In Haunt

PETERLOO: WITNESSES TO A MASSACRE by Polyp, Poole and Schlunke is a truly unique book – approaching the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 through vivid colour illustrations and is out now, published in the year that marks the 200th anniversary of the event.

Peterloo Cover

Bold imagery takes the reader back to 19th century Manchester, where on the 16 August, a peaceful gathering of over 60,000 people in favour of parliamentary reform was brutally handled by the authorities. Sabre-wielding soldiers waded into the crowd, resulting in 18 deaths and over 600 severe injuries. This became known as ‘Peterloo’ – an event that not only caused outcry across the country, but cemented the importance of parliamentary reform in the public consciousness – paving the way towards modern democracy. Brave lives were lost in the fight for greater representation and the determination of those peaceful protestors has inspired generations in the ongoing fight for reform.

PETERLOO: WITNESSES TO A MASSACRE does not shy away from showing the intensity and emotion of the circumstances around Peterloo. After all, this first-of-its-kind visual project has been informed and drawn exclusively from eyewitness accounts of the time, therefore exploring the massacre from the perspectives of people who were there and affected by it. Using hard-hitting testimony including letters, reports, memoirs and even courtroom evidence, the three-person team behind the book has brought this together in a graphic novel like no other.

Whilst fine artist and activist Eva Schlunke, along with consultant historian to the Peterloo 2019 programme Robert Poole have worked to ensure that the book is underpinned by real-life accounts– this has then been transformed into a graphic novel format by full-time political cartoonist ‘Polyp’ (Paul Fitzgerald). Striking colour images throughout the book bring to life an event never to be forgotten and provide a personal perspective on Peterloo; rather than a distant historic overview. All three authors are part of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign and continue to fight for greater awareness of Peterloo and its inclusion within the curriculum, with a Schools’ Edition of the graphic novel coming soon.

The book itself embodies the spirit of Peterloo too, right down to the way it was funded. Brought to life thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, this follows in a lengthy tradition of crowdfunding projects to commemorate Peterloo. PETERLOO: WITNESSES TO A MASSACRE is therefore a book made possible thanks to the collective support of members of the public, with people from across the country coming together to hit the £10,000 target and ensure that the authors could receive a viable living wage for their work.

Jointly published by the independent Myriad and New Internationalist imprints in early 2019, the year appropriately corresponds with the bicentenary of the massacre itself. A range of commemorations are now underway, as part of the Peterloo 2019 programme of events – and the authors of the graphic novel themselves have been part of organising ‘Rise’: the biggest gathering of Liberty Caps to come together in one place since Peterloo! On the 16th and 17th of August the public are invited to gather in Windmill Street in Manchester city centre, along with their homemade liberty caps – and there are even Greater Manchester workshops for you to make your own, with more details here:  http://peterloomassacre.org/rise.html

Centre Image

Ahead of the 200th anniversary date itself – the 16 August 2019 – we spoke to the authors of the graphic novel to find out more (answers primarily by ‘Polyp’ - Paul Fitzgerald):

     

Why the choice of a graphic novel format to approach the subject of The Peterloo Massacre? Isn’t the graphic depiction of a massive event inevitably difficult?

“The visuals of the format allowed us to be quite 'non-linear' with the plot... we could move from place to place, scene to scene in a rapid, almost dream-like way, yet still tell the whole story in what we hope is a very rich and detailed way. The final product is very unconventional in its narrative, yet seems to hang together as a dramatic whole, going by reactions to date. That wouldn't have been possible, for us at least, in a traditional written format. And of course we didn't have the budget for a movie!

“It was a big challenge drawing crowds of thousands of people, with each needing a different face and clothes and body language. We were determined not to skimp on that, so some of the pages took weeks to draw, while others were far quicker, where we concentrated on close up details to keep it personal. In one of the double page spreads we showed the attack from a bird's eye point of view, with the people almost like little cotton wool buds, in other frames you might see the action in a reflection in a close up of someone's eye. Surprisingly, the very distant view still feels like it has a lot of emotion in it! Doing that particular drawing, I found myself actually thinking about what was motivating each of those dots, or small groups of dots, as they flee the carnage. I hope that comes across in the finished thing. Another full page image simply shows a close up of some blades of grass at the location, with a few splatters of blood, overlaid with two intensely emotional accounts from a couple who became separated during the attack, with both wondering if the other was now dead.

“Another great virtue of the graphic novel format is that it meant we could simultaneously present the reader with jarringly different accounts from both sides, all of them very character-rich and emotionally vivid, and of course, given we're hearing from the attackers and the victims, sometimes violently contradicting each other. You hear all these different voices at the same time, and on the same page, something it would be really hard to do in another medium like film or TV. We hope that both accounts- just the pictures or just the words- work really well on their own, and that the combination is even more than just the parts themselves.”

Peterloo Map

Whose perspective have you chosen to use in the graphic novel – or is it more of an overview of events? And why?

“Because we sometimes focussed on very intense, close up, personal moments, it doesn't feel like a cold overview... even though it does tell the broader story as well. We chose the particular quotes for two main reasons... some are simply informative and move the story along, others have an emotional focus, where people talk about how terrified and shocked they were, or some have both- like a quote from one of the Hussar leaders, Major Dyneley, saying how much he enjoyed seeing the reformers getting 'knocked about' and 'leathered'.

