Warren Pleece's Freedom Bound tells personal stories of 18th century slave trade
- David Pollock
- 19 August 2018
In the run up to his appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, graphic novelist Pleece shares the inspiration behind his latest project
Brighton-based comic artist Warren Pleece is a well-known figure amid British comic creator circles, having spent the best part of the past three decades working on titles including 2000 AD, Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, True Faith with writer Garth Ennis and DC Comics' gritty supernatural series Hellblazer. His latest project, however, is a straight period piece with great political relevance – launching this week at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Freedom Bound places slavery within the context of its little-discussed importance to Scottish society of times past.
'Freedom Bound is a graphic novel set in Scotland in the 18th century, which follows the stories over several generations of three young enslaved people, Ann, Jamie and Joseph,' says Pleece. 'Each was brought over from the slave plantations in the Americas to serve their wealthy Scottish masters, and we see their subsequent struggle for freedom in a strange new land. I was approached to work on the book by Simon Newman at Glasgow University, who - along with his colleague, Nelson Mundell - had been working on a research project on runaway slaves in Scotland and the British Isles in the 1700s. They were keen to widen the audience for their original research in a way that would bring to life the experiences of these forgotten people, beyond the impersonal reports and transcripts they had come across in the course of their investigations.
'Simon had worked with Sha Nazir of the Glasgow-based BHP comics before, so they were the perfect publishing partners for Freedom Bound,' he continues. 'I'd had a desire for ages to draw a period graphic novel that involved old world seafaring, but the chance to work on something as relevant and important as Freedom Bound was an opportunity I was not going to let go of. Luckily, I was ably assisted by Shazleen Khan on inking and colouring duties for parts one and two and by letterer Robin Jones. The whole project has been very much a team effort from start to finish.'
Pleece describes much of his previous work as 'political with a small 'p'', but it was his work on the DC/Vertigo series Incognegro, written by Mat Johnson, which drew Simon's attention. This strip told the story of a light-skinned journalist passing as white in the 1930s southern US states to investigate the lynchings of innocent African Americans, what Pleece calls 'a page-turning noir fiction very much based on hard fact from that time - interestingly, many colleges and universities chose to add the original book to their English and History programme reading lists.'
'People may know a little about Britain's involvement in the slave trade, but probably not to the extent of how some of our major cities like London, Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow benefited from slave labour. They're also probably not aware of how many black people actually lived in Scotland and the British Isles in the 18th century too. We've tried to tell these personal stories with the book, maybe something you can only hint at in an academic study, and I hope that reaches out to the readers. Unfortunately, the struggle of peoples around the world seeking a better life is as relevant today as it was then, so I hope readers of the book will discover something new from history that also reflect on our current times.'
Baillie Gifford Imagination Lab, 0345 373 5888, 23 Aug, 7.15pm, £12 (£10).