Guest blog post by Hannah Sackett
While on holiday this summer, I visited Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex. As well as being an excellent location for spotting coastal birds and rare plants, the reserve is home to remnants of coastal defensive structures, including a Martello tower and WWII pill boxes. As I approached a pill box, I noticed a display board fixed to one side.
I expected the familiar heritage information: dates, details, plans, possibly a reconstruction drawing. Instead, I found a comic by artist Julian Hanshaw, created as part of his project Not Everyone Rises.
So far panels have been placed at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, Winchelsea Old Town and Hastings Country Park, with two more to follow.
Talking about his motivation behind the project, Hanshaw said:
“Having eagerly consumed my war comics as a child I was aware of the plans that the Third Reich had for this gently sloped stretch of coastline, but as I read more local history books small vignettes and facts began to draw me in further, craving more information.
These small moments in time full of pathos and intrigue suggested they would work wonderfully in the medium with which I work: comics.
I wanted to use the sequential art form in a way that broke the stories down into small ‘chapters’ on the page. Coloured differently they would be read in their ‘individual blocks’ and the blocks when read together would become the whole story.
I also wished the audience would, of course, ultimately enjoy the story but might have to work at them a little. A piece of work which stands up to repeated views.”
The panel at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve tells the story of an RAF bomber that crashed into the sea, just off the coast from where the pill box is located. A more traditional heritage notice board might have recorded and illustrated the incident, objectively informing visitors of a past event. Hanshaw’s storytelling, on the contrary, plunges us into the action – we are in the plane with the American airman who is about to meet his fate, and we are drawn into the tragic unfolding of his story. Through Hanshaw’s sophisticated use of words and images, the past ceases to be distant; the experiences of people who lived and died during the war are made tangible. In this way, comics and stories based on research and historical (and archaeological) evidence can connect us to the past in a way that a conventional heritage information board would find hard to achieve.Hanshaw’s comic would have made an impact on me if I’d read it in a book or newspaper, but reading it on location added an extra component, an additional power to the narrative. At the start of the project Hanshaw looked forward to the connection between comic and location: “it will be fascinating to… read the piece on the downed bomber pilot and with a tilt of the head be able to look out at the same ‘uncaring sea’ in which his body was gently lowered ‘in as Christian a manner as possible’.
Hanshaw’s “site specific comics” are an excellent innovation. I hope that his work inspires similar projects in other locations.