Sales of Bobby Sands comic strip helps arts body pay funding back

Posted By: October 06, 2016


Bobby Sands Freedom Fighter Book Picture by Hugh Russell.

Brendan Hughes, Irish News, Thursday, October 6, 2016

THE Arts Council has been repaid some of the funding it gave towards a controversial comic book on IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands because of its sales success.

The O’Brien Press publication called Bobby Sands Freedom Fighter sparked fury from unionist politicians earlier this year who branded it “republican propaganda”.

It was also criticized by the Sands family who said they had not been consulted and first became aware of it when extracts appeared in the


The Arts Council awarded O’Brien Press almost £12,500 for two publications, including more than £5,900 for the Bobby Sands graphic novel.

However, it has now emerged the arms-length public body was able to recoup more than £630 in relation to the funding due to good revenue figures.

The Arts Council is able to regain grant funding in some cases if publications it has backed prove successful.

In response to a freedom of information request, it added: “The Arts Council requested and obtained repayment of the grant to the value of £630.60 in relation to the O’Brien Press award which included, but was not exclusively in relation to the publication of the Bobby Sands graphic novel.

“Sales revenue increased sufficiently to trigger a request for a return of £630.60,” a spokeswoman added.

“The other title concerning the O’Brien Press award was a crime noir novel Past Darkness.”

Bobby Sands was the first of 10 hunger strikers to die during a republican protest in the Maze Prison in 1981.

Michael O’Brien, publisher and founder of O’Brien Press, yesterday said he believed the controversy surrounding the comic boosted sales.

“From our point of view, it was a risky publication. When the controversy started it was highly politicized, but it was a gift – it really helped the sales,” he said.

“If the people who were stirring it were trying to damage it, they were doing the exact opposite. ‘Thank you very much,’ I would say to them.”

More than 1,600 copies of the Sands comic have been sold so far out of around 4,000 copies printed.

Mr. O’Brien said the sales figures so far are not a “runaway success but from our point of view a good start” and “better than expected”.

The illustrated book, written by novelist Gerry Hunt, was also part-funded by the UK National Lottery.

It carries an epilog from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, above a drawing of himself and Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes who famously denounced the politician for betraying core republican principles.

At the time of the controversy in February, the Arts Council said that it did not “interfere with the publisher’s choices”, saying that “this has never been its policy.”

It added that it had received a “strong application” from O’Brien Press that “satisfied all of our criteria”.