History: It’s Just One Thing After Another!
Some of the most fondly remembered comics of the 1960s, 1970s and beyond were the beautifully illustrated, educational magazines aimed at children. Look and Learn, World of Wonder and Treasure introduced kids to history, science, and literature, and more importantly encouraged parents, put off by the bad reputation of comics, to let their little darlings read the horrible things.
Where these comics succeeded best, was where they mixed the education with fun. So, Look and Learn had The Trigan Empire and Treasure had Robin Hood, adventure stories that kept the kids coming back for more and maybe, just maybe, persuaded them to read the educational stuff too.
Today that won’t do. There are so many other distractions that the “fun” needs to be totally integrated with the education. John Farrelly, a cartoonist from Newry in Northern Ireland, clearly understands this, and his second outing in his Deadly Irish History series, The Celts, published by O’Brien Press, mixes history with comedy in just the right way to keep the little blighters (kids) amused while he stealth-educates them.
At just over 140 standard paperback sized pages, The Celts is a substantial read, offering a skilful mixture of facts, terrible jokes and activities, plus a few full pages of comics. Comparisons to Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books are inevitable, but John takes a different tack. His target audience is probably slightly older, there is more text and detail in his books, and they invite readers to think about being a Celt or a Viking, as opposed to laughing at their misfortunes.
John is an excellent comic artist, and his skill at merging words and pictures shows through. The illustrations in this and the previous volume, The Vikings (reviewed here), are not mere additions to the text, but work together to become an integral part of the book in a way that adds further to the reading experience.
Contents this time range from instructions to make models of Celtic Roundhouses, through recipes for various Celtic dishes to a guide to making and playing, a traditional Celtic boardgame. With sections on the origins, the mythology and the everyday life of the Celts, and with a specific nod towards their impact on modern-day Irish culture, these are perfect books for inquisitive kids and may well serve as an impetus towards an interest in History, doing the same job that Look and Learn, World of Wonder and Treasure did for kids in the past.
But for readers of downthetubes, it may well be the single episode of Roundhousers, a Celtic comic-strip soap-opera, that comes towards the end of the book, that will be the highlight. Beautifully drawn, funny, and filled with character, I can’t help wondering if more could be done with what looks like a distinctly Irish cousin of Asterix the Gaul.
Overall, John Farrelly, has produced an excellent second entry into this series, demonstrating his skill with both words and pictures. For children with an interest in History, this would be a perfect gift, for others it may well spark that interest. In the hands of John Farrelly, History is not simply a list of dates to be remembered, it is much, much more than that.
We can only hope that there is more to come.
• Deadly Irish History: The Celts by John Farrelly is available now from all good book shops and here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)