New graphic novel on Mugsborough The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in words & pictures

By Scarlett and Sophie Rickard

Published by SelfMadeHero, Paperback, 352 pages. RRP £14.99 

REVIEW BY PETE DONOHUE

A graphic adaptation of Robert Tressell’s classic semi-autobiographical novel of 1914 The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is published on 25th September by the UK’s leading independent graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero. Written and illustrated by Lancashire-born sisters Scarlet and Sophie Rickard, the book is set in the fictional town of Mugsborough, easily identified as being based on Hastings & St Leonards where Tressell (the pen name of Robert Noonan) lived when he wrote it more than a hundred years ago. Sadly, Noonan died from tuberculosis at Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1911, three years before his socialist masterpiece was published.

This lengthy graphic novel has been carefully researched and the full colour illustrations on each page are a joy to behold and a fitting tribute to Tressell’s original novel about English working-class life during early 20th-century Britain. The story of journeyman housepainter Frank Owen, and his political awakening of how capitalism is the true source of the poverty he and his fellow workers are forced to endure, seems just as relevant today as it was back then. 

Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – sometimes thought of as the socialist novel – has proved an inspiration to generations of political thinkers, from George Orwell to Tony Benn. In this new adaptation it perhaps finds its perfect medium. 

As the publishers state: “Scarlett and Sophie Rickard’s graphic depiction of this timeless and compelling masterpiece embodies the hard graft, devoted craft, and sheer beauty of dedicated labour – and exposes the ugliness of its scandalous neglect by an all too complacent society.

“Exploited by profiteering employers, abandoned by a hypocritical church, and oppressed by corrupt politicians, Owen confronts head-on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system. As profoundly relevant as it is today, however, this is no dry political tract.

“Instead, the 350 full-colour pages of Scarlett and Sophie Rickard’s sumptuous adaptation celebrate the joys of fellowship and creative endeavour as beautifully as they convey the ugliness of its exploitation.

“Orwell called Tressell’s novel ‘a book that everyone should read’; the Rickards’s adaptation is a work of art that everyone should see.”

Scarlett and Sophie Rickard are graphic novelists originally from the Ribble Valley in Lancashire. Scarlett, now living in Kent, is a graphic artist, illustrator, drummer and junk collector. She has been drawing since she was very small and works closely with her sister Sophie on graphic novels. Sophie, now living in Cheshire, is a writer and child counsellor. She writes graphic novels with her sister Scarlett. This is their second graphic novel.

For all those readers interested in a powerful narrative – whether you have read Tressell’s original or not – beautiful graphic illustrations, social history, politics, or simply interested in Hastings & St Leonards (Mugsborough), this is an important and enjoyable must-read.

• For more visit: www.selfmadehero.com  @SelfMadeHero 


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