honestly we are! We’re happening! We’z bitchin’. We have lots of click-bait photos so please, please don’t stop visiting our website… Please…). Enjoy.

Negationists Ahoy!

Seán O'Callaghan

Seán O’Callaghan

So that tired old spy/informer/traitor of yore, Seán O’Callaghan, is back peddling his same tired old “analyses” of political and military events in Ireland. Or more specifically the bit of Ireland still occupied by our neighbours over yonder (and with himself at the centre of the story as always). It’s hard to know what to say about O’Callaghan that hasn’t been said before. I suppose it tells us more about the Negationist generation of Irish and British writers, apologists for all of Britain’s history on our island nation, that one of their most recognisable “sources” is an acknowledged fantasist and narcissist of legendary standing. Oh yes, one can’t help but feel sorry for the man. He has destroyed his life by allowing himself to become the political plaything of ideological others. However, couldn’t he just retire peacefully into obscurity and give up the fame-game instead of being trotted out every few months to entertain the prejudices of various obscure Unionist and British nationalist “think-tanks” and organisations? Or is the cheese and cracker circuit in London all that he has left? A few more gullible or willing fools to fool, a few more inexperienced journos to win over with a lop-sided smile and a twinkle in those sad eyes? It was ever thus…

Meanwhile over in the Irish Times historian Diarmaid Ferriter gets mightily annoyed with fellow historian John Regan for calling out the ideologically-driven philosophy of historians like, er, Diarmaid Ferriter. In fact the pugnacious Diarmaid goes a wee bit OTT so outraged is he. The whole article (given plenty of room by the IT, one notes) fairly rips into Regan and anyone who dares to question the bona fides of the Irish academic classes when it comes to examining the tortured history of Britain’s colonial rule in Ireland. That he has to do so by metaphorically standing on his head to make his arguments appear the right way up says it all. Ah, nothing like an orthodoxy scorned or an establishment challenged.

Viva la revolución!

Gabriel Rosenstock, Margadh Na Míol In Valparaíso

Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso

Would I be right in suggesting that Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill are probably the two greatest living Irish poets? There are many contenders for that title but when looks at the breadth of their works it is hard to imagine a more deserving rival than those two doyens of Ireland’s literary scene. Sometimes I prefer Rosenstock, sometimes Ní Dhomhnaill, each appealing to my particular moods or where I am in life (in fact at the moment I am sick as the proverbial madra but that is an aside).Of course the Anglophone media don’t rate either very highly and for one reason and one reason only: they write in Irish not English. So while the late Séamus Heaney will be rightfully eulogised those who express their art through our island nation’s indigenous tongue will forever be placed at the back of the literary bus. Indeed both receive greater respect and admiration outside of their own country than they have ever done at home. So this is interesting, from Mícheál Ó hAodha in the Irish Times:

“It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can’t bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.

But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the “Burnings Limbs”(or the “Géaga tré Thine” (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock’s poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world – the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.

This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.

What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his “New and Selected Poems” as translated by Paddy Bushe…

Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?

… it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.

This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.”

Cultus Obscuram – Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

The old cliché “…so bad it’s good” springs to mind when one watches the 1975 cinematic release “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze”. Based upon the eponymous 1930s’ pulp magazine character primarily written by Lester Dent the film was intended to be the first in a series of purposefully old-fashioned adventure movies by legendary Sci-Fi entertainment producer George Pal that would cash in on the then box office popularity of nostalgia-themed dramas like the Sting (1973) or Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Unfortunately Pal’s release was missing the production values or high-profile casts of its rivals and was inevitably destined to be nothing more than an also-ran. It features an impossibly blue-eyed if charisma-free Ron Ely (formerly the star of the US television show “Tarzan”) surrounded by various well-known and not so well-known TV and B-movie actors of the 1970s hamming it up in fine old style. Given a script that unintentionally careers back and forth between the comic and the camp with the odd flair of the not-so-dramatic or not-so-thrilling the resulting hyperactive acting offers no surprises. Perhaps what is surprising though, especially given the cinematic heritage of George Pal (the man behind 1953′s “The War of the Worlds” and the 1960 Oscar-winning “The Time Machine”), is the mediocre special effects, including the use of almost wilfully fake-looking matte paintings and visuals. They really are poor, more at home in a cheap 1970s’ TV series than a mainstream Hollywood production. Shot in the tame and overly familiar landscapes of southern California or in poorly finished sets that look like rejects from an episode of “Columbo” even the appearance of a dangerous-looking fuselage-free helicopter does little to up the on-screen “wow” factor.

