Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Alternative Ireland: How the Emergence of a Local Comic Book Industry Challenged Traditional Depictions of Ireland in Comics by Liam Burke

In the late 1800s Irish efforts to gain autonomy from Britain were gathering pace. Undermining these endeavours were cartoons in satirical magazines like Punch that depicted Irish people as “Paddy the peasant” – a foolish and combative type ill-suited to home rule. As part of a wider move towards cultural nationalism, Irish playwrights, poets, and musicians challenged these stereotypes, but there were few cartoons and comics from Irish creators. Moving into the 20th century depictions of Ireland in comics continued to be dominated by international creators who often perpetuated long-standing prejudices. However, in the late 1980s Irish creators, such as Garth Ennis (Troubled Souls, Preacher, and Judge Dredd), used their position within the mainstream comic book industry to subvert these stereotypes.

In recent years Ireland has enjoyed its first sustained period of local comic production. These stories have been told in a variety of styles and genres including: historical graphic novels (Blood on the Rose: Easter 1916: The Rebellion That Set Ireland Free), mythological action (Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn), Superhero (The League of Volunteers), Supernatural Mystery (Jennifer Wilde), and even Irish-language comics like Rírá. Despite the diversity of the titles, these Irish comics are united in their efforts to challenge received views and misconceptions about Ireland.

This paper will explore how Irish people have historically been depicted in comics and graphic novels. It will examine early attempts to challenge these views, such as Garth Ennis’ Emerald Isle. The paper will then chart the emergence of a local industry post-2000, and identify how these indigenous comics offer a potent alternative to the traditional representations of Ireland found in comics.

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