Making Irish Fun: Coimicí Gael
Coimicí Gael is a fledgling publishing company supported by Foras na Gaeilge, that aims with it’s flagship publication, Rírá, to make comics in Ireland in Irish with the best talent on the island.
Editor Aidan Courtney told writing.ie: “Rírá is a comic that is kind of like the Dandy or Beano but with a nod to the European anthology comics, T’cho or Spirou. It is aimed at 7 to 14 year olds but can be picked up by older readers with an interest in either comics or the Irish language. It is all about making Irish fun for kids. Some of the strips are very wordy, some have very few words and some are just visual gags or stories with no words.”
The first few issues were distributed mostly by Coimicí Gael to schools, libraries, individuals and bookshops or shops interested in Irish. However, from mid November, Rírá 4 became available in every Easons newsagents department and other newsagents around the country. It should be found in the comics section.
Aidan explained how the idea for Rírá came about: “When I was a kid I learned how to read via comics – there were many comics out there and in all sorts of genres, from the United Kingdom mostly, on a weekly basis. I grew up reading Roy of the Rovers, Dandy, Beano, Victor, 2000ad, Eagle, Buster, Oink, and Whizzer and Chips. The comic is a very accessible way to read for all ages – it’s a visual appreciation of storytelling. I wanted to emulate the things I read, so when I was a kid, I used to draw comics in my copybooks. Later I went to art college and got some professional work as a cartoonist when I was nineteen. I used to watch TG4, who featured some cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants in Irish. We used to talk about comics in college and I remember thinking Irish language comics would be a good idea.
A few years after that, I was still working as a part-time as a freelance cartoonist and noticed that Cló Mhaigh Eo had brought out some lovely graphic novels ‘as Gaeilge’ which were great, but about the myths and legends of Ireland. I had worked for a while for Lá an Irish language newspaper doing a cartoon panel gag in Irish for the newspaper, then I went to Canada and started reading more French language comics and some Dutch comics – despite my very bad Dutch and a little French. It seemed obvious to me that if I could read and laugh at comics in a foreign language with relative ease, if we had good comics in Irish, we could make the language more fun to read. We also have an abundance of illustrative talent in Ireland and I wanted to show off this talent in our own domestic comic book aimed at kids.
I approached Foras na Gaeilge with the idea – they wanted to see what we could do, so we did a sample issue (Rírá 0) featuring Bob Byrne, Declan Shalvey, a silent strip from Dab (Tony & Alberto), a strip from John Cullen and Mike Lynch and a cover from myself. After this Foras na Gaeilge introduced me to Gabriel Rosenstock to help us with the Irish and from there we published Rírá 1, our first issue.
The talent involved with Rírá features people living in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland new and experienced. Our current line up features work from Alan Nolan (Obrien Press graphic novelist), Davy Francis (Oink and several others), Philip Barret (Where’s Larry book with Obrien Press), Alan Ryan (web comic artist), Alma Ryan (web comic artist), Fintan Taite (illustrator for several publications in Ireland including the Irish Times, In Business Magazine, etc.), Maeve Clancy (English Garden Magazine, Tall Ships 2012, Lisa Hannigan videos, etc.), Elida Maiques (comic artist and illustrator) and Stephen Downey (Torchwood comic, League of Volunteers comic and other comic projects as well as an app developer).
The editorial team are Gabriel Rosenstock (author in Irish and translator for several publishing companies) and the designer is Muireann Lalor (who in the past worked for Irish Times, Heatons and other companies). I’m the editor – I’ve been an illustrator for the Evening Echo, Irish Times, and others, as well as a writer.”
The format of the hard copy edition is A5 with 25 pages of comic strips and a dictionary on the back cover. Every comic is extremely bright and colourful and immediately inviting to children.
Aidan explained, “The stories range from five pages down to just one page. There is no real theme – the only thing we ask is that the stories are fun. They don’t have to be hilarious, can be anything from a tiny adventure tale to a strip with only a few words – in fact some are silent, providing a visual gag . Most of the strips are original creations – Gabriel translates the stories as well as proofs the strips when they’ve been lettered. We then put the comic together for print.”
The move from illustrator to editor is a big one, and we were curious to know how Aidan had found it: “It’s fun. I am constantly seeing stuff or people that could potentially be in Rírá. I feel my main role is finding new talent, as well showcasing the talent we have, as they have been brilliant for Rírá. I was doing workshops for kids in libraries in County Clare a few years ago and one of the kids in the workshop was really great at comics – in fact, she did her own manga online. One strip in particular was good enough, I felt, for publishing, so we did. That was fun. As editor I have to look at content that will excite kids to read Irish and have a laugh with the language. It is essential we produce a good product that has a high production feel to it too. I have a great team which includes Muireann Lalor, our graphic designer. I pull everyone together, make sure deadlines are met, give suggestions and sometimes contribute illustration work where needed. We are all about making the Irish language fun and easy to dip into.”
Rírá has had a great reaction both at home and abroad. Aidan revealed, “We have sold comics to people in Belgium, Croatia, Brazil, and Italy Outside of Ireland the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA have taken Rírá, but it’s always fun to see sales in countries you wouldn’t normally associate with Irish.”
But the comics aren’t just for those who speak Irish, Aidan told us, “I have noticed from going to comic conventions in Ireland and going to other things, that people approach us at a table and the first thing they say is ‘I don’t have any Irish.’ I normally say that’s no problem at all, have a look it’s meant to be fun. There’s no pressure. Usually, they are surprised with it and that they understand a lot more than they realised they could.”
The comics have been well received in schools too, “Some teachers here have taken the comic into their schools and told me that the kids have a great laugh with it. We are just building up our presence – we are a small operation at the moment. We have brought out one comic a year for the last few years, but our aim is to be out 4 – 6 times a year. Issue 5 should be out in March. We are also bringing out a book for younger readers early next year.”
Rírá 4 costs just €2.95 and you can get it at your newsagent or buy online here. If you have an iPad, iPhone or iPad you can also get Rírá on iBookstore as well as on Amazon for Kindle Fire. Rírá 3 and 4 are available from Graphicly. Aidan told us, “If you want to get an idea of the comic, you can at Graphicly. If you click on the cover and click on view mode you should be able to see the first five pages free. Anyone should be able to order Rírá 4 from their newsagents. The barcode is 977200925200104. The ISSN is 2009-2520 and it is available for newsagents to order from eM News Distribution.”
An ideal stocking filler, anything that makes the Irish language fun and accessible for the next generation has to be a good thing, and Rírá certainly does that.