To be honest, I thought I knew about the suffragettes – but nobody had ever told me the part my own home town had played in the struggle for votes for women. I knew about the Pankhurst family when they were in London – but they came from Manchester originally, and some of the first speeches were made there. There’s a well known spot called Boggart Hole Clough where the suffragettes rallied – and had cabbages thrown at them. I had no idea about that, either. And one of the MPs who was opposed to them in Manchester was Winston Churchill!
I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Bryan Talbot about his work last year, and he takes the layout of a graphic novel very seriously. In Sally Heathcote, he pointed out that there is no dramatic tension in showing an awful situation on one page, and showing the resolution to the awful situation on the facing page – so he is careful to make sure that the reader has to turn the page to find out what happens next. To illustrate this, he chose a scene from Sally Heathcote where Sally is in prison on hunger strike – and you have to turn the page to see her being released from prison.
So it’s all here – the differences between the various campaigning groups, the woman who jumped out in front of the King’s race horse (Emily Davison), and the escalation of opposition to the suffragettes by the Establishment of the day…. When women tried to ask questions at political meetings, they were thrown out, and then banned from attending at all. So they protested in the street, and when they were banned from the street, they climbed onto surrounding rooftops.
And then there was the Cat and Mouse Act (illustrated here with the suffragettes turning gradually into mice, while the male politicans who met them at Downing Street turn into cats) whereby women who went on hunger strike in prison were released until they recovered, and then re-arrested. And through it all is the personal story of Sally, who gives the reader a character to identify with and care about – and who had very decided opinions of her own!
So, I’d recommend this graphic novel to anybody who wants to know more about the Suffragettes and the struggle for Votes for Women. Mary Talbot is an academic, and her research is meticulous. There’s even a list of sources in the back for anyone who wants to find out more.