REVOLUTIONARY political campaigner Thomas Paine (1774 – 1809) wrote in The Age of Reason (1792): ‘Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize.’
He wrote a great deal more in this vein, and, thanks to “Polyp” – Manchester-based political cartoonist Paul Fitzgerald , above – Paine’s wisdom will be brought to 21st century readers in a graphic novel called Tom Paine’s Bones: A fantastical visual biography.
To fund the project, Fitzgerald launched a Kickstarter campaign, accompanied by an excellent video, that reached 40 percent of it’s £15,000 target in just five days.
I’ve always been outraged and saddened by the way in which Paine has so often been whitewashed from mainstream culture. It’s hard to think of another figure so fundamental to the best aspects of the modern world, and yet still so unknown to the majority of the population.
My plan is once again to use a verbatim narrative script, as with my previous graphic novel PETERLOO: Witnesses to a Massacre.
It’s a unique and innovative way to explore the past, using only words from the era; newspaper articles, eye witnesses accounts, court testimony, spies reports, journals, diaries and so on.
It’s an utterly authentic and surprisingly intense, emotional way to tell a story, one which needs no fictional input from me. In a sense, I just want to ‘get out of the way’ and let the reader experience for themselves these raw accounts of the past.
As a long time professional political cartoonist, illustrator and graphic novelist (www.polyp.org.uk) I’m very happy to be in a position to do something about that, with support from you.
Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, England, and later moved to France after a spell in America to become involved with the French Revolution, but the chaotic political climate turned against him, and he was arrested and jailed for crimes against the country.
When he first arrived in Paris, Paine was heartily welcomed and granted honorary citizenship by leaders of the revolution who enjoyed his anti-royalty book The Rights of Man. He then began writing a provocative new book, The Age of Reason, which promoted the controversial notion that God did not influence the actions of people and that science and rationality would prevail over religion and superstition.
I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
He also said that organised religion was “set up to terrify and enslave” and to “monopolize power and profit.”
Paine repudiated the divine origin of Christianity on the grounds that it was too “absurd for belief, too impossible to convince and too inconsistent to practice.”
He was vilified for his unabashed analysis of the Bible when he returned to America in 1802. Even a century after his death, Theodore Roosevelt referred to Paine,as “a filthy little atheist,” ignoring the fact that Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
In Rights of Man (1791) he wrote:
My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.
• Fitzgerald is a full time political cartoonist, published around the world by many different educational and campaign groups. He is author of Speechless, a word free cartoon history of the world, The Co-operative Revolution, a graphic novel about the history of the co-operative movement, and is joint author of the children’s book Little Worm’s Big Question and PETERLOO: Witnesses to a Massacre. He is the chair and founder of the Manchester based Peterloo Memorial Campaign. He has a long term interest in the graphic novel genre.