Review: Black ’47
Reviewed by: David O’Leary
Created by: Damien Goodfellow
Published by: The O’Brien Press Ltd.
Date Released: April 29th 2019
Blurb: Ireland’s great Famine – One family’s story of hunger, loss and the search for a new life across the sea.
It’s 1847: Ireland has become a country of living ghosts. For the third year in a row the crops are rotting in the ground. There are evictions and riots, armed militia and unrest, and yet food is still being exported to England. Jack and his family take to the roads, beginning the long journey from the West of Ireland via homelessness in Liverpool to the coffin ships and the New World.
The O’ Brien Press over the years have built up a strong back catalogue of original graphic novels spanning centuries of Irish history and the latest addition comes from Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King creator Damien Goodfellow in the form of Black ’47, a gritty look at one family’s journey from diminishing hope, crushing loss and homelessness to the promise of hope in a New World.
Goodfellow frames the story around young Jack, one of two siblings who along with their parents work the land of a Landlord in the West of Ireland just before they face into the third straight year of a failed potato crop. Without a crop to harvest the family quickly find themselves in an ever more desperate situation that leads to life changing moments for everyone.
Goodfellow crafts a smartly written tale with lead characters that are quite easy to root for despite their desperate situation. Take young Jack for example: when we are first introduced to him, his world is shoehorned within the confines of his father’s plot. Though he knows of the higher class that governs his family’s fortunes, his naivety is something seen to be exploited by those who wish to use him for their own gain. Jack’s choices though lead to a terrible outcome at home that mean that the family’s fortunes are better sought abroad. As the promise of a better life in America brings them through Liverpool, Jack is forced to mature and grow very quickly and as much as he wishes that their troubles are behind them, he continues to find that he is never far from another trite circumstance.
This narrative never seems rushed at any stage and is deftly paced using the 96 pages to introduce and explore several characters and sub plots with aplomb.
Goodfellow’s art within this book holds the grittiness of his previous Brian Boru book but there is an expressed depression in the colour palate used. You can appreciate just looking at the book without reading anything just how difficult a time it was for thousands of people in the mid 1800’s because of the images that Goodfellow puts on the page. One full image on page 14 with Jack and his father with their backs to the reader as it dawns on them that not only do the not have a crop this year but most likely their landlord will make them homeless as their house will be torn down due to their lack of rent payment. There is nothing fanciful about the writing and drawing of this page or others like it as it really was the reality of so many at that time.
Once the book is read through, you owe it to yourself to go back over the book again and appreciate the facial expressions, the defeatism, the background figures and once the setting moves to Liverpool and New York, the busier setting of a metropolitan area to fully realise that this book is well worth your time.
It’s encouraging to see that The O’Brien Press still hold faith in the graphic novel genre with yet another very strong outing in Black ‘47. Damien Goodfellow has done exceptionally well here with a very memorable book that will stand as a testament of the struggle of so many who made it to the New World and to those who made their stand on a land and system that failed them so badly.