12th July 1915 will see the centenary of the final attempt by Allied Forces to take the ‘strategically important’ hill of Achi Baba, a critical cornerstone in the Gallipoli Campaign’s objective to advance into Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire. Like so much of the controversial campaign, it was a failure.
Now, Magic Torch, an arts and heritage group from Inverclyde, have been supported by Heritage Lottery Fund to research and create a new graphic novel, Achi Baba written by Paul Bristow and drawn by Andy Lee. Aimed at aimed at those aged 14 years and older, it explores the story of the Gallipoli campaign and the involvement of the area’s own 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The graphic novel will be launched tomorrow at Dutch Gable House in Greenock and also at the Glasgow Comic Con on Sunday.
Magic Torch firmly believe that comics have a vital role to play in developing literacy, encouraging creativity and inspiring reading confidence, particularly with more reluctant readers. (A belief espoused with gusto by Neill Cameron in a series of articles cross posted on downthetubes last year).
Over the last two years they have developed a model for creating comics with schools, with pupils designing their own individual characters, stories and comics.
“Obviously the most well know aspect of the Gallipoli campaign is the role of the Anzacs, and that whole sense of national identity which almost grew out of that,” notes project volunteer, Ross Ahlfeld. “But of course there were troops from many countries fighting and dying on the peninsula, and we wanted to explore that too.”
Colin McLean, Head of HLF Scotland, said “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching every corner of the UK. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already invested more than £60million in projects – large and small – that are marking this global Centenary; with our small grants programme, we are enabling even more communities like those involved in the Achi Baba project, to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help local young people in particular to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”
Rather than directly retell the story of the campaign, the book uses contemporary documents to tell the story from a range of perspectives, and includes poetry, military records, letters home, memoirs and propaganda.
“Normally our projects focus on myths and legends, or the importance of storytelling,” says writer Paul Bristow. “With this project, we were really struck by how, even at the time, the whole effort was associated with The Iliad – turning it into this heroic epic.
“There’s an immediate and obvious contrast with the much less romantic reality of life and war on the peninsula. We have all these contrasting views and voices, and comics are a really effective medium for blending that together.”
Achi Baba is the group’s fourth graphic novel, using comics to explore heritage within their community. In 2012, they worked with the Identity project to create the character of the Archivist for the graphic novel The Archivists Treasure, and also contributed a few folktales to the collection. In 2013, they released their first collection Tales of the Oak, which featured the debut of character Sir Glen Douglas Rhodes, Victorian Adventurer.
2014 saw them release a reprint of a classic Thriller Picture Library featuring Captain Kidd (which you can buy here) and produce a Tales of the Oak Christmas Special and Mr Cube Strikes comic inspired by the Absent Voices project.
Magic Torch are currently fundraising for the next, based on the life and myth of Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd. As part of their projects, Magic Torch have also run classes in local schools to encourage younger audiences to read and create comics.
“A critical thing for us was to try and communicate a piece of history which is actually very complex politically and socially, in a way that could make sense to new audiences,” reveals artist Andy Lee explaining why this has been a particularly effective approach with the Achi Baba graphic novel. “It’s really important to sometimes give people a ‘way in’ to history and heritage on their terms, which can maybe spark that interest in exploring further.”
• Achi Baba will be available from Magic Torch during Glasgow Comic Con. An exhibition of the artwork takes place at The Dutch Gable House in Greenock on Saturday 11 July from 10 – 2, with free copies of the book available on the day. Magic Torch hope to make the exhibition available to other interested venues.
• A digital version of the book will be available to read for free online from Sunday 12 July via www. talesoftheoak.co.uk
• You can also follow the Achi Baba project on Twitter @AuldDunrod