From a toe-curlingly awful supervillain who laughs manically at his own deviousness to ethnic stereotypes that span the range of mildly to deeply offensive there is much to be amazed by in Doc Savage. Perhaps the worse offender is a brutal (and I do mean brutal) Scottish accent borne by a stocky would-be assassin. Just about the only thing of real interest is an early appearance of the actress Pamela Hensley who went on to play the sultry alien princess Ardala in the SF television series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. However with all that said Doc Savage is so gloriously silly that one can’t but help at times enjoying it. The fact that those who produced and starred in it obviously thought they were making what could have been a proto-Indiana Jones makes it all the more fun (in an admittedly cruel way). Bare chests (lots of that), dodgy accents, egregious stereotypes, hokey special effects, ratty-looking studio sets… what’s not to enjoy?

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

Even A Fanboy Has His Limits

Speak no fanspeak, see no fanspeak, hear no fanspeak

Is it just me or is there now a dearth of thoughtful and well-informed websites and blogs on the genre worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature? Oh yes, the banner-heavy, paragraph-light sites that focus on the latest Marvel or DC movie franchises are in plentiful supply. However most of these flash-happy affairs have as much substance as a stick of candy floss; and are just as forgettable. When it comes to in-depth reviews, essays and analyses by people who know what they are talking about – and who aren’t afraid to break the taboos of fannish devotion – one is left clicking through page after page in search of something with a bit of intelligence and insight (who knew that Monster & Critics was still in existence? And by god is it awful). One longs for the likes of the Cimmerian, the now defunct US-based website devoted to Robert E. Howard, where people of real talent wrote with eloquence and wit on the works of Howard, J.R.R Tolkien and others. Ironically in some cases where good online venues did exist to examine or debate such matters their supposed “improvements” have actually managed to ruin them. Britain’s SF Crow’s Nest springs to mind (that is if you can actually find the current website via a Google search. Talk about SEO unfriendly. Not to mention the dubious honour of creating an internet site that actually looks worse than its pleasingly old school predecessor). Websites specifically focusing on the old reliables, books, comics and graphic novels, have now succumbed to the cult of infotainment-style soundbite-reporting on the latest rumour about the latest superhero flick. It is all so mind-numbingly inconsequential.

Is this the dreaded future of the internet that the critics warned us about? The sinking into the mire of collective mediocrity? How has fandom come to this?

An Irish Equivalent For Geek Or Otaku?

Gaeilge (Atari)

Gaeilge (Atari)

I was recently asked if there is an Irish word that is the equivalent of the Anglo-American term Geek or its Japanese near-equivalent Otaku (おたく/オタクおたく/オタク). I couldn’t think of anything unless one went for something like a crude Gaelicisation of the originals in the form of Geic (?) or Odacú (?). Then I remembered the Irish and Scottish literary genre of aislingí (“dreams, visions”),  stories and narrative poems that began in the Medieval period with mythological or ecclesiastical tales and which later developed a more political edge in the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries. Though principally focused on interactions with or expressions of the Otherworldly it often bore a commentary on current events. In this context the Irish word aislingeach, which means “dreamer, day-dreamer; visionary”, seemed a suitable equivalent for geek. A bit clunky though, given the subject matter.

Could others come up with a better or more organic term?

[Update]: Thanks to Méabh in Nua Eabhrac who claims that Aislingeach is too long and established as a word. It needs to be something (and I quote) “…with vocal punch” and a neologism to boot. I agree.

[Update]: Pól offers up on Facebook the word teicnóg for geek or geek culture. You could gloss that as “young-tech” which I kinda like. A lot! Though should it be teicóg?

[Update]: Well it seems that “officially” the Irish language does have an equivalent for the word Geek. It is Geocach which is “geoc-” (geek) with the “-ach” ending to make it a thing (in this case a person). To my ears it sounds rather unappealing and judging by the reaction it seems I’m not the only one.

So far on Facebook the suggested term Teicóg (loosely “young-tech”) is gathering some favour. So that would give us:

Teicóg = geek culture
Teicógach = a geek
Teicógaigh = geeks

Fight The Power! An Interview With The Authors

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

In the 18th and 19th centuries one of the more popular forms of protest against authoritarian governments or regimes was through the publication of satirical illustrations or short picture stories frequently created with both literate and semi-literate audiences in mind. Using familiar or reoccurring images, symbols and caricatures political dissent or contrary opinions could be disseminated far and wide, the readers understanding and appreciating the visual cues presented to them. From the revolutionary struggles in France and North America to industrial unrest in England and Germany artists and cartoonists offered partisan commentary to the masses. By the latter half of the 1800s many of the larger newspaper or magazine titles in Europe and the United States maintained small teams of artists on their staff, some illustrating contemporary news events while others specialised in grotesque caricatures that appealed to notions of national or class chauvinism.

