The Trial of Roger Casement

Published by Self Made Hero, 2016
In her debut graphic novel, Fionnuala Doran’s The Trial of Roger Casement examines the last 18 months in the life of (the former) Sir Roger Casement, who was hung for treason in 1916 after the failed Irish Easter Rising.

 Casement rose to prominence from a civil servant of the British Empire to expose the grotesque human rights abuses committed by the regime of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo Free State. His 1904 report to Parliament was the first expose published from within an institution of European colonial power to detail the brutality and horror that was being inflicted for profit in the aftermath of Europe’s Scramble for Africa. His first-hand reporting showed the hollowness and hypocrisy of European colonial expansion and capitalist exploitation, the legacy of which still resonates today.

Casement’s work with exploited people in the Congo and Peru radicalised him against imperialism, at home and abroad. He returned to Ireland to join the campaign for Home Rule and, when that became frustrated by political manoeuvering not dissimilar to contemporary British politics, he began to work on what would become the 1916 Easter Rising alongside other seminal figures of Irish and socialist history such as Countess Markievicz and James Connolly.

Among these Irish revolutionaries, Casement was also an outsider.

He did not believe in pressing ahead with the Easter Rising plans, knowing that the rebels were outnumbered and outgunned compared to the British army. He argued passionately against the loss of lives that action would cause. Casement was also a gay man who had multiple intimate and sexual relationships at a time of public revulsion against homosexuality. His trial for treason and hanging were a direct consequence of his sexual identity. A gay man was not seen as worthy of a military tribunal and execution by firing squad. While the bodies of the other 1916 Rising leaders were returned to their families, Casement’s was thrown into a lime pit outside Pentonville Prison.

The diaries he kept chronicling his sex-partners and gay cruising were circulated to his former friends and allies, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, who might otherwise have pleaded for clemency. His public outing caused him to be written out of both Irish and British history, and even today he is a problematic figure, refusing to fit into any pre-defined conceptions of masculinity and heroism often applied to early 20th Century narratives.

Casement’s life touches on issues still relevant today: European exploitation, the inner and outer lives of individuals, the right to demand a society for all, and the quixotic dream of freedom.

It combines fiction and non-fiction in parallel to how Casement recorded his own life in his journals; split between his ‘white’ diaries (intended for publication) and his private, intimate ‘black’ diaries. The Trial of Roger Casement does not simply replay the known facts (as much as they can be known) of his last years. The graphic novel explores our inability to truly know the inner life of another person (or oneself).

The comic form is apt for exploring the different layers of personhood. At one level, the inner life as perceived by others (such as a biographer); at another, the observable outer life; another, the inner life as perceived by oneself (in a diary); and another again- the actual, lived experience of one’s own life.

The book explores these dualities through what is drawn and how it is drawn. The same sentence can be said by the same (named) person, but when coming from a figure drawn in two different ways the effect of those words will be different.

The Trial of Roger Casement is as much about the failure of biography as it is a biography

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We Shall Fight Until We Win

A graphic anthology, feat. Sabeena Akhtar, Hannah Berry, Jenny Bloomfield, Kathryn Briggs, Wei Ming Kam, Shazleen Khan, Charlot Kristensen, Denise Mina, Durre Shahwar and Grace Wilson

For the anthology We Shall Fight Until We Win, UK-based writers, illustrators and comic creators were chosen by BHP Comics and 404 Ink to tell the stories of some of the most inspiring and overlooked women of the last century. Doran’s contribution tells the stories of Jessica Mitford and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Jessica Mitford was one of the most influential investigative journalists of 20th Century America and one of Britain’s most scandalous aristocrats. Mitford ran away from her family to fight with the Republicans side in the Spanish Civil War, working as a reporter, while her sisters Diana and Unity organised for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and socialised with Hitler and Goebbels. Mitford rebelled against a British upper-class that denied women education and autonomy. Moving to America after the Republican defeat, she became a civil rights activist, filing reports on the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King for publications such as Esquire and The Atlantic. Her 1963 book, The American Way of Death, exposed the predatory selling practices of the American funeral industry. In 1969 Bernadette Devlin became the youngest female MP at the age of 21, winning the Northern Irish Mid-Ulster seat on a socialist ‘Unity’ ticket. A passionate activist for civil rights in the then gerrymandered and oppressive police-state of Northern Ireland, she co-founded the People’s Democracy organisation while a student at Queens University. In 1972 Devlin participated in the anti-internment march which became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, after British soldiers shot 28 marchers, killing 14. She travelled to London to attend Parliament as an MP and attest to what she had witnessed, and to dispute the government’s version of events, the next day. Her chapter in WSFUWW focuses on that day, which became infamous for Devlin slapping the then-Home Secretary when she was denied the chance to speak as an eye-witness to events. Devlin is a hugely important and (like Mitford) often overlooked figure in post-partition Irish politics. In a time when Brexit casts a new light on the complexities of Northern Irish history and politics, her voice is a much needed alternative perspective on a complex province.
“404 Ink and BHP Comics have teamed up to bring you WE SHALL FIGHT UNTIL WE WIN, a graphic novel celebrating a century since the first wave of women gained the right to vote in the UK, and the many pioneering women who are part of the ongoing fight since 1918.

The anthology takes women from each decade in the last 100 years and tells their stories in colourful, illustrated snapshots – some stories are well known, some less so – all worthy of note. We wanted to create a reminder of how far women’s rights have come over a century and, conversely, where we have left to go.

We’re looking back to the women who shaped our current climate or trail-blazed. From suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Sophia Duleep Singh, through the defining ‘firsts’ in politics like Nancy Astor, the first female member of Parliament, and Diane Abbott, the first black woman to hold a seat in the House of Commons, to many of the women campaigning and heading up politics today, this graphic novel brings together a mix of creators across the UK to illustrate the numerous stories from the last century.”

- Buy We Shall Fight Until We Win from 404Ink’s website.


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