If you’re a reader of The Big Issue, then you’ll know the latest edition, available from street vendors now, features a comic strip telling the moving story of one of them, adapted by the team who brought us the brilliant, award-winning but harrowing graphic novel of two migrants deadly journey from Africa to Europe, ILLEGAL.
I caught up with co-writer Andrew Donkin to ask him about this special project – and he teased me with some great news about another graphic novel he’s working on that I was delighted to hear about…
Rae McKinlay used to sell The Big Issue in Glasgow. It was an experience that changed everything and still has an enormous impact on her life today. To do her tale justice, The Big Issue asked Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books, to adapt it into a mini-graphic novel, working with writer Andrew Donkin, artist Giovanni Rigano and letterer Chris Dickey.
They have done a terrific job, as you’d expect from the team behind ILLEGAL, lifelong comic fans Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s first original graphic novel together, after previously collaborating on adapting five very successful graphic novel adaptations of Colfer’s books.
When Andrew dropped me a line to tell me about this latest project, I fired back some questions to find out more about its origins. “Rae’s Story” offers the same kind of moving resonance as his and Eoin’s powerful tale of Ebo and Kwame and their tortuous journey from North Africa to seek a new life in Europe…. delivering a strip for The Big Issue that the feeling that makes you realise just how easily anyone can slip through the cracks of what we consider “normal life”.
It’s a troubling story, but a positive, inspiring one, too, and I hope it helps promote the work of The Big Issue and other support agencies trying to alleviate the homelessness situation in the UK.
Andrew Donkin, who I have known since his earliest days as a comic writer, is the author of over 60 books and graphic novels for children and adults.
His books have been translated into 30 languages around the world and have sold over eight million copies in the last decade, and includes the adaptation of several Artemis Fowl books into full length graphic novels for Hyperion, and Eoin’s The Supernaturalist. His work in comics includes Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight for DC Comics, 2000AD, and Doctor Who.
Are you a The Big Issue reader?
Andrew: Yes, I often buy The Big Issue and living in London unless you walk around with your eyes wide shut, you can’t help but notice the huge increase in people sleeping rough in the last few years. It’s gone right back to the bad old days of long ago.
What were your aims creating this strip?
Andrew: We had a piece of comics journalism at the back of our graphic novel, ILLEGAL, and we wanted to do more. Comics are such a brilliant medium and they are (in my view) underused in this genre.
We were delighted that The Big Issue features editor, Steven, invited us to tell one of their vendor’s stories as a comic. When I say invited, I mean we twisted his arm!
With the strip we wanted to put a human face on vendor and help Rae tell her own story. We wanted to show how The Big Issue really does help people and Rae is a brilliant example of that.
Were there particular challenges in writing such a strip?
Andrew: One of the biggest challenges in dealing with real world stuff is of course taking care to be as sensitive as you can with the material.
Our five page strip, “Rae’s Story”, tells the story of a real person who’s going to read the issue – as are her friends and family. It was great to speak to Rae as we wrote the strip and she was very supportive and very helpful.
What else are you working on?
Andrew: We’re starting work on the follow up to the ILLEGAL – but if I say much more than that I’ll have to kill you!
Andrew, thanks very much for the quick chat!
Please do buy a copy of the latest The Big Issue – the strip is a delight, plus this week sees the launch of the magazine’s exclusive Christmas wrapping paper collection designed by artists including Ben Eine and Charming Baker, available from the Big Issue Shop.
You’ll also hear from Paul, who sells The Big Issue outside Westminster and until recently slept in an underpass in Parliament Square. He talks about how politicians, distracted by Brexit, ignore the big issues literally under their noses… which is apt given the launch of the General Election campaigns this week.
If you’ve read my review of ILLEGAL, then as you can probably guess, I’m thrilled a sequel is now in the works. It’s one of my favourite British graphic novels and for others, too – it’s previously been named as Children’s Book of the Week in both The Times and in The Observer.
It’s been both nominated for, and won many awards, on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Judges’ Special Prize at Children’s Book Ireland Awards as well as being shortlisted for Children’s Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards.
• Giovanni Rigano is online at http://riganogiovanni.blogspot.co.uk
• Comics and Graphic Novels on Amazon UK (Affiliate Link)