With the development of photography and later film the field of political cartooning was gradually narrowed to the role of comedic-satire and ephemeral “cartoons of the day”. However the emergence of the liberal and at times anarchic “counterculture” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave birth to a new genre of “underground comics” some of which were activist-inspired publications presented in a seemingly non-political form that proved attractive to rebellious youth. Since that era overtly radical comics have not disappeared entirely though they have largely remained in the domain of the “small press”. Occasional ventures by mainstream publishers have proved problematic, more often than not the contrarian views being subsumed by traditional story-telling techniques or sacrificed for commercial gain (notable early examples in Europe are the late 1980s’ British comics “Crisis” and “Deadline“). In most cases political messages were safely hidden behind a non-political front, a misdirection created by the use of familiar genre tropes such as “super-heroes”.

So it is still relatively unusual to see an avowedly political graphic novel being issued, one that wears its heart on its cover (so to speak), which in some ways harks back to an earlier era of instructive pamphleteering. “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples” is a collection of illustrated potted histories from across the last two centuries of political and social struggle in Europe, the United States and Africa. Written and edited by long-standing comic-creators Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson with artwork by Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, and Adam Pasion the book ranges in time from early 19th century England and the Luddite movement to the contemporary United States and the Occupy protests of the early 21st century. Each era and the events within it are given several pages of an overview, some more detailed than others. The chapter titled “Irish Rebellions (1791-1922)” is the most sparse in some ways since it tries to cover the furthest ground while others are more successful by focusing on one point in history. However though the quality of the artwork can sometimes be uneven all of the stories are of interest especially those that highlight some of the more unusual – and largely forgotten – events in the struggle for social equality (the unprecedented Boston Police Strike of 1919 and the 1934 The Battle of Toledo spring to mind).

The-Luddittes-and-Swing-Riots,-1811-1832

The Luddittes and Swing Riots, 1811-1832 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

An Sionnach Fionn has been lucky enough to secure a Q&A with authors Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson.

ASF: Can you tell us a little about your background and that of the other members of the team behind “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples”? What prompted you and your collaborators to produce such an avowedly political work at this time and why in the format of a graphic novel?

Seán: I’m a professional comic book writer born in Scotland (from an Irish family), who now lives in Japan. I’ve had more than a dozen books published with a variety of US, UK and Japanese publishers. I write both ‘western’ style graphic novels, such as adaptations of classical novels, and manga style books with Japanese and Chinese artists. I’m currently writing books for big Japanese publisher Kodansha, being the only Scottish writer to do so (or indeed the UK or Ireland – but I don’t mind a few more of you coming over! Dozo yoroshiku…). I’m also  the editor of the critically acclaimed collection “AX:alternative manga” (one of Publishers Weekly’s “Best ten books of 2010″). I often do comic books that are different from the normal superhero/fantasy brands, working with a variety of “non-comic book” organisations in the process. My main influences remain British and American creators – such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell and Harvey Pekar.

The other folk involved in the book are Benjamin Dickson, my co-writer, who I’ve invited to answer some of these questions too. The artists are Hunt Emerson, who is yer actual “living legend” of UK underground comics since the ’70s. A real pleasure to be working with him, especially since I first read his stuff when I was 13 years old! John Spelling is an excellent artist living in Devon, and Adam Pasion is from the US, but a guy I got to know here in Japan. The cover art was by an Australian, Eva Schlunke working in tandem with left wing cartoonish, Polyp. A good team!

Benjamin: It was Seán’s idea initially, so I’ll let him answer that one!  But in terms of why a graphic novel, we’re both comic writers, it’s our chosen medium as creators, and being active in the comics scene is also how we know each other. So we never really considered doing it in any other medium – but to answer your question more directly, comics as a medium are inherently good at communicating complex ideas in ways that are easy to access and understand.  If the purpose of this book was to introduce the layman to the subject of protest and its historical importance in the shaping of society, the graphic novel is a good format to work in!

Seán: Initially, the idea for this book first came to me as a parody of the history series by Winston Churchill (A History of the English Speaking Peoples). Instead of “great leaders” and battles, I thought why not do one about ordinary people’s struggle? Calling it “A visual history of protest amongst the English speaking peoples” occurred to me as a joke at first, then I thought, “Actually, that could be good.” Obviously it’s visual because it has illustrations. I decided to keep the “English speaking peoples” aspect, to give the book some focus and because that already encompasses a lot. But we intend to do a volume 2 that looks at popular rebellion in the wider world.

Why a graphic novel? Because it can – there is still a very silly outmoded idea that comics are just for kids. That is wrong and always has been. So, us doing this Fight the Power book as a comic book is just one more little example of how comics can be used to do sophisticated stories and take on culture and history, etc. In fact, there’s a case to be made for saying that comic books can do this type of thing better than normal text books. Because the interplay between the visual aspect and the textual helps to bring these kinds of complicated issues to life. The text can remain complex while the visual aspect makes it easier to take in, and the combination is apparently more memorable than text alone.

ASF: The book ranges through a history of political agitation across the globe, from industrial unrest in 19th century Britain to the Occupy Movement in 21st century United States. How were the subjects chosen?

Benjamin: There were so many subjects that we could have looked at that it really became a matter of what we couldn’t afford to leave out rather than what we wanted to include.  We started with the Luddites because that happened around the time of the industrial revolution, which is when the modern world, and modern Britain in particular, as we know it was born.  Before then it’s quite hard to connect society as it was back then to society today, so it seemed a good place to start.  Then we just threw a whole load of suggestions into an online Google document, argued and bartered over who was going to write what, and pretty much went from there.  We tried to include a broad range of stuff, ideally not covering more than one protest per decade/era.  But we didn’t really have a specific agenda over what to include.

ASF: Were there any subjects that were proposed but excluded? Were there any additional ones that you wished to see included?

Benjamin: Yes, lots!  The Miners’ Strike, Bloody Sunday, Cable Street… We could easily have tripled the size of the book without ever expanding our remit, but we had to have a cut-off somewhere.  It’s a shame that many stories weren’t included, but then the idea of the book was to serve as both an introduction to protest, and as a demonstration that political change usually comes from the ground upwards – 14 examples was enough to show that I think.

ASF: The book is published by Seven Stories Press, an independent publishing house in New York, and is now available for purchase from Amazon amongst others retailers. Was it difficult to secure publication and distribution of the collection?

Seán: Not difficult to get publication, as this is about my 17th book published so far, so I have a good track record. Seven Stories (and the UK publisher, New Internationalist) have a pretty good distribution system too. The main problem is sales. Even nowadays, with all the higher level of appreciation of graphic novels, these kind of mature books don’t sell much. Not that selling a lot and making tons of dosh is the aim. Few people in comic books achieve that! But we do need to sell a decent, medium, amount – for two reasons: to help us creators pay the bills and to encourage the publishers to continue doing this type of graphic novel. If, in 5 years time, the many good publishers now doing great comic books, have got to cut back because there is simply not enough sales, then we will soon see this recent comics renaissance fall back into the dark ages. These publishers operate in a capitalist world where sales are the bottom line. That is a very bad state of affairs, and yet another example of how capitalism is a barrier to creativity (despite pretending that is helps it). I have written an article about how in an anarchist system (that I favour), comics books would prosper much more than now. But, for the time being, what we need is for folks to go out and buy interesting graphic novels. For the sales to be good enough to keep things moving ahead nicely – so we can all keep on making good comic books.

ASF: Who are you hoping to reach with “Fight The Power!”?

Benjamin: Personally I’m hoping to reach people who aren’t involved in protest movements, who maybe thought Occupy was a little pointless or who think protest doesn’t really change anything.  I see little point in preaching to the converted, though this book should provide plenty of information for people who do think protest is important.  In terms of age, I would say it’s aimed at an audience from teenagers upwards, though there is no sex or swearing in the book (apart from the word “tits”!) so you could certainly show it to a younger child if you wanted to.

ASF: Tariq Ali, the well-known Pakistani-British author, journalist and activist has written an introduction for the book. How did you secure such an impressive recommendation?

Seán: Basically I just asked him. I find that if you simply ask, and the idea is good, that you get a decent response much of the time. Or I suppose if the figure involved can see that you have a past record of doing other such good stuff, they think it’s worth getting involved. As it goes, my previous “social issues” type book, “Parecomic“, has an introduction by Noam Chomsky. That was his first official connection with a comic book, and he had previously been rather dismissive of them. So perhaps Tariq noted that. To be rather shallow about it, the first thing that impressed me about Tariq is that he influenced John Lennon and the Rolling Stones song “Street fighting man”. It’s hard to top that, in my books!

