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cabinet_room_1

The Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street – a panel-in-progress from Ben Dickson’s graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain which I’m illustrating.

This month marks the start – in earnest – of work on the graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain. The book has been written by Ben Dickson – whose latest graphic novel, A New Jerusalem, is out now. This project is only my second big graphic work  – the first being Something Different About Dad several  years ago. And with a script clocking in at about 200 pages, it’s certainly the longest work I’ve ever done on a historical or archaeological subject.

It’s a fascinating time-period and a gripping story. Ben’s script is a biography of Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister – from May 1937 to May 1940. But it’s also the story of Neville Chamberlain’s childhood, his political career, his marriage, his friends – and his rivals. Ben’s script challenges – as several other historians have done – the notion that Chamberlain was “a guilty man”, whose policy of appeasement was a thin disguise for cowardice. Instead, Ben paints a picture of a man who understood how unprepared Britain was for another war – not just economically and militarily, but psychologically.

It’s a story full of high drama, something which is overshadowed by our contemporary focus on the action of the war which we know is inevitable. When I first read Ben’s script I just couldn’t put it down: reading the story as a interplay of characters and situations, not just of dates and facts, brought home how tense and unpredictable this pre-war period actually was. It’s interesting how Ben’s Chamberlain comes across as someone who understands these complexities, and is willing to sacrifice his political reputation in order to steer the country on a safe course through them.

I’m going to be talking about the project at Laydeez do Comics in Leeds, this Monday evening – you’re all invited! (Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, LS2 7EQ, 6:30pm. Entry: £1.50 – no need to book. Wharf Chambers is wheelchair accessible). I’m going to talk about the book itself, and about how I’m approaching the artwork – specifically historical locations and people. And I’m also going to talk a bit about what it means to work collaboratively with an author, and what it means to work on such a large-scale project like this one.

Hopefully see you in Leeds on Monday evening!

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chamberlain_1This week, I begin in earnest on my big project for 2018-2019: illustrating a graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain, written by Ben Dickson – author of New Jerusalem (out now from Myriad).

It’s a biography which re-examines the role that Chamberlain’s policy of “appeasement” played in buying time for the UK to re-arm, and in convincing the United States to enter the war. Much of Ben’s position is based on revisionist histories which have looked more closely at the events leading up to World War II, and at his own analysis of his aims and objectives as Prime Minister.

The day may come when my much cursed visit to Munich will be understood. Neither we nor the French were prepared for war. I am not responsible for this lack of preparation…It would be rash to prophesy the verdict of history, but if full access is obtained to all the records it will be seen that I realized from the beginning our military weakness and did my best to postpone if I could not avert the war.

It is all too easy to judge people with the benefit of hindsight. For us, World War II is a fact of history – for Chamberlain, it was only a possibility, and one that he had a chance to avoid. He appears to be a far more complex historical character than the “Guilty Man” he was painted during and immediately after the war. Ben’s script shows him as someone grappling with a country still traumatised by the consequences of the Great War, and ill-prepared – and ill-equipped – to engage in another. In many ways, the script demonstrates Chamberlain’s understanding of the coming 1939-45 war as “The World War – Part II”: for both victor and vanquished, a consequence of unfinished business left over from 1914-18 – “The World War – Part I”, as it were. This longer, entangled view of the two European wars of the Twentieth Century is something we are only beginning to fully appreciate.

I am drawing the book in a ligne claire style that strongly echoes comics artwork of the 1930s and 1940s – particularly that of Hergé, which, I am sure, will come as no surprise to anyone already familiar with my work! The style will suit the time-period of the book, of course.

I’ve started already – doing research this morning on the layout of the Downing Street Cabinet Offices, c. 1937, and drawing various views of an Austin 10. Lots of more that to come over the next nine months!

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