Interview with Fergal McCarthy – 1916: A Country is Born – A Cartoon History of the Easter Rising


1916: A Country is Born – A Cartoon History of the Easter Rising

Irish Artist Fergal McCarthy is known for large scale public art projects. Recently he made a comic series called ‘1916: A Country is Born – A Cartoon History of the Easter Rising’. We had the chance to interview Fergal in relation to this work and his other projects. You can see the results below. Find out more about Fergal on his website here.

At The Little Museum of Dublin – until April 24, 2016

Have you always loved comics/ graphic novels?

I definitely admire the format of a graphic novel, I think Maus may have been the first one I read which was a good one to start with and I recently finished Alison Bechdel’s extraordinary Fun Home. However I’m not sure if my book about the 1916 Easter Rising is a graphic novel, it’s more a collection of drawings with text. I don’t think I would have the stamina to complete a proper graphic novel, each page often has several individual drawings and I’m impressed by anyone that can sustain that level of output over a book of one hundred pages or more.

Fergal McCarthy

As an artist, you are more associated with large scale public installations, have you always been drawing and writing as well?

I was a painter for many years and my drawings have always had a humorous, slightly absurdist edge. Public art projects are incredibly long winded and involve months of planning and form filling. Drawing is the perfect antidote to the snail’s pace of large scale interventions as the work is instantly gratifying and I have total greater control over the process. I write for several newspapers and magazines intermittently mostly about art and travel.

1916 A Country is Born

How did this work come about? Was it something you started out doing yourself or were you approached?

The Little Museum of Dublin commissioned me to make this book and exhibition. The 1916 Easter Rising is an enormously dense period of history and it was a real challenge to distil the story to its essence and then try to convey these seminal events in an engaging manner that people of all ages and interest levels could access. I did become totally obsessed by Pearse and Markievicz and the events that led to the Easter Rising, it’s an utterly fascinating period in Ireland’s history.

In many countries, comics are treated with the same respect as any other art form. Why do you think Ireland treats them as if they’re just for children?

I guess Ireland has such a literary pedigree, to this day we seem to provide the perfect breeding ground for authors and maybe it’s difficult for us to afford the same respect to comics. Historically we haven’t been a wealthy nation but we have always had words, those words have taken the form of poems, plays and novels. Perhaps comics are more of an urban art form and Ireland until recently was relatively rural in its outlook .

A Cartoon History of the Easter Rising

Is the aim to let people learn about the Rising in a fun way?

I hope so! I have always found the Rising to be such a political hot potato, it carries a lot of baggage and I wanted to divest it of that by introducing a playful, slightly wry thrust. It’s also a very complicated story and I really wanted to streamline the narrative into something relatively simple.

The Rising is a topic many people treat in a reverential way. What reactions have you got from the work?

Thankfully I have only heard from people who have reacted positively to the work. I think the great thing about this centenary is that much of the reverence for the Rising seems to have been replaced with a more open minded curiosity, we want to hear about the neglected voices of the Rising.

Are you working on any other projects? When can we expect to see you next?

I am working on a project about the river Barrow which will be shown at Visual, a museum in Carlow this summer.


1916 A Country is Born, A Cartoon History of the Easter Rising

Categories: Art, Comics, Header, interview

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