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

Dr Gordon Gillespie, 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: [To Editor: And I can’t embed Flickr slideshows?]

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?

Original post at Mr Ulster:

Allan LEONARD is a peacebuilder. I do this through my personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. My specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land I love and where I have made my home. I believe in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. I work for a shared society and a #sharedfuture Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

  • John Ó Néill

    Is the decline not a more general one than specifically graphic novels related to the north? I’d have thought the rise of the internet, computer games etc may have displaced some of the market.
    Is Mal Coney’s Holy Cross the only home-produced one?

  • I was responsible for a series of photographs that were used as backgrounds for DNA Swamp and Keltor produced by the extremely talented Christian Kotey

  • leftofcentre

    Hi Mr Ulster, you are using the youtube shortcode, try putting in the full address.

    WordPress (the system that powers slugger) will then show the video.

    Likewise with flickr.

    If this does not work, Mick can you turn on the auto embed option:

  • @leftofcentre Thanks for suggestion, which I have implemented to no avail. This was supposed to be fixed for me the last time; I don’t understand the difficulties (one of many reasons I do not use WordPress for my blogging platform!). Hope an Admin will come to my rescue.

  • Pete Baker

    Mr Ulster

    I’ve embedded the YouTube video – by pasting the required code in the html view of the post.

    But there’s no similar code for the slideshow.

  • Mickles

    Why leave out cartoons? Who could forget when Captain Planet went to Belfast?

  • I was at the lecture, and in the Q&A afterwards was able to bring up some earlier comics made and set in Belfast. Back in the late 70s John Kindness, the man who made the Big Fish on the waterfront, did an underground comic called The Hand about a drive-by shooting in north Belfast, and drew a strip called Screw the Bap and Head the Ball for the Shankill Bulletin; Cormac (the late Brian Moore) did a series called Resistance Comics; and both of them did strips for the Belfast People’s Comic, as did Ian Knox, now the political cartoonist for the Irish News.

    “Is Mal Coney’s Holy Cross the only home-produced one?”

    Holy Cross was actually published in the USA (although, like Troubled Souls, written and drawn here), but Mal’s Good Craic Comics, and the Ballynafeigh book Back on the Road, were published locally. There’s a small group of people making and self-publishing comics in Belfast, and you’ll find a few of them (including my own) in the local artists section in the Head record shop in Victoria Square.

  • carl marks

    i think i have the issue of 2000 AD featured at the top of the article, if i have time i must look it up.
    loved that comic, looked forward to it every week.

  • Dixie Elliott

    In my day they were called annuals ffs! Thats the peace process for you.

    Under Unionist misrule we couldn’t afford annuals, not even the Beano. Now in times of peace and with the Shinners misruling with the DUPers the wains get graphic friggin’ novels.

    They don’t know how well off they are.

  • Derry has a festival each early summer devoted to comic book and graphic novels etc

    I have been a couple of times with my youngest and it is very impressive. Top names who are very accessible , workshops, advice and a very friendly welcome.

    A real eye opener for me who up till then had only taken a passing interest, some seriously talented people.

    Well worth a visit in fact if you’ve any interest at all you’ll love it. Top marks Derry.

  • Crisis was a great comic, with Troubled Souls and For a Few Troubles More only a small part of its highly political content. Anyone remember Third World War? It looks quite prophetic these days.

  • PJ Maybe

    I’ve read this thing a few times now and I am utterly baffled by it. How, precisely, do Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and the rest fit into a “Northern Ireland chronology?” Indeed what does that term actually mean? Do our years appear a different order that every where is? Or are the inclusion of “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight Returns” just this individuals simply name checking those comics in the belief it adds credibility to the thrust of his argument? Well here’s some news – it doesn’t, all it displays is a clichéd outlook. Worse it gets which influenced what completely the wrong way around. NI creators have had more of an influence on US comics that US comics ever had on Northern Ireland. Why? One number – two letters. 2000AD And yet for all this referencing and cap doffing he inexplicably misses Ennis’ Preacher one-shot “Homeland which is entirely set in Belfast And this guy is supposed
    to be an expert? Please…..

  • PJ Maybe

    Grud on a greenie… that should read “Heartland which is entirely set in Belfast”. Off to Mek Quake I go…

  • Mac

    “Anyone remember Third World War? It looks quite prophetic these days.”

    Eve, Paul (later to become Finn?), Multifoods and strobe guns that were legal as they ‘had been tested out in Northern Ireland’.

  • TwilightoftheProds


    I think from having heard the lecture before, the watchmen, dark knight returns stuff is just to set the backdrop to how ‘serious’ and political comics were attempting to come. The guy isn’t a grexnix

    …I’l get my anorak.


    I always thought Crisis was preachy, but the social and political comment in judge dredd, Halo Jones brilliant. I never got into the likes of star wars and space opera but 2000ad was very european/British and eventually got me reading Orwell, Huxley and Anthony Burgess. So I’ve fond memories of it too.

  • tomorrowboy

    @PJ Maybe

    Two things.

    1. Heartland is a Hellblazer spinoff:

    2. It’s included on the list, between Crisis: Troubled Souls (1989) and Judge Dredd (1991).