ASF: I know that some promotional appearances are planned for “Fight The Power!” in the UK. Have you any plans to promote it elsewhere, including Ireland?

Benjamin: It’s a little difficult for Seán as he lives in Japan, but I’d love to come to Ireland!  I’ve never actually been, but if someone invites me then I’ll come…

Seán: Coming from an Irish family I’ve been to Ireland many times, of course, though I was born in Scotland. Bit hard for me to pop over, as Ben says, living in Japan now. But since there is a chapter in the book on Irish popular movements I want to do some promotion of it in Ireland. We look at United Irishmen of the 1790s, the “monster meetings” of Daniel O’Connell, the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, Parnell in the 1880s and right up until the establishment of the Irish Free State. There is also a chapter which looks at the “Bloody Friday” protests in Glasgow in 1919 and how that was an important stage in the development of a far more socialist inclined Scotland. So, we’re doing some promotion in Scotland too.

ASF: On a personal note, being a Scottish writer and editor living and working in Japan, what are your views on the forthcoming independence referendum in Scotland? Are you eligible to vote?

Seán: I’m not eligible, because I live in Japan now. But that’s fair enough, the residence rule is ok. Emotionally, I think I’ll be happy if the vote is a yes. But I’m not keen on narrow nationalism, I’m an internationalist! In practical matters what is important is the chance for Scotland to become a progressive left wing country, since most Scots in the last 50 years or more, seem to favour that. If Independence can help that then I’m for it. And, if that is successful – we would have to make sure we don’t balls it up – then the model would hopefully have a good influence on the region in general.

“Fight The Power!” is available directly from the publishers,  Seven Stories Press in the United States and New Internationalist in Britain, or can be purchased on Amazon. You can follow the authors on Twitter at @boychild23 (Seán) and @Beniswriting (Benjamin).

The-Trial-of-Nelson-Mandela,-1964

The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

Sladmhargadh, Karl Uhlemann

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

I’ve written before about my love of vintage book covers, especially those to be found in the genre fields of Science-Fiction and Fantasy (see my posts on Bruce Pennington as well as Chris Achilléos). So here is a wonderful in-your-face example from the mid-20th century Irish artist and designer Karl Uhlemann who illustrated some of Ireland’s best-known publications during his long career. The book is “Sladmhargadh” by Donach de Róiste, published in 1968 by the Dublin-based Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta (FNT), and taken from Hitone, a fascinating blog dedicated to Irish book covers and designs.

Republican Think-Tanks

Saor Éire

Saor Éire

There is a considerable debate going on amongst Irish Republicans and interested observers in Ireland over the future direction of revolutionary republicanism. With a renewed focus on the ideological aspects and political traditions of Republicanism as it pertains in the 21st century some new ideas are emerging as well as much self-analyses (and quite a bit of recrimination, fair and otherwise). The independent Republican website the Pensive Quill has been one platform for airing these debates but there are others. Two recent articles are of interest, this Q&A on contemporary matters with former senior PIRA Volunteer Gerard Hodgins on the PQ and this lengthier examination of recent history from Diarmuid Breatnach over on Rebel Breeze. A lot to agree with in both (some of Hodgins’ points match those I made two years ago and repeated several times since then) and a lot to disagree with in both (I believe that some of Breatnach’s interpretations are open to question). As I have pointed out before the internet has become the primary anti-establishment platform in Ireland, a medium for debating and disseminating progressive republican values and politics to the wider citizenry and beyond. That looks set to only grow.

From The New Sun To Dune, Bruce Pennington

The Claw of the Conciliator by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Claw of the Conciliator”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1981 Bruce Pennington)

The Citadel of the Autarch by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Citadel of the Autarch”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1983 Bruce Pennington)

Following the positive reaction to my brief post highlighting the career of the British illustrator Bruce Pennington (notably his artwork for the 1980 book cover of Gene Wolfe’s classic science-fantasy publication “The Shadow of the Torturer”) I thought I’d feature a few more of his best regarded images. These include two more wraparound illustrations for the baroque stories relating to the character of Severian the Torturer (above) as well as his seminal works for the dust jackets of Frank Herbert’s “Dune Messiah” and “Children of Dune” (below). Unfortunately I can only find the former in its published form, complete with title and blurb, but it still displays the exquisite nature of Pennington’s art, the use of one dominant colour in variable shades of pastel highlighted by flashes of brighter colour. For many in European fandom Bruce Pennington along with a handful of other artists very much encapsulated the “look” of Sci-Fi and Fantasy book covers throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s. By the last decade of the 20th century the brasher and more workmanlike art styles of the major US publishers gradually came to dominate, particularly with the use of generic “stock images” that frequently bore little relation to the stories they purported to portray, and the era of the “painterly” technique was over.

