Today I have the privilege of sharing with you an interview I recently conducted with cartoonist and graphic-novel author and artist John A. Walsh. His webcomic Go Home Paddy, about an Irish family emigrating to America, is updated twice a week.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? How long have you been drawing? What comics artists and writers influence your drawing? Who do you like to read? What's your favorite graphic novel so far this year?
Well, currently my wife Rachel and I live in Boston where I'm also the the Editorial Cartoonist at The South End News, but I was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut and am the last of my parents’ five boys. The experience of being the youngest in a large Irish family can be summed up with one word: STORIES. Everyday was a new story. I've been drawing since I was very little and my mother often remarked that settling down to draw was the only thing that got me to stop running around and jumping off the furniture. So I guess it was only natural that I would become a storyteller through my art.
While in grammar school, I became completely mesmerized by the works of Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli. They opened up an entire world of storytelling for me that I'm still in love with today. These days I've been particularly impressed by Cyril Pedrosa's Three Shadows, Emmanuel Guibert's Alan's Warand of course, Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp. There have been so many excellent graphic novels of late, but I guess my favorite that I've read this year has either been Ball Peen Hammer by Adam Rapp and George O'Connor or A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld.
2.What would you like a newcomer to the graphic novel form to know about it?
Graphic Novels are a VERY unique art form that tell a story through sequential art; or a combination of words and pictures. Any genre of story can be told in a graphic novel, but much like regular novels, each creator brings his own style of writing/art to the page. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen and Will Eisner's classic A Contract with Godare great examples of just what can be done in graphic novels.
3.What inspired you to write GO HOME PADDY? The Irish are pretty well assimilated into American life; why is their story still topical?
I first thought about creating a story dealing with the hatred and bigotry that the Irish faced when they came to America back in January 2003. I was in a Irish bar back home in the Bridgeport, Connecticut area and the bartender was an old school Mick who was lamenting the then current state of the city of Bridgeport. The bartender told tales of the Irish playing a large part in Bridgeport’s glory days. And then this crotchety old Irish-American bartender decided to not only blame Bridgeport’s problems on a certain minority group, but he also used a particularly offensive racial slur to describe this minority group. And I thought, “Why the Hell does he think it’s okay to say this to me?!?”
Later that day, I thought about current Irish-Americans either forgetting the troubles of their own people, or flat out NOT knowing their own history at all! And so while wanting GO HOME PADDY to be a great story, it was also conceived as a response to those that have forgotten their people's experience of suffering, struggling, and intolerance.
I think that the Irish story is topical for a number of reasons. First off, BECAUSE the Irish as a whole are so assimilated I think it's educational for many of them to be reminded of, or learn for the first time, some pretty horrific aspects of their own history. Also, I think that the Irish are a prime example of the idea that ANY GROUP can eventually become an integral part of the fabric of America. I think that there are many paralells between the Irish-American story and some of the vitrol currently being directed towards Hispanics. Also, in many ways, the Irish story is the "universal" story: immigrants suffer horribly in their own country, they undertake a perilous journey to a new land, they encounter bigotry or even racism, they work themselves to the bone and they eventually become one of us.
4.For readers who haven't yet visited your site, can you talk a little about why you chose the Victorian simian stereotype to represent the Irish? What other kinds of portrayals are out there?
The Victorian simian stereotype of the Irish was a shameful way to brand the Irish as a "lower" race. In fact, the stereotype was used in much the same way as the visual stereotypes of Africans were: these people were to be considered animalistic, dumb, violent and crude. I'm using the simian stereotype as a way to portray just how despised the Irish were by both the English and the Nativists in America. Most people are used to the lovable image of Leprechauns (Lucky Charms and Notre Dame's mascot) or even the Barry Fitzgerald's boozy Michaleen Og Flynn from the Quite Man, but 150 years ago the Irish were considered a true threat to the American way of life.
5.What kinds of responses have you received to GO HOME PADDY? Has it hit a nerve for any of your readers? Why?
The response to GO HOME PADDY has been fantastic. I've not only received emails from regular readers who love the story, but publishers have begun to come around as well. Many of my readers tell me that they are learning things that they never knew and some are just thrilled to see this aspect of Irish history and culture explored. I've been able to gather readers from multiple countries and their positive reactions to GO HOME PADDY have made me feel like a million bucks!
6. Where is the story going? Is there hope on the horizon?
Right now the story is approaching the end of Chapter Two, which has dealt with Paddy crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a "Coffin Ship". It's safe to say that things will get worse before they get better, but Hope will finally appear in Chapter Three, when Paddy begins to experience the New World in Boston.