1 out of 5
I gave a presentation back in my high school days on the history of comics. This was pre-everything’s on the web days, so I was doing library research, but that’s not much of an excuse for the shit job I did: I read Turtles comics and Spider-Man, and I knew who Will Eisner was, and I’m pretty sure I left out everything inbetween. But even with the pithy amount of stuff I presented, it wasn’t convincing: I was just listing a series of events, and not really giving causal links between anything.
Rory McConville’s historical graphic novel concerning Jim Larkin – Big Jim – and the labor strikes of 1913 in Ireland, is not pithy with its info, but it unfortunately does remind me of my presentation in that it’s just a list of things: of this happening, and this happening, and this happening. We’re not given any sense of who Larkin was beyond soundbytes, and while the back of the book tells me that the contents depict a major moment in Irish history, I have no ties to that (McConville is Irish; I’m a sheltered American dude), and I can’t tell you much about its importance after reading the thing. Worse, Larkin presumably is supposed to come across as an important figure, but he comes across as something of a dullard, and the money-grubbing employers stamping down on the unions, while maybe not out for the greater good, are similarly bland. Lacking the aforementioned sense of cause and effect, McConville’s pacing of events is also not very involving: we move from one side to another and from character to character without much reasons; again, it is just a list of things that happened – hitting on required points.
On the art front, Paddy Lynch was likely not a good match for this. While it’s not fair to necessarily call art “bad,” a story that has a larger cast, dressed in often similar garb, and due to the lack of flow, would likely benefit from being able to understand the context of a panel at a glance – identify the characters, recognize a location – Lynch’s loose, sloppy style does not provide that type of detail or solidity. It’s hard to figure out if we’re looking at the same person from page to page, and the occasional use of photo material as backgrounds also does not sync well with Lynch’s look. I mention the quality of the art above because it’s relative: this could work in a more DIY-style indie tale, but a historical recitation of facts is a very odd match.
While surely well-intentioned, Big Jim rather fails as a piece of edutainment, but also as a source of information, especially for those of us unfamiliar with the history that’s intended to be covered.