Dune Messiah by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover for Frank Herbert’s science-fiction sequel “Dune Messiah”, illustration drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1981 Bruce Pennington)

Children of Dune cover by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Frank Herbert’s third novel in the Dune series, “Children of Dune”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1982 Bruce Pennington)

Thankfully the growth of digital artwork and design has somewhat reversed the restrictions on artistic expression and vision placed by budgetary concerns in the world of publishing and a new body of artists have emerged albeit frequently working in a much more photorealistic style. I shall examine some of the better examples of that later. Meanwhile below is a crop image from another work by Bruce Pennington, the British frontispiece for the cover of the now rarely encountered “Dune Encyclopaedia” edited by Willis E. McNelly with the co-operation of Frank Herbert and published in 1984. Based upon the latter’s Dune series of novels it has long been out of print due to the notoriously litigious nature of the Herbert estate under his son Brian Herbert, who has penned a series of novels with hireling writer Kevin J. Anderson based upon his father’s works that bear little relation to the “in-universe” materials found in the encyclopaedia. While many regard the information created or compiled by McNelly as “canon” (including in part Frank Herbert who wrote an introduction for the publication) others follow Brian Herbert in discounting its importance. Personally I found the 2000s’ Dune sequels and “prequels” by Herbert junior unreadable and prefer the original works, though admittedly by the time of 1981’s “God Emperor of Dune” Herbert senior had certainly lost his artistic way.

The Dune Encyclopedia by Bruce Pennington

A crop image from the frontispiece illustration of the wraparound cover by Bruce Pennington for the “Dune Encyclopaedia”, the history of the Dune universe written by Willis E. McNelly with the approval of author Frank Herbert (Íomhá: © 1984 Bruce Pennington)

Cultural Segregation?

Speak English!

Speak English!

The Arts Council of Ireland, which received over €59.9 million in public monies in 2013, has announced a new €150,000 endowment to be granted to an Irish writer of high standing who will be styled the Laureate for Irish Fiction.

“The honour will be used to promote Irish literature nationally and internationally and to encourage the public to engage with high quality Irish fiction.”

Sounds impressive, yes? A worthy patronage of artistic endeavour, yes? Open to any writer in the country… er, no. It turns out that that this government largesse is solely available to those authors who write in the English language. Those who write in the Irish language are not eligible. Apparently when the Arts Council refer to “high quality Irish fiction” they mean “high quality English language Irish fiction”. You won’t see a Mario Vargas Llosa or Stieg Larsson emerging under their remit!

A Stranger In Olondria By Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

I don’t get much time to read works of fiction these days which somewhat pains me since some books have been a more faithful companion through life’s myriad rises and falls than many an erstwhile friend or partner. However reading a vivid opening paragraph like this makes me want to return to my former page-turning ways:

“I knew nothing of the splendour of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbour City, whose lights and colours spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses.  I did not know the vastness of the spice markets of Bain, where the merchants are delirious with scents.  I had never seen the morning mists adrift above the surface of the green Illoun, of which the poets sing; I had never seen a woman with gems in her hair, nor observed the copper glinting of the domes, nor stood upon the melancholy beaches of the south while the wind brought in the sadness from the sea.  Deep within the Fayaleith, the Country of the Wines, the clarity of light can stop the heart; it is the light the local people call “the breath of angels” and is said to cure heartsickness and bad lungs.  Beyond this is the Balinfeil, where, in the winter months, the people wear caps of white squirrel fur, and in the summer months the goddess Love is said to walk and the earth is carpeted with almond blossom.  But of all this I knew nothing.  I knew only of the island where my mother oiled her hair in the glow of a rush candle, and terrified me with stories of the Ghost with No Liver, whose sandals slap when he walks because he has his feet on backwards.”

So begins Sofia Samatar’s novel “A Stranger in Olondria” and if it reminds one of the writing found in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series or Jack Vance at his most florid that is no bad thing. There is an excellent review of the book by Abigail Nussbaum with a recommendation that has inspired me to make a purchase.