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Scotland in Comics: From Our Past to Our Present

By 16/08/2016December 11th, 2018No Comments

When we think about Scotland, there are a few key motifs from the country’s history and culture that stand out. The idea of Scottish people being warriors, the people’s religious views, the mythology surrounding the country, and the way Scottish people embrace their identity are all important aspects of how not only Scotland defines itself, but how the rest of the world views it as well. Here we will look at how comics from Scotland and the rest of the world display what makes Scotland the country it was, and the country it is today.

Scotland’s Past From The Outside: Jean-Yves Ferri, Asterix and the Picts (2013)Slide4

Asterix and the Picts, one of the most recent comics in the Asterix series, details the adventures of Asterix and Obelix as they encounter a Pict for the first time, and travel to Caledonia to help the Picts defeat the invading Roman army. Obviously as a children’s comic, characters are exaggerated (the Picts survive on “malt water” and all have names beginning with Mac) but the characterisation of the Picts rings true to the romantic literary tradition of portraying the Scottish people as brave warriors, fighting off the Romans with ease. This is something that is taught in schools, and that most people take as fact, despite there being little or no historic evidence to support it. Instead this is a myth that Scotland has perpetrated, and that the rest of the world has happily bought into. It can still be seen in media today, and is something that Scotland seems in no hurry to disprove.

Scotland’s Past From The Inside: John Ferguson, Saltire: Invasion (2015)Slide7

Saltire is a comic written and published in Scotland. The series, first published in 2013 and already in its fourth volume, takes the reader through the adventures of Scotland’s first superhero, the titular Saltire, from his creation to help defeat the Romans invading Scotland and beyond. Here again we have the idea of the Scottish as warriors, Saltire shown as singlehandedly taking on a Roman legion, and the creators of the series have made sure there are no doubts about the message they are trying to state. With blue skin, red hair, and a white X-shaped scar across his bare chest, Saltire is the personification of Scotland’s warrior spirit, something for its people to be proud of and embrace about themselves and their histories.

Contemporary Scotland From The Outside: Chris Claremont, The X-Men v1 #104 (1977)Slide10

During Chris Claremont’s long run on Marvel’s X-Men comic, the team of super powered Mutants make frequent visits to the fictional Muir Island, situated off the coast of Scotland. This means that when trouble inevitably begins, the X-Men often end up on the mainland, specifically in Ullapool or Stornoway (shown above). It is interesting to note the types of Scottish characters the reader is introduced to during these visits. There are the deeply religious, such as Rahne Sinclair (a young mutant girl from the Highlands, brought up to believe mutants are evil sinners), and the deeply prejudiced, such as Reverend Craig or Angus MacWhirter (above). The Scotland that Claremont portrays here is a deeply negative one, but one that has some basis in truth. With the reformation and men such as John Knox as examples of religion in Scotland, it is easy to see how the connections can be made, showing the reader another opinion of Scotland’s culture that is out in the world, and based on its past.

Contemporary Scotland From The Inside: Peter Davidson, Oor Wullie Annual (2000)Slide13

The Oor Wullie comic, like its companion The Broons, has been a staple of Scottish comics since the 1930s. Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, the adventures of Wullie have barely changed in all its time in print, acting as a reminder to Scots of their own histories and childhood. By tying in important Scottish holidays such as Hogmanay or Burns Night (above), Wullie is a celebration of what it is to be Scottish, as Scottish people want to be remembered. The fact that Oor Wullie is also written in Scots is a big part of that as well, embracing a piece of Scottish culture so that it is not forgotten.

Scotland Today: David Baillie, Red Thorn v1 #01 (2016)Slide16

Since the first issue was released in January of this year, Red Thorn has been a great success, bringing Scottish culture and history to a wider mass market. Written by Scottish writer David Baillie, Red Thorn is published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics which is one of the two largest comic book distributors in the world today. Baillie has made sure that everything about the Scotland he is writing about rings true in the art, in order to create a real picture of Scotland rather than the vaguely Americanised ideas people are accustomed to seeing in mainstream comics. The above image is a perfect example of that, with a Barrowlands and Necropolis that would instantly transport anyone familiar with Glasgow there with one look. In a conversation with the writer himself, Baillie said of Red Thorn,
“I really wanted to try and get bits of Scotland that ordinary people would recognise onto the comics page. It’s easy to stop at the stereotypes – the shortbread and castles stuff, but I also wanted to show the pubs, streets and houses that we’re much more likely to frequent than tourist spots, and feature the sort of people that I grew up with. It’s great to possibly give all of the mythology a wider audience too, but for me it’s the real world that I wanted to showcase.”
Baillie is not only able to tie together how Scotland and the rest of the world should see Scotland, but he also is able to tie together the country’s past and present. Using this modern setting Baillie explores Scottish mythology, creating some of his own, but also staying true to what is already there to embrace important aspects of Scotland’s past.

Words by Andrew Smith.

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