“In some cases we've included quotes from people who we're pretty sure are just lying through their teeth, and think the context and the way they talk makes that clear. Articulating both sides wasn't for any kind of sense of 'balance', though. We just think it made for a more intense read, because so many of the voices will make the reader react emotionally- often with sheer anger. But ultimately we wanted the readers to make up their own minds about what they're seeing and hearing.”

Page 58Why did you eventually choose to write it using just 'verbatim' period quotes?

“From the outset, we wanted the book to be very 'warts-and-all', with no simplistic heroes or self-consciously evil villains, and in that sense the text being only what was actually said at the time, allowed us to step back and let the people who were there speak for themselves.

“We went through a period of thinking we'd construct a few fictional characters who were in a position to meet all the central players, but that started to feel really contrived and clunky, and the three of us have no pretentions to be novelists as such, we just wanted to tell the story as honestly as possible. The more we looked at the source material, the more we became determined to just get out of the way and let the reader have the same first-hand experience that we did, of just marvelling at how rich and vivid the authentic original words are, with accounts from all sides. Ultimately it also seemed the most respectful way to tell the story. I mean, why make stuff up?”

There are three authors of the book, combining both historical and artistic experience. Can you tell us more about your roles?

“The graphic novel is in some ways a visual adaptation of Robert's new historical book 'PETERLOO: The English Uprising' (link here). As he was researching and writing it, he was feeding us his chapters, which, along with other sources, Eva compiled into a kind of huge, chronological 'database' of useable quotes, each filed by time or incident, e.g. '16AugMorning Marches.doc'. Hundreds and hundreds of them!

“We'd then have editorial meetings together, roughing out what needed to be drawn, plotting the scenes with tiny thumbnail doodles and choosing which quotes did the job. But there was never a set script as such. I'd sometimes draw very abstract 'mood images' like the blood on the grass mentioned earlier, and it was only much later we decided what words would best go with that image, and exactly where in the story it might sit! In a sense, the entire thing kind of assembled itself under its own gravity. We hope that has made the style of it really interesting, haunting and original. It's much more like a series of echoes of the past, like fragments stitched together into a whole. The nearest we have to a script is a very big folder like a scrapbook collage, full of doodles and notes and highlighter streaks, overlaid with shorthand text, e.g. 'Insert Dyneley knocking about quote here, next to Owen horrified screams quote.' It looks fairly chaotic, but did the job.”

Did anything surprise you while doing the research?

“Firstly, given how forgotten Peterloo has been, just the sheer amount of information there is out there! The role the high church played was something that took us back a bit. Manchester at the time was like a weird mixture of a turbo-charged, capitalist free trade zone and a theocracy, in which 'clerical magistrates' often seemed to be telling the military what to do, and in the case of the volunteer Yeomanry cavalry, the military were the wealthy local elite... armed with sabres. The fact that Manchester was so small in 1819 was another surprise. St Peter's Field, where the Free Trade Hall now stands, was kind of on the edge of town. Learning that those in control knew the people they were attacking gave it all a really creepy, claustrophobic edge.”

Peterloo Tattoo

Cover Reviews What was the biggest challenge of creating the book… and how about the most rewarding thing?

“The worst bit was the limited time and space available. We had to dump so many amazing accounts or quotes, it was really frustrating! A lot of them became 'the precious things’! That’s partly why we made the notes at the back fairly extensive, almost like a chapter in its own right, to try and squeeze a few more in, and provide the reader with what we ended up calling 'pudding after the main meal'. We've provided sources for everything so folk can follow it all up and find more.

“The most rewarding bit was reading it months later after the printing was done, and feeling we really had pulled it off, and bought Peterloo back to life, raw, unfiltered, and without editorial or political bias, or self-indulgent narrative or arty gimmicks. We hope that's respectful to both the readers and the original people involved. We sometimes feel we didn't actually 'write' the thing! We just drew it all together, if you'll excuse the pun.”

Why does the subject matter to you – and do you think more awareness of The Peterloo Massacre is needed?

“It's a disgrace that the memory of this world-changing event was so suppressed and overlooked, or at best whitewashed, for almost two whole centuries. We've all been very active in the Peterloo Memorial Campaign for that reason. This was Manchester's Tiananmen Square.

“But what an interesting time or its memory to be revived! When there's so much cynicism, apathy and disillusionment about democracy... sometimes for good reason. In a sense we hope the past is now going to influence the present, and that remembering Peterloo will throw a challenging present-day question at us all: what have we done to defend, nurture and spread the democratic legacy that these people died to pass on to us? If we feel it's no longer functioning, how do we revive or reboot it, and carry on the task that cost so many people so much?”

Find out more about the Graphic Novel including the purchase link online at www.peterloo.org and also the Peterloo Memorial project on social media: https://twitter.com/ActsSix and/or https://www.facebook.com/groups/899694013703882/

Related

0 Comments

Comments

Nobody has commented on this post yet, why not send us your thoughts and be the first?

Leave a Reply