Start reading now (but with a caveat): Go Home Paddy

John Walsh's webcomic Go Home Paddy starts during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s and follows the fortunes of Paddy Brennan, who leaves the ould country and heads to Boston, where conditions are better but just barely. Creator John Walsh plans the graphic novel to be 120-140 pages long, and it's at page 44 now, so it's a good time to jump into the story.

But before you do, be warned of one aspect of the story that took me aback: Walsh has deliberately chosen to draw his characters in an apelike style that was often used to caricature the Irish in the 19th century. Walsh explains his choice in this interview at the Boston Bibliophile:

I'm using the simian stereotype as a way to portray just how despised the Irish were by both the English and the Nativists in America. Most people are used to the lovable image of Leprechauns (Lucky Charms and Notre Dame's mascot) or even the Barry Fitzgerald's boozy Michaleen Og Flynn from the Quite Man, but 150 years ago the Irish were considered a true threat to the American way of life.

Walsh has researched the ways Irish people were caricatured in the popular press, and he has some interesting links on this page of his blog. The art still takes some getting used to, though, and I have mixed feelings about it. The comic creates an odd sort of cognitive dissonance, with these apelike people behaving in intelligent and sympathetic ways (although there is some drinking and brawling as well). Walsh is interested in the way the Irish have integrated themselves into American society, despite decades of prejudice, but the title of the comic reminds me of a rueful joke my uncle, an Irishman who lived in Northern Ireland, used to make: "When does an Irishman become a Paddy? As soon as he leaves the room."

Full disclosures: My mother was from Ireland. Nobody in my family looks anything like the people in this comic. And although I graduated from Notre Dame, I have made it a point never to buy anything with that stupid leprechaun on it.

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