Belfast Telegraph

Graphic novel draws on Northern Ireland bonfire culture for thought-provoking tale

By Leona O'Neill

Bonfires may have become a source of dispute in Northern Ireland's divided society, but a new comic book is aiming to shed some light on the debate.

The Burning Issues graphic novel launched this week in Londonderry aims to spark debate when it is rolled out across youth clubs and schools.

The storyline revolves around two teenagers and two bonfires in the city - in the nationalist Bogside and unionist Fountain areas - in 2016 when the republican bonfire was constructed in the middle of the road.

It tells the story of a Catholic teenage boy from the Bogside and Protestant girl from the Fountain Estate who fall in love during 'bonfire season'.

It reveals how they deal with the problems arising from their differences and divided cultures.

The storyline emerged from school and community-based workshops attended by young people from both sides, who shared their experiences.

Eamonn Baker is from Towards Understanding and Healing which produced the graphic novel with the Community Relations Council.

He said: "We want to promote understanding, we want to reduce the sense of a burning issue. Fire, per se, is not a bad thing, bonfires are not bad things, sectarianism is not a good thing. My hope is that through this people can understand each other better."

Catholic youth Seamus McGlinchey (17), who inspired one of the characters in the comic, said he hopes the work will make people aware of the impact of bonfires.

"It made me think about the community and how bonfires affect them," he said.

Protestant teenager Britney Heatherington (17), who also inspired a character, said she hopes the publication will make young people think.

"I think it's good," she said. "I've seen how both sides build their bonfires. It's culture.

"At the workshops we were asked what we did at our bonfire and they were asked what they did at theirs. In the magazine there are pictures of bonfires with election posters and flags. It should make people think of what they do."

Artist Joe Campbell created the striking images in the graphic novel. He said a comic is the perfect vehicle to drive home an important message.

Joe Thompson, whose Extern youth groups were involved in the development of the project, said it was, for many, the first time the young people were asked for their opinion without being in trouble.

"I hope this project works," he said.

"Not to fan the flames of difference but to spark some understanding."

The graphic novel will be launched on Thursday at the Holywell Trust on Derry's Bishop Street, at 6pm.

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