Tom Paine was one of the great figures of the enlightenment. Norfolk-born but exiled from his English homeland for his radicalism, he took up arms in America for the cause of independence, and narrowly escaped execution in revolutionary France, where he served as a member of the National Convention. Today he is widely remembered and celebrated as the author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man, and there is even a statue in his home town of Thetford where he was once reviled.
Over the past year, the political cartoonist and graphic artist Polyp, otherwise known as Paul Fitzgerald, has been working on a graphic biography of this extraordinary character, whose obituary in The American Citizen read, in part, ‘He had lived long, did some good, and much harm’. The result of his labours is now out in the world, and is itself a cause for celebration. Paine: Being a Fantastical Visual Biography of the Vilified Enlightenment Hero, by his Ardent Admirer ‘Polyp’ quite lives up to its title.
The book was funded through a Kickstarter appeal, which the Society for the Study of Labour History and many members were proud to support, and copies are being sent to those who backed the project. A Manchester launch for the book took place at the Britons’ Protection pub at the end of May 2022, and there will be a second launch (or, rather, a series of small rolling launches and talks) on Thursday 30 June at Bull House, 92 High Street, Lewes – where Paine once lived.
Polyp previously worked on the graphic book Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre, alongside the historian Robert Poole and writer Eva Schlunke. Small numbers of this book are still on sale.