Monday, September 23, 2013

"We supply Britain's economic wealth and get unemployment in return" Scotland: a Graphic History by Jeff Fallow

My youngest brother Matthew is much more fascinated with our family's Scottish roots than any other family member. In the three years since he moved to Scotland I've had the opportunity to visit him just once, but my own understanding of Scotland has been strengthened from Matthew's many Scot-themed gifts over the years - particularly books. Given my interests (and resume) Matthew reasoned this year's birthday present should be a copy of Jeff Fallow's Scotland: a Graphic History.

Reaching just 154 pages, it's important to note this book does not attempt to analyze Scottish culture - this is primarily a political history concerned with Scotland's tormented relationship with England over the centuries. "Scotland's identity has never been in question" states Fallow in the introduction, and thus the only references made to Robert Burns are those which touch upon how Burns' poetry was inspired by the struggle for independence. After opening with a quick summation of some famous Scottish inventions and inventors, the real narrative begins as Scottish history is rapidly broken down. The story is concerned with what the Scottish have been fighting for, not who the Scottish are.

It should be noted this book is not quite a graphic novel. It tells Scottish history through words and pictures, but not via sequential art - it's really a very sophisticated picture book. Although "sophisticated" would be a misnomer, since the black & white art is very basic, similar to the style Michael Kupperman uses in his deliberately-primitive Tales Designed to Thrizzle stories.

Being a political tome, the book seldom gets off its soapbox - never fear missing the Scottish perspective on English rule because it's underlined throughout. At times it's as polemical as anything Steve Ditko has penned (but not as fun to look at).

Although the early centuries move past quickly, recent Scottish history is described in much greater detail; for instance, Henry VIII's conquest of Scotland (described as "ensuring English military superiority once and for all") receives one page, while the thoroughly-loathed Margaret Thatcher receives four pages (John Major also takes a lot of hits); the last third of the book is little more than a collection of newspaper political cartoons. Unfortunately, the last third of the book was also apparently the least-proofread, given how one page appears twice (the second time in a rougher draft of the finished product) and another page appears in not-ready-for-print draft condition out-of-sequence a few pages later.

As a quick primer on Scottish history, it gets the job done, yes? It isn't as well-done as Canada at War or Action Philosophers, but as it's evidently the only book of it's kind, I don't see an alternative.

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