A group of Cork-based comic book artists have released their first anthology in the midst of what is being describd as a new golden age of comics, writes Don O’Mahony.
Irish artists and writers such as Declan Shalvey, Nick Roche, Stephen Mooney, Rob Curley, Ruth Redmond and Maura McHugh are being recognised internationally and making inroads into the American comics industry.
In Cork, Ballycotton’s Will Sliney is part of Marvel Comics, through his work on Spider-Man 2099 and the Fearless Defenders series. Inspired by Sliney, Cork comics enthusiasts have produced the anthology, I’m Awake, I’m Alive.
Published by newly founded Turncoat Press, the venture is the brainchild of writer and artist Chris O’Halloran, and writers Emmet O’Brien and Colin O’Mahoney.
“I wanted to kind of get something going on here, make our own stuff and just get people involved in Cork city, get a bit of a scene going here, as well,” says O’Halloran.
O’Brien and O’Mahoney were enthused by their visit to Ireland’s premier comic book convention, the Dublin International Comics Expo, which is held in September.
O’Brien says: “We all went to DICE last year. We’ll we go every year and last year we were just really inspired by how much was going on.
“There’s a big scene happening in Dublin and we figured that there was enough great talent down here, as well.
“And, plus, we just wanted to make comics, regardless of where we were. And we just decided to get the book together.”
Sliney became a national story, thanks to his Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn, which was published by the O’Brien Press in 2013 and was the fastest-selling graphic novel in Ireland.
But in Cork in 2012, Alan Corbett’s children’s comic book, The Ghost of Shandon, set in 18th century Cork, was named the city’s favourite book by the Cork City Libraries.
For Corbett, whose first exposure to comics was the adventures of both Tintin and Asterix at his local library, this endorsement had a poetic ring. But Corbett also wanted to give something back to Cork.
After studying graphic design at Cork Institute of Technology, he completed and MA in children’s book illustration in the Cambridge School of Art in 2010.
It was then he began The Ghost of Shandon, which combined his love of children’s books, Cork and comics.
“I’m very passionate about doing something to represent Cork in terms of children’s books and storytelling,” he says.
“Like, you’d see these stories written in, or published in, Ireland by the Irish publishers for children, and it was always kind of like leprechauns, or Ireland rebelling against Britain, and I thought it would be cool to just create an original story, original characters, and not rely on any existing texts.”
As fulfilling as the project was, Corbett felt he was ploughing a lonely furrow.
“I kinda felt like I was the only person in Cork doing it at the time,” he says. “I felt like nobody else was kinda into it that much.”
When O’Halloran describes comic writing as “a kind of a hidden passion,” Corbett chuckles in recognition.
Seeing both The Ghosts of Shandon and Celtic Warrior on the shelves spurred O’Halloran into action and Corbett was grateful for the call.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get involved with a scene here in Cork, and allow it to kind of grow and get more people involved,” Corbett says.
O’Halloran, O’Mahoney and O’Brien began generating scripts and, as they became aware of more local artists, they began farming the scripts out to them. They also initiated a monthly open meet-up session.
Here, enthusiasts and dedicated creators share tips and ideas
“There’s a lot of discussion about just general craft, like creating and writing comics, things like that, which people seem to find stressful,” says O’Halloran.
O’Brien says: “People don’t really know where to start. When it started, it was kind of like a hangout for people to talk about comics, but we’re making it more about the actual process now.
“The ideal that we want is that we want to hook up writers and artists, and start getting lots of projects going, kind of create a bustling scene.”
This nascent scene is beautifully captured in the stylistically and thematically diverse I’m Awake, I’m Alive which, apart from our three interviewees, involves the work of 10 emerging local comic artists, as well as pin-up work — single-page images of characters — contributed by established local comic book artists.
For the team, and O’Halloran in particular, there is pride in the fact that an image rendered by Sliney of one of O’Halloran’s characters, a no-nonsense, hurley-wielding, post-apocalyptic Cork warrior, called Jenny, adorns the publication’s cover.
O’Halloran was doing the same multimedia course in CIT that Sliney had done, and when the former student came to give a talk at the college a light went off over O’Halloran’s head.
“He did a talk just about what he was working on back then, which was for a smaller American studio, at that time, and that was news to me, that you could be from Ireland and you could make comics and make a living from comics,” says O’Halloran.
Sliney, too, was consumed with the feeling that he was alone, in Ireland, in making comics. There is plenty of possibility and promise in the fact that his cover for I’m Awake, I’m Alive was one of his last pieces before signing exclusively for Marvel Comics.
“I think that’s just part and parcel of comics,” Sliney says. “The comics that we produce can have such a powerful visual impact that they can really influence people. It was the same for me, when I was beginning my career.
“What I do really like is that people in Ireland can now see examples of many of us who have gone onto work for the big companies like Marvel, and that we can do if from Ireland. It’s proof that anybody from here can make it in the industry.”
For the people behind this new anthology, making it in the industry would be the Holy Grail, but of primary importance is the very act of personal expression itself.
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