I was asked a few questions a few years ago by someone I was working with in a bookshop in Canada. He looked at me like I was a little mad in the head. I was in Chapters on John Street (I was informed about a week or so ago it is no longer there) in Toronto. The questions went along the lines of: ‘Why would you want to do Irish language comics? Who would read them? Why bother? What’s the point?’
I looked at him. He was not Canadian. He was Irish like me. I said something along the lines of: ‘Why not?’
I used more words than that. I explained I bought French comics from two places that resided on Bloor Street as well as Queens Street. I found it amazing with my mediocre French I could laugh at jokes or gain understanding of the nuances of a story through the medium of comics. I mentioned, how when I was a kid lots of people read comics and learned how to read through them. I also talked to him about the medium of comics, literacy and language.
I had explained when I got back to Ireland that I would like to do comics in Irish. We were both backpacking, happened to work together and we had talked about what we wanted to do when we came back. I told him of an idea I had back in art-college when my friends and I were discussing how we should do comics together. After much talking about what we would do (each person wanted their own story told), I had suggested we do four pages or so each and we do it all in Irish. I was saying all this and I could see his eyes glaze over while he was kind of shaking his head with that expression I saw anytime I suggested it before. It was the same look I got when I suggested it to the group in art-college. The expression was ‘you’re mad.’
I had worked as a cartoonist on and off since 1999 (I rang the wrong newspaper and got a meeting with an editor in the Evening Echo in Cork). I dabbled in various subject areas. When the Irish language newspaper Lá started, I pitched an idea to them. The idea germinated into a panel that was like a Far Side cartoon as Gaeilge. I wasn’t confident in my Irish then but I wanted to work in Irish. I did it and it was, I think, on the Wednesday edition cover of the newspaper. I was happy. I wanted to see comics or cartoons in Irish. Cló Mhaigh Eo came about after the talk with my art-college buddies and published a couple of Irish language graphic novels and I had a faint memory of buying Clann Disney (Irish language Disney comic) as a kid. Between that and laughing till milk ran down my nose while eating Corn Flakes at lunchtime as I watched Spongebob Squarepants on TG4 I thought, I cannot be the only one. I can’t be the only one looking for Irish language comic reading material.
So when I came back from Canada I approached Foras na Gaeilge with a bag full of comics in Dutch, Spanish and French. I explained that we have talented folk living in Ireland who all make comics in Britain, the United States and Europe. I explained about the numbers of people who read comics in Europe. I explained how Finland sells 300,000 Donald Duck comics (1,000,000 readers) a week and got an award for helping bolster the Finnish language. I got that expression ‘you’re mad’ again but it was a little different to be honest. There was a lot of nodding involved. From that meeting came Rírá and Coimicí Gael became our company.
I used to say Coimicí Gael just publishes comics in Irish but that isn’t strictly true. It has grown, slowly mind you, but it has grown into a collective of artists and writers with help from Foras na Gaeilge. I teach kids how to draw cartoons as well as make comics in Irish and bilingually around the country (perhaps in the next year in Irish elsewhere) as Coimicí Gael. It has become a gathering of likeminded individuals where they all get to flex their creative muscles in Ireland, in some shape or form, through Irish. It is about highlighting talent and our own native Gaelic language.
It has been interesting to see kids say they get the stories and adults too. They understand it and are drawn to it. We are a visual species. We are magpies. We crave imagery. Once drawn to an image then, we demand to be entertained or rewarded. That is what comics is about, rewarding the reader for staying. It is in the storytelling. No matter what language you tell the story in, the satisfaction people get from ‘getting it,’ even if their grasp of a language is finite, is addictive to them. That satisfaction is rewarding. That is why comics is a wonderful medium.
We have so many talented people in Ireland. We have so many people who don’t realise how talented they are. I’ve seen it in workshops. Kids who are afraid to draw a circle because they think their pencil will explode. Then half an hour later they are trying because the fear might be still there but they are not afraid to make a mistake. I’ve seen kids who fear our language but twenty minutes later are laughing and using their cúpla focail. The amount of latent Irish people have is staggering. When kids make comics they want to use it, even if it’s just a word or two.
We have published our new book Ruaille Buaille. People like Bob Byrne, Sarah Bowie, Fintan Taite, Maeve Clancy, Philip Barrett, Stephen Downey, Alan Nolan, Alan Ryan, Mike Lynch, Steve Austin, Dee Cunniffe, Muireann Lalor and Gabriel Rosenstock all helped make Ruaille Buaille what it is. Here’s an excerpt to tempt you…
To be honest the contributions over the years have been amazing. We have had about 30 creators contribute from ages of 16 upwards to Coimicí Gael through Rírá and Ruaille Buaille. Each person that has contributed has made such a positive impact on the books. We had to figure out how to do sound effects very early on. People who would love to pun in English had to think about how to pun in Irish. When looking for stories the creators have been just given scope to use whatever imagination they have. All they have to bear in mind that the work is aimed at kids between 8 and 14 years of age. This has manifested in odd but brilliant tales. Gabriel Rosenstock has been a wonderful guiding light in the work too helping to keep us all up to standard.
Our cover for Ruaille Buaille was done by Bob Byrne and all I said to Bob was go to a little bonkers. Bob did what he does best and gave us a fantastic piece of work. It just gives the verve that all the contibutors have given to Ruaille Buaille and is just so full of life.
Ruaille Buaille is kind of a cross between a Dandy Annual and in the format of a European comic book like Asterix. It is a collection of short stories through comics done by some of the best (in my opinion) comic talent in Ireland. We have it being distributed to bookshops all over the country as we are distributing it via book distributors. We are selling it ourselves through www.coimicigael.bigcartel.com but you can buy it from shops like Forbidden Planet Dublin, Ennis Bookshop in County Clare, www.litriocht.com, www.siopa.ie and other bookshops in around the country. People can order it through their bookshop too as the supplier Áis is distributing it for us currently. So it’s all go at the moment. We will have another edition of Ruaille Buaille out next year too.
People have stopped looking at me like I am mad, now it’s only half mad.
Ruaille Buaille is 40 pages of images by Bob Byrne, Alan Ryan and Maeve Clancy and costs just €8.00!
(c) Aidan Courtney