REVIEW – two from Moccu Press
In the wake of Gerry Hunt’s Blood Upon the Rose, a graphic retelling the 1916 Rising published by the O’Brien Press in 2009, historian Dermot Poyntz got in on the Irish historical graphic novel act last year, with Curse of Cromwell: The Siege, about Oliver Cromwell’s Siege of Clonmel in 1650, from his own publishing outfit Moccu Press. This month he releases a follow-up, War of the Two Kings, about the war between James II and William of Orange 40 years later. Both books are illustrated in full colour by Lee Grace, who put together the anthology Machines, Miracles or Magic? a couple of years ago.
Curse of Cromwell isn’t an easy book to read. It’s a complicated story, with four warring parties with their own agendas in shifting alliances, and Poyntz hasn’t really got the hang of writing comics yet. He’s approached it like a documentary – very caption-heavy, and much of what dialogue there is adds colour rather than advances the story, so the personalities and motivations of the main players don’t really come across. Two Kings is more successful as a comic, with a greater interplay between pictures, dialogue and captions allowing the story to be dramatised through the actions of the main players. The story builds, with tension increasing towards the end, although the end itself is a little abrupt.
Grace’s art is a mixed bag. The covers are very striking, the overall book design is excellent, and the digital colouring is very nice, but while some of the settings are very convincingly realised, the figure drawing and rendering are weak, and he evidently hasn’t laid out his panels with much thought as to where the lettering will go. This isn’t much of a problem on Curse of Cromwell, where the story is mostly carried by captions, but in several places in Two Kings we’re expected to read balloons right to left or bottom to top, and balloons often cross panel borders in a way that can lead the eye misleadingly.
The lettering itself isn’t great either. The serif type of the captions lends an air of historical authority, but the dialogue is italicised throughout, which looks artificial and negates any advantage of the hand-lettering-ish font used, which is its natural, human feel – as does the persistent use of ampersands rather than spelling out the word “and”.
The whole, of both books, is a curious mix of the professional and the amateurish. A third book, Plight of the Wild Geese, about James and his army’s struggles in Ireland and Europe after the Battle of the Boyne, will follow later in the year.