The Point
Last updated: 07 December 2018.

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The Ragged Trousered Comic Book

“Poverty is not caused by men and women getting married; it's not caused by machinery; it's not caused by "over-production"; it's not caused by drink or laziness; and it's not caused by "over-population". It's caused by Private Monopoly. That is the present system. They have monopolized everything that it is possible to monopolize; they have got the whole earth, the minerals in the earth and the streams that water the earth. The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, and we should have been compelled to work for them in order to get money to buy air to breathe.”
 Robert Tressell (Noonan) – The Ragged The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
It is doubtful if there has been a more influential book for socialists in Britain than The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Published three years after the premature death of its author Robert Tressell (real name Noonan) the novel has been a source of inspiration for generations for those fighting against capitalism, poverty and injustice.
 
Writing on the centenary of Tressell’s death, Tony Benn said, “Robert Tressell, through the voice of Frank Owen, is addressing us with arguments that are just as relevant now as they were when he first used them a century ago. If we want to make progress we have to do it ourselves and believe it can be done. That is why this book should be read and studied by this generation if we are to make progress, for there is no other way. We do it ourselves or it will never be done.”
Singer-songwriter with The Chomsky Allstars, award winning playwright and all round good egg Martin Chomsky lives in Glasgow and has begun the process of turning Tressell’s masterpiece into an illustrated comic book. During the process he has been dealing with a wide range of people from the authors surviving family to Tony Benn and Johnny Vegas. In this UK exclusive for The Point, Martin explains the process so far and appeals for help and support from socialists and trade unionists.
 
It was said in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's death that, although she never understood art, she certainly inspired plenty of it. 
Or, at least, so did her policies.
And so it is with my latest project, a kids' comic book version of Robert Tressell's 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists': 

 

 

 
On the day of her funeral, Chomsky Allstars were invited to play our song  'So Long (The Witch Is Dead)' in Glasgow's George Square in honour of her victims. In the hours prior, the Facebook event page was trolled by right-wing thugs threatening to beat us up if we attended. Fuming, I typed out my reply: 'If only you lot could read a 'Janet & John' version of 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists', then maybe you'd stop blaming the immigrants, the poor, the sick and the disabled for your minimum wage drudgery and discover who the real enemy is.'
Then, just as I was about to hit the 'Send' button – epiphany. WHAT A GREAT IDEA! Quickly followed by: 'If not I then who?'.
As ever, my first port of call was Reg Johnson, Tressell's last surviving relative and keeper of the family archive. I'd built a strong working relationship with him for over a decade, having written a biographical stage play of Robert Tressell-Noonan. Once finished, thanks in no small part to his invaluable advice and patience, Reg regarded it as the best adaptation of Tressell's work he'd ever seen. Thankfully, he was now bowled over by my new idea, trusting me enough to say: 'Do with it what you will'.
Having already filtered down the original text from its mammoth 1800 pages, the next step was relatively easy. The step after that, the monumental trek down Route 1066 to Hastings to launch the project at the 2013 Robert Tressell Festival, was infinitely more taxing. Worse still, a matter of minutes before I was due to speak, I discovered that Reg had passed away. The Tressell family tree had been cut down, and my family had lost a very special friend.
Yet a rapturous Mugsborough reception only strengthened my resolve to raise enough funds to get the project off the ground. Long days and dark nights were spent writing, emailing and generally cajoling anyone who might be politically receptive. Barely a week later, I had a superb illustrator on board in Lyndon White, support from Johnny Vegas and a pledge from TUC Learning of such significance that it has enabled the project to become less of a pipe dream and more of a reality.
A bank account has been opened to accept donations via cheque, Paypal or BACS transfer, and a Sponsume site has also been established: http://www.sponsume.com/project/rtp.
A meeting with Tony Benn culminated in him calling my book 'a truly fantastic project'; an accolade of huge proportions.
But why reinvigorate a book that's over a century old?  Partly, it's because, as Alan Plater once told me, 'you're never alone with an obsession'. Partly, it's because it's a life-changer of a book; nobody's ever quite the same after they've read it. But to a large extent it's because never been more relevant.
That's because there's a global war raging. A class war, fought with an intensity unprecedented in the history of the human race. And thanks to four decades of brutally enforced neo-con 'Chicago School' economics, it's being fought on the most obscenely imbalanced odds imaginable.
But of course, since Tressell's day the 1% have further perfected not just their precious Great Money Trick, but also that other sleight of hand that's such an essential ingredient in keeping the masses subjugated: divide and conquer.
Yet still, people all over the globe are rising up against this 'infamous, atrocious, morally repugnant system'. From Brazil to Turkey, Egypt to Spain, the people will its collapse, from the bottom of their hearts and the darkest recesses of their souls.
But let's not let those brave, indignant masses risk life and limb only to have one tyrant replaced by another. At this crucial 'sink-or-swim' juncture for the human race, let's spread Robert Tressell's vision to the children of today - the politically active adults of tomorrow – so that we all can live in a world with 'justice and co-operation for its foundation, and international brotherhood and love for its law'.
'The Ragged Trousered Comic Book' is aimed at readers ten years and over. With your help it will be published on the centenary of the original's first publication in April, launched in London and thereafter translated into many languages, its message resonating around the world.
The witch is dead. But, 100 years on, Robert Tressell remains alive and well.
Martin Chomsky
Author 'The Ragged Trousered Comic Book'
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©Martin Chomsky 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the author.

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