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As a freshman at Trinity College Dublin in 2010, Eoin McAuley was trawling the library one day for inspiration.
You could plug in keywords and see what came up in the catalogue, says McAuley, via Zoom from his Tallaght home.
“I remember once, just by happenstance, typing in things like Zorro and Real Zorro,” he says. That was how he first came across the name William Lamport.
He then stumbled on a book by Gerard Ronan called The Irish Zorro: The Extraordinary Adventures of William Lamport (1615–1659).
“It was really insightful, really got me engaged and then kind of led me down a path towards reading up on the wider history and circumstances that surrounded Lamport,” says McAuley.
McAuley learnt about Lamport’s journey from plantation Ireland to piracy on the high seas, and palace intrigue in the court of King Philip of Spain. From espionage and freedom-fighting in Mexico – to even further afield, still.
Out of his research into the life of this seventeenth-century figure, comes a new serialised comic book The Legend of William Lamport, that is currently being released sequentially online.
Following a Thread
Wexford-born Lamport’s historical significance is nothing to be sniffed at.
He did also, after all, pen an early declaration of Mexican independence, according to a short biography by historian Ryan Dominic Crewe.
Lamport’s proclamation talked of equality of opportunity, radical land reform, racial equality and democratically elected leadership more than one hundred years before the French Revolution.
It is perhaps surprising that, despite his influence in international affairs of the time, the Irish adventurer’s most visible legacy today can arguably be found elsewhere, in the realm of popular culture.
Some say that the tales surrounding Lamport’s exploits served as the jumping-off point for the very notion of the costumed hero in popular culture.
“With Eoin, all roads lead to Batman,” says artist Cormac Hughes, of his colleague McAuley. Lamport’s story did too.
McAuley says that he was fascinated to learn that the masked swashbuckler Zorro created by Johnston McCulley may in fact have been inspired by Lamport, an Irish man from Wexford.
Zorro, meanwhile, inspired Bob Kane, one of the co-creators of Batman, says McAuley.
“So, Zorro came first and from there came Batman and the many heroes we know today,” he says.
You can trace these types of characters through fiction, he says. “But I never thought they might all have been inspired by one real historical figure and that character came from Wexford.”
Says McAuley: “I was fascinated by that. I knew I had to sit down and do some research.”
Truth and Myth
“I’ve always been fascinated with finding the element of truth behind certain myths,” says McAuley.
Take the well-known story of King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, he says. “Now, some people have suggested that story is maybe an interpretation of the casting of a sword from a stone mold.”
McAuley’s interest in unpacking and examining the history behind folktales and mythological figures fed directly into his other great passion: comic books.
“I’ve always had an interest in comic books. Not just superheroes but the medium as a whole,” he says.
These days, McAuley heads up his own independent comics publisher, Lightning Strike Comics.
With a series of acclaimed anthologies showcasing original work by Ireland-based artists and writers – as well as special collaborations on big international characters such as Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom – Lightning Strike is a big player in the, albeit small, world of domestic comics.
McAuley dove into Lamport’s own writings as well as the lore surrounding the man, and began, unknowingly at first, the process of introducing the character of Lamport himself into the comic-book canon.
Adapting historical events into a comic book format brought with it no shortage of issues. Not least, the unreliability of Lamport’s own account of his life.
“There was a great deal of contradiction in the life story of William Lamport,” says McAuley, laughing.
Says Hughes: “Lamport himself was fierce fond of twisting the truth.”
The decision to release The Legend of William Lamport in a serialised digital format – available for free at thelegendofwilliamlamport.com – is already proving valuable.
Thus far, they’ve released the comic’s prologue, which recounts Lamport’s daring escape from Mexico’s Grand Inquisition circa 1659.
Depicting our hero leaping across rooftops and making short work of back-alley thugs, the short extract evokes the countless costumed crusaders whose creators, some say, owe much to tales of Lamport exploits, whether they realised it or not.
Releasing it bit by bit means that McAuley can tweak the pages to keep the swashbuckling adventure as close to historically accurate as possible.
“Even since we have released the prologue, I’ve had to go back and change some dates because [Lamport] lies about his age so often,” says McAuley.
“According to some documents he is fighting in battles when he is 12 and that might not be right. But, with Lamport you can never know. He was first arrested for treason by the time he was 13 or 14, after all,” says McAuley.
Each installment of The Legend of William Lamport is also set to be bolstered with supplementary materials penned by McAuley.
“I’m not saying that anyone should be quoting the graphic novel in their dissertation,” McAuley says, quickly. “We’re definitely taking a romanticised point of view and approach to the story.”
But they’re tacking on articles about how the book has been made, or the history behind each week’s installment.
McAuley says that once it’s all done, the goal is to collect it all into one paperback for release in late 2021 with the help of South Dublin County Council.
“If you’ve never read a comic book before, I think this a great starting point because it’s something that isn’t like a lot of the usual content that is out there,” says McAuley.
“It is more of a historical drama based on true events. For people who would usually read traditional American comics, don’t worry our heroes still wore tights back in the 1600s,” he says.