Fresh from self-publishing his brilliant, Beans and Tucker comic, Northern Ireland writer and artist John Farrelly has seen the third in his “Deadly Irish History” books published by O’Brien Press.
Aimed at the 9+ age group, it’s the same mixture of lavishly illustrated history and comedy as the two predecessors in the series, which dealt with the impact of Celts and Vikings on the emerald isle.
John’s books have become so well regarded that a special mini book, Deadly Irish History: Fun with The Celts and The Vikings, was one of the Irish selections for World Book Day 2022 – and is currently moving up the Irish best seller lists.
Comparisons with other, more horrible, historical series for kids are inevitable, but John’s books, while ploughing a similar furrow, are different in both tone and execution. The emphasis on Ireland is a part of that difference, but more important is the clear and distinct voice that John brings to his books. He’s a natural storyteller, and every word seems to come with a glint in the eye and a mischievous smile.
The series more than earns its educational credentials, containing all of the detailed information about life in Norman Ireland that kids would normally be certain to forget within minutes of leaving History class. But John’s delivery achieves such a delicate balance between education and the type of humour that delights kids of a certain age that young readers will want to read on, never noticing that they are learning. You never know, the books might just lead to a growing interest in a subject that is often, unfairly, seen as being dry and dull.
This isn’t one of those, History is just “one thing after another” books that list names of kings and their dates, it’s an exploration of everyday life and the impact the coming of the Normans had on jobs, schooling and the landscape of the Island and he even manages to get a fart joke in there.
The addition of craft pages, where readers are invited to create their own coat of arms, model castle, or slightly more worryingly, crossbow (it is made of cardboard) invites readers to get involved and I can see school projects galore coming out of these pages.
More importantly for the readers of this site, are the superb illustrations and short comic strips. Anyone who has seen John’s work in Splank!, Sector 13, Zarjaz or his own Beans and Tucker comic, will know his artwork has a look all its own, one that lies somewhere between the typical action and humour styles seen in comics from these islands. But he may just have found his forte with this series.
The short comic strip, ‘Seamus the Sinister Swordsman’ might be the highlight of the books for most comic fans, but for me the excellent cutaway of a Norman castle brought back memories of similar pages from old copies of Look and Learn.
Overall, ‘The Normans’ is the best of what has been an excellent series. John seems to be relaxing into his role as a children’s writer with each subsequent volume. This is a great book for kids of the right age and John’s superb art and a comic delivery, this is a volume that will delight comic fans of any age.
• Deadly Irish History: The Normans, along with the other two books in the series are available from all good bookshops now | ISBN 978-1788492874 | Buy it from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link) | Check out all of John’s books on AmazonUK
Peter Duncan is editor of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine and Splank! – an anthology of strips inspired by the Odhams titles, Wham!, Smash! and Pow! He’s also writer of Cthulhu Kids. Full details of his comics activities can be found at www.boxofrainmag.co.uk