On 5 May, 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison (“The Maze”) , Bobby Sands became the first of ten men to die in a protest for political prisoner status.
Earlier this year, O’Brien Press published a graphic novel, written and illustrated by Gerry Hunt and coloured by Matt Griffin, detailing the life, struggle, and death of Sands, entitled “Bobby Sands; Freedom Fighter.”
I am in no way associated with O’Brien Press, or those involved in the creation of the book.
However, I did purchase it, despite the following; the book was condemned by the Sands family, on the grounds that it contained personal family matters and that they were not at any time consulted concerning it’s writing or publication.
It was also roundly condemned by Unionists on the grounds that graphic novels/comic books are often marketed towards children; unionists felt that the book set a bad example, glorified terrorism, and were also incensed that part of the funding for the book came through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland/National Lottery.
For anyone who doesn’t know the history behind this tragic story, it would be well worth your while to investigate it, however briefly; space limitations do not allow me to give full details.
After buying the book, and reading it many times, I decided to give a review.
Then I thought better of it; I already have my own opinions on the matter, and so I decided to employ a fresh pair of eyes, so to speak.
After months of careful consideration, I decided to let a young person read it, and give his opinions.
Do not try this at home.
This is not a book for young children unless they are extremely mature, and have sound parental guidance. When I asked my friend to read the book and review it, I repeatedly stated that he did not have to do so, and that if, at any time he felt disturbed or uncomfortable by it, that he was more than welcome to stop.
He wouldn’t. What follows is a brief, verbatim review; I asked some questions, my friend gave his honest answers. There was no prompting on my part, no opinions of my own given, no indoctrination of any sort.
“What did you think of the book?”
“I thought it was creepy and gross. Did this really happen?”
“I want to punch somebody right now. Can I punch you?”
“No, you may not. Would you care to elaborate on your opinion of the book? Did you like the artwork?”
“Not at first, but after awhile, I did. I didn’t like the killing, though.”
“Nobody likes the killing. Do you think these men were terrorists?”
“No. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell with all these British people in the way.”
“They’re mostly good people, you know.”
“I know. I can’t believe you won’t let me watch “The Walking Dead” and you let me read this.”
“Eh. Does this book make you want to be a terrorist?”
“Would you ever shoot a man?”
“No. Not unless he was trying to hurt me.”
“Would you ever go on hunger strike?”
“What? Really? ”
“If I had to make a point, yes. I would.”
Some might find my little “social experiment” despicable; I can understand that.
I did it for a valid reason.
I was six years old when Bobby Sands was the first of the hunger strikers to die.
News of his death, and the men that followed him into death, was on the radio and the television.
My father always had an opinion on everything, and was not afraid to share.
This time was different.
I kept asking him, over and over again, “Dad? What’s going on? What’s happening?”
He wouldn’t answer. Just kept chain smoking and staring at the television.
So I went to my mother. I vaguely remember her saying, “Jesus Christ, first my dad, then John Lennon, now this. Will this shit never cease?”
She had her back turned to me when she said this.
“Ma? What is this? What’s going on?”
She spun around and smiled and said, “Nothing. Nothing at all. Off to bed, now.”
It was at least two years before they explained something of the situation to me.
Kids have a way of finding out the truth about everything.
Especially things you think you’re trying to protect them from.
Better to give them guidance, different points of view, and discuss issues with them in an open and honest way.
Many thanks to Tom Elliot for making such a fuss over “Bobby Sands, Freedom Fighter.”
I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise.