The Bad Times by Christine Kinealy and John Walsh is a graphic novel that tells the story of how “music, poetry and dancing died,” during The Great Famine in Ireland. Despite this statement though, through its very existence, The Bad Times stands as a testament to the resilience and revival of Irish culture after such devastation.
The story takes place in Kilkee, County Clare between the years of 1846-1849. Kinealy and Walsh follow three young friends and a dog (Brigit, Dan, Liam and Cu) from the beginning of the famine until its devastating conclusion. Brigit and Dan come from lower class farming families, while Liam’s father owns a shop and ends up profiting from the famine. Yet, despite these differences, their friendship never wavers. In fact, its very durability offers moments of clarity where the reader sees that despite starvation and death there is still a sense of humanity, of understanding and of love that supersedes greed and the need for survival.
Among other themes, Kinealy and Walsh also explore faith and the role of religion in a young person’s life when faced with adversity. The young trio is also confronted with loss, young love, the folly of pride and more throughout their three year journey together. Though the graphic novel doesn’t end quite happily, there is at the very end a grand gesture of generosity, a proclamation of love, and the hope for renewal.
When it comes to the art, Walsh does a fantastic job of fitting the style with the storyline and themes of The Bad Times. The colors are often dark and overcast, with pops of pigment that remind the reader of the possibility that lies beyond the obscurity and gloom. The stylistic choices for depicting the characters also scream “famine” with bagged eyes and a certain feeling of agedness that pervades the young characters.
As for the dialogue, Kinealy intersperses Gaelic phrases along with the colloquial Irish dialect. Though the authors never explain the exact meaning of the utterances woven in, the Gaelic doesn’t detract from the intelligibility of the piece and instead imbues it with a certain resonance, a reminder of what was lost with the death of so many.
The Bad Times is a riveting and momentous graphic novel that teaches readers about the actual historical event of The Great Famine, while also weaving in important elements pertinent to adolescence and humanity at large.
Published by Quinnupiac University Press in 2015, The Bad Times is available for purchase here.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.