Emma Beeby, Gordon Rennie & Tiernen Trevallion – Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter
Black humour, smart character work and inventive violence ensure superb graphic novel of the Bard of Ayrshire
A fictional account of Robert Burns’ descent into mortal combat with the supernatural which begins with him being beaten to a drunk and trouserless pulp by a man whose daughter he’s deflowered probably won’t find itself on the national curriculum any time soon. Yet who will question the truth of the non-fantastical part of that summary? This new graphic novel is a fast-paced work of frantic imagination, and the suspicion is that Burns probably wouldn’t be against the layer of gleeful iconoclasm deployed.
Edinburgh-based writing duo Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby plus artist Tiernen Trevallion are most familiar in UK comics circles for their work on long-running sci-fi anthology 2000AD (Beeby made the mainstream press last year when she became the first woman to write its flagship character, Judge Dredd), and there’s much of that publication’s trademark black humour, smart character work and inventive violence here. The use of dead cats as grenades and intruder alarms are unexpected turn-ups.
To bring the Bard of Ayrshire to life as a convincing character amidst the readership’s expectations was surely a tough prospect, but Rennie and Beeby superbly handle his transition from foolish drunk snared by witches dancing a naked ritual to born-again romantic, with some clever meshing of his own works with the text. Yet, at heart, this book is a period action romp, and its lack of pretension in any other respect is part of its success.