Review: Bobby Sands: Freedom Fighter

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Writer: Gerry Hunt
Artist: Gerry Hunt
Colourist: Matt Griffin
Publisher: The O’Brien Press
RRP: €16.99/£12.99
Release Date: February 22nd 2016
Pages: 64

Blurb: Bobby Sands was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who died on hunger strike while imprisoned at HM Prison Maze. He was the leader of the 1981 hunger strike in which Irish republican prisoners protested against the removal of Special Category Status. During his strike he was elected to the British Parliament as an Anti H-Block candidate. His death was followed by a new surge of Provisional IRA recruitment and activity. International media coverage brought attention to the hunger strikers, and the republican movement in general, attracting both praise and criticism. 

This graphic novel brings Bobby Sands’ story to life in a whole new way. 

Review by Dave O’Leary:

Gerry Hunt and Matt Griffin are back with The O’Brien Press with their latest Irish historical graphic novel collaboration that has included the Irish Book Award nominated At War with the Empire, which is the only graphic novel to have been so.

Of the historical graphic novels that have been released in recent years by O’Brien, this one covers the most recent period of Irish history of any of them. Mainly set in a time period of the late seventies and early eighties, the subject matter of the later life and death of Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands, who was a hugely divisive figure in socio-political circles during his time in prison is a thoroughly engrossing read.

Author Gerry Hunt does a great job of making a flowing story out of a busy and action and counter action series of events that ultimately lead to a series of hunger strikes. The book shines the British forces and Government in a very poor light and based on the evidence contained within the book, rightfully so. The conditions that the imprisoned had to endure were nothing short of horrific and they came about due to the inmates status of political prisoners being revoked and Sands leading others in an ever increasingly desperate series of actions to try force the hand of the British government to overturn their decision.

The impact of their actions, led by Sands, does not go unnoticed and they begin to gather international attention, not to say anything of the impact on their families. They are seen by the British as nothing but criminals but a sudden by election shortly after the beginning of their final hunger strike got Sands on the ticket as a potential MP, an election that Sands won over a UUP candidate by a close margin. The election raised public awareness of Sands and the other hunger strikers even further but his declining health meant that he was never able to take his seat in Westminster, dying a short time after winning the vote.

Bobby Sands was the first of ten hunger strikers to die before the hunger strikes were called off in October 1981. With people portrayed in the book still alive today, the events within would be still be visceral memories for most people and their impact on the social divide in the North would be felt for many years right up the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Credit to Gerry Hunt for bringing this important chapter in our recent lives to such a powerful rendition.

Hunt pulls no punches when it comes to the hardships endured and his art shows how brutal conditions were. Hunt is joined by frequent collaborating colourist Matt Griffin who always compliments Hunt’s artwork with ease. His dull muted colours especially in the prison scenes enhance the grimness of the setting.

I’ve said it before when it comes to their line of Irish historical graphic novels but The O’Brien Press play an important part in keeping our history alive in the minds of people who are even more having their attention being called on by ever more shallow forms of so called entertainment. That is why I welcome this book and hopefully more like it as the quality and subject matter of the line of books is of such high quality, they are deserving of our time, attention and money.

The book also boasts an afterword by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who comments on the legacy of Bobby Sands and the sacrifice for the greater good of Sands and his fellow hunger strikers. This powerful account of a very recent chapter in Irish history is a page turner of a project and is available in book shops now.