With the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival and St. Patrick’s Day hang-overs in full swing, it’s certainly fitting that I can take this opportunity to look at the newly published Oi! Tales of Bardic Fury Vol. 1, published by the Backwards Burd collective and Ditto Press. Scribe and artist, Daniel de Sosa‘s admiration of ancient Irish history and culture, along with his love of rock music is noteworthy. These influences have smelted in the forge of his imagination, creating this tale; the forming of Iron Age Ireland’s greatest rock band!
As an Irishman that shares an appreciation for tales of Cu Chulainn, power-chords and a drop of the black-stuff, I admit to being hooked by the premise before even seeing the cover. That, along with being intrigued by the prospect of the observations of an individual from the ‘New World’; the perspectives of an outsider looking in can be most illuminating.
Well, as this jolly saga begins, and I can tell you from the get-go, there’s plenty of jolliness to go round, we’re introduced to Bryan, the Bard. He’s making his way across the countryside towards the remote, coastal village of ‘Oi!’. He’s a fresh-faced Bardic graduate from the capital, Tara. In order to be fully qualified, he must complete a year’s ‘internship’, if you like, proving his worth, delivering music and culture to these… ‘culchies’. This is an old Irish colloquialism that’s synonymous in other cultures with words like ‘bumpkin’, or ‘redneck’. Y’see, it’s made clear pretty quickly that young Bryan is just a bit of an eejit. In his mind, he’s been expelled from the heart of edifying civilisation and satisfying decadence, to rough it out with this tribe of ‘hoi-palloi’, who haven’t ever experienced a musical performance, for goodness sake! Now, to my mind, that’s a stark concept of itself; An entire village of folk who in those harsh-living times, have never heard a musical note. Such concepts are realised with a lightness of touch; this is a book with the primary aim to entertain, however it makes for rewarding depth. In this era of saga-poets and druids, musicians were truly regarded as wielders of a kind of magic. Ahem.
There’s an assuredness to the pacing throughout. From the first chapter, ‘Stoned at the Rock Concert’, the world that de Sosa has developed here is revealed, layer upon layer in a manner that avoids clumsiness or any hindrance to regaling a fine yarn. As we learn more about the village and the central cast, there are plenty of shennanigans in which to take pleasure. Much delight comes primarily from the characterisation of the key players; Star Seal, the Druid-Chieftain of Oi! At first glance, a classic ageing hippie with an unshakeable fondness for ‘shrooms; Aideen ‘The Mean’ O’Riada, (whom you can see atop this page, hurly in hand), elder daughter of Star Seal and ‘Captain of the Hurling Team’. Hurling. A seriously fast and furious gaelic sport, from which much fun is derived herein. She’s a play-hard, play-harder type of lass. Servius, the slave is perhaps my own favourite. He wields a laconic wit with grace and precision and there’s a tragedy about him that contributes much to the book as a whole. An effective foil to Aideen’s rough edges is the portrayal of Star Seal’s youngest daughter, Rhiannon. She is destined to inherit the Chieftain’s role, yet she is a fragile if joyful innocent.
Music is a vital pillar of this production and it has definitely energised Daniel into preparing a series of vistas, reminiscent of a complete ensemble score, as opposed to a string of single notes. The plot-driven sections bring humorous observations and action a-plenty. There’s fine characterisation and a momentum that never feels out of kilter. Yet, the key distinctiveness is how De Sosa’s artwork displays an eagerness to manipulate the rhythm as he progresses. Some captivating visuals are utilised at key points; to provide background to an archaic fable; to expand on the drama in a touching scene; to feel the pain in a vicious moment, or simply to take a breath and enjoy the view. This musicality really pays dividends.
Daniel explores themes of class, community, family and loss without excess melancholy or worthiness. There’s a consistent exuberance, fittingly aided by rousing renditions of carousing, fighting and psychedelia, whilst avoiding excess. His graphic representations of music, are particularly satisfying to these eyes.
Oi! Tales of Bardic Fury is a very enjoyable read, possessing a maturity and poise that adds much to the initially straightforward exhilarations and calamities of life in Iron Age Ireland. With added rock! What more could you want?
Daniel is having a launch for this fine publication at Gosh! Comics on Saturday 14th March. It’s also available digitally and here’s plenty of background information to whet your appetites. Whether you’re inclined to celebrate ‘Paddy’s Day’ or not, there is much within these pages that’ll put a big, wide, rosy-cheeked grin on your faces.
Do let us know what you made of this book, or perhaps share any notable St. Patrick’s Day misadventures. Go on, ya boy ya!