Arts

The graphic tale of Irish revolutionary Roger Casement

From Tintin, Ninja Turtles and X-Men to Irish revolutionaries: Co Armagh artist Fionnuala Doran tells Joanne Sweeney why her debut biographical graphic novel The Trial of Roger Casement could be Oscar-fodder

Fionnuala Doran will be presenting her graphic novel at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 28
Joanne Sweeney

FOR Lurgan-born artist Fionnuala Doran, the story of the historically maligned Easter Rising revolutionary and humanitarian Roger Casement is a Hollywood blockbuster movie begging to be made.

Her first graphic novel biography The Trial of Roger Casement is coming out on September 1 just weeks after the centenary of Casement's execution for treason by the British government on August 3 1916.

In 1911, the Dublin born and Antrim raised man was knighted by King George V for his groundbreaking humanitarian work in Africa and South America.

Just five years later, Casement undertook an ill-fated mission to try and secure German support for an Irish uprising – an endeavour which resulted in him being stripped of his knighthood and hanged for treason.

Over The Trial of Roger Casement's 120 visually riveting pages, Doran illustrates the story of how Casement was found washed-up on Banna Strand in Kerry after his failed German mission (where a monument now stands in his honour), flashing back to the Irish revolutionary's meeting with suspected British spy Alder Christensen who helped set up the failed German mission before detailing his arrest in Galway and his sensational trial and defence speech prior to being executed at Pentonville prison.

The British diplomat, humanitarian activist and gay man is an Irish historical figure who has intrigued Doran (31) for several years now – and she thinks that Hollywood has missed a trick by not yet recognising the importance of Casement's intriguing narrative.

"Casement is such an interesting character," argues the Glasgow-based artist.

"It's very hard to understand why no-one has made a movie about him yet. It's got all the elements of an Oscar-winning biographical film.

"When I first started researching his life around 2011, it felt to me that he had been forgotten about compared to all the other figures from the 1916 Easter Rising.

"It's ripe for a movie. They made a film about Michael Collins. While he had an extraordinary public life, his private life was quite dull – whereas Casement had an interesting private and public life.

"I just don't know why Michael Fassbender hasn't cottoned on yet. He's being trying to win an Oscar for years and surely this is the perfect formula?

"Casement was executed for his ideals, had a secret gay life and was a humanitarian as well."

The Dubliner's place in Irish history has been muddied since the revelation at his trial concerning his infamous 'Black Diaries', in which he chronicled his sexual encounters with young men – a part of his life he had successfully kept hidden from his fellow revolutionaries.

Casement was denounced as a sodomite and traitor during the trial and any pleas for clemency were lost in the clamour of the ensuing scandal.

Doran adds: "There's been controversy for years about Casement and debate about if the Black Diaries were all made up by the British.

"Some people are now even accusing him of being a paedophile but I've never read one thing in all that I researched that would indicate that."

The Co Armagh artist first began researching Casement for a project for Catalyst Arts Gallery in Belfast, where artists were asked to submit works in multiples.

Doran created several one-page comic stories on Casement and Wolfe Tone, leader of the United Irishmen.

However, her interest in Casement endured and she had enough notes and material to revisit him again a few years later.

While an MA student with the Royal College of Art in London in 2014, Doran won the British Library's Arts Thread Comics Unmasked competition with another nine-panel book on Casement before starting work on her debut graphic novel last summer.

The Trial of Roger Casement is the latest addition to a rapidly growing number of Irish history-inspired comics, including Dublin artist Gerry Hunt's controversial publication Bobby Sands: Freedom Fighter.

Doran will be presenting her graphic novel biography at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 28 alongside established graphic novelist Marcel Ruijters.

"It will be nerve wrecking to share the stage with a professional who has several books under his wing and has been in the industry longer," she tells me.

In addition to promoting her work, Doran will continue her teaching role as senior lecturer at Tessside University's new BA in Comics, Graphic Novels and Sequential Art.

She enthuses: "We hope to model the course on the School of Visual Arts School in New York with its Schools of Cartooning and Illustration.

"When our first cohort graduates in two year's time, we will have developed a way of teaching people how to communicate a story or narrative in whatever medium they feel they can do it best, and hopefully will have this great generation of storytellers coming on."

The Lurgan comics talent comes from a very creative family – her twin sister Aideen is a contemporary visual artist and has just finished a PhD, while the girls older brother, Ronan, is a singer/songwriter.

The former St Michael's (now St Ronan's College) student went on study at the Belfast School of Art before attending the Royal College of Art, from which she graduated with an MA in Visual Communication.

Doran admits that she has been hooked on cartoons since discovering them at the age of five or six.

"I remember loving Tintin," she says.

"I also remember reading the Daily Mirror which published a three panel Ninja Turtle strip twice a week.

"Our grandfather used to cut it out and stick it in a scrap book so we could read in sequence.

"Then I got into Batman and Superman and X-Men. In my heart, X Men would still be my favourite to read monthly for pure fantasy enjoyment."

Doran hopes to have a "continual output" of graphic novels over the next 10 years and is likely to revisit Casement in addition to doing something on Irish revolutionary, suffragette and feminist icon Countess Markievicz in the future.

:: The Trial of Roger Casement is published on September 1 by SelfMadeHero (£12.99) and available to order now via Selfmadehero.com, Amazon and all good book shops. Fionnuala Doran will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 28 – see Edbookfest.co.uk for details.

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