Co-writer of the Newport Rising graphic novel, Rhys D.W. talks how he and the team went about recreating the Chartist world, reanimating the protagonists and breathing new life into their story.
On the 12th July 2019 I had the privilege of becoming a published author. Together with Josh Cranton (co-writer and illustrator) and David Daniel (producer), we made a graphic novel about one of the key moments in the history of our city and indeed for democracy the world over - the Newport Rising.
For those who are unaware, the Chartist Newport Rising was the last large-scale armed rebellion against authority in Great Britain. On 4 November 1839, nearly 10,000 Chartist sympathisers marched on Newport. They arrived outside the door of the Westgate Hotel demanding to free members of their group who had been arrested for campaigning for the right to vote. Shots were fired and 22 people died, fighting to make their voice and the voices of the people heard.
Their actions led to democracy - a right we take for granted today.
Out initial brief was to make the Newport Rising Chartist story relevant to a new generation whilst honouring it’s values and heritage. No pressure!
We decided to stick to our strengths. Combining our mutual love of manga and anime, with Josh’s incredible artistic ability and my knowledge of branding, it seemed natural to make a graphic novel. After much thought about the structure, the first half of the book detailing the Chartist backstory, was to be written in verse. This added a calm, ordered and flowing feeling to the story before switching to regular dialogue when the chaotic skirmish begins outside the Westgate.
In terms of paying homage to Newport, we were inspired by RISE Propaganda’s limited colour palate and decided to only use the city’s traditional colours of Black, Amber and Red
The Chartists movement was anti-establishment and frequently practiced civil disobedience as a means to get their message across to the ruling classes.
Whilst the Newport Rising involved many key individuals, due to the 40 page restriction on comic length, we couldn’t include as many as we’d liked. Instead we decided to focus on the three key leaders John Frost, William Jones and Zephaniah Williams and their roles. Even then, we did take some artistic license with the story. But we hope this encourages the reader to delve into the history to find out more about the events before, during and after the events 180 years ago.
Breathing Life into the leaders
From past experience in marketing/branding we knew how important it is to make the main protagonists seem as authentic and as consistent and as possible. The way your characters look, sound, behave and interact can make or break a story. To gain inspiration we researched the history and lives of John, William and Zephaniah to bring them back to life once again.
Inspired /// Chartist /// Leader
John Frost was the leader of the Newport Rising. He was a religious man with an excellent command of the English language. Initially a tailor and a draper by trade, he became the Mayor of Newport in 1836 before being forced out of office for his Chartist leanings. At the time of the ‘Rising he was 55 years old.
With his religious background, age and occupation we felt a well dressed rockabilly machine gun preacher would be perfect to capture John’s character.
Throughout the novel his authority and inspirational nature is conveyed through his height, stoic poses and powerful speeches.
Tiny /// Rebel /// Punk
William Jones’ main responsibility was to lead the march of Chartists from the Pontypool area. Ironically, the former watchmaker turned up late to the march! Combined with his career of pub landlord and actor, we decided to make him the most rebellious out of the three.
His image, bright red mohawk, bear chest and knuckle tattoos, were inspired by members of the Sex Pistols (who aptly have performed a gig on Chartist march route). Asymmetrical features, small stature and aggressive posture, convey his sense of disorganisation and chaos.
In the novel he plays the role of John’s sword, right hand man and aggressor. Fiercely loyal, he’s like one of your mates that you can’t live with, but can’t live without!
Progressive /// Peaceful /// Influencer
Zephaniah’s character is perhaps the most interesting out of the three. At the time, he was described as a free thinker and man of the people who could speak fluent English and Welsh.
Our ‘Zeph’ character was inspired a real life modern day local hero by the name of Lynette Webb. A true leader of the people, she would do anything to improve the lives of the residents in her local community of Pillgwenlly.
In the novel she plays the role of John’s shield and prefers non-violent methods to resolve conflict. However when the chips are down, she rescues her fellow Chartist leaders in their moment of greatest need.
Over to the artist
The novel then progressed through storyboarding, panel layout and many, many drafts and redrafts before Josh began the enormous task of drawing and colouring. After a solid six months of holing himself up in his studio without sunlight, he eventually resurfaced with incredible artwork that blew us all away. You can read more about the illustration process in a chapter written by Josh included in the appendix of the graphic novel. You should also check out his other works at https://www.joshcrantanimation.co.uk/
To my fellow Chartists… Thank You
I hope you have enjoyed a quick insight into the planning process of the novel. The last year has been an incredible journey for us and we’d like to say thank you for everyone that has supported us along the way. I’d like to personally say thank you to my co-authors Dai and Josh for their patience, camaraderie, banter and being worthy opponents at Klask.
Thank you to the 2500+ people that attended the exhibition between 12th - 20th July and bought one of the 420 copies sold.
Rhys D.W. is the creative lead in the Newport Rising group. When not involved in making comics, he’s an award winning consultant across industries such as Sport, Public Activism, Entertainment and Governance. You can check out his work at www.rhysdw.com