IT IS the epic poem recited at Burns Suppers around the world every year in honour of Scotland’s national bard.
Now Robert Burns’ most famous creation Tam O’Shanter has inspired a comic book that sees the poet turned into an animated hero for the first time – and cast as a real-life witch hunter.
More than 220 years after it was written, his celebrated tale of the wayward drinker Tam O’Shanter has been revamped for a young audience, in a story which suggests it was based on something that actually happened to Burns in his native Ayrshire.
In the graphic novel, launched at the poet’s former home in Alloway yesterday, Burns has to be dramatically rescued after stumbling across a satanic sabbath service in the grounds of the historic kirkyard and becoming entranced by the sight of dancing dervishes.
Described as “a hot-blooded young poet” by the Canadian publishers behind the book, Burns returns the favour of being saved by two witch hunters by agreeing to join forces with veteran Mackay and young apprentice Meg to combat the forces of evil.
Two of Scotland’s leading comic book writers, Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, have joined forces with English artist Tiernen Trevallion, to create the book Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter, which features nods to a host of his other celebrated works. And the pair hope the bard could end up starring in his own series of adventures.
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Staff at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway hope the book could spark a new wave of interest in the poet from comic book fans and help attract a new demographic of visitor to the historic sites in Alloway, including the kirk, which dates back to the 16th century, and Burns’ former cottage.
Tam O’Shanter, which was written in 1790, is said to have been inspired by the folklore tales of witchcraft Burns learned in childhood, as well as the antics of a real-life farmer, Douglas Graham, of Shanter, in Ayrshire, whose wife Helen was said to nag him for his excessive drinking.
It was voted the nation’s favourite Burns poem five years ago in a poll conducted to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth.
Edinburgh artists Beeby and Rennie, whose previous work has included Judge Dredd and Doctor Who stories, have been working on the book for several years.
Beeby, the first woman to write a Judge Dredd story, told The Scotsman: “It really started as a bit of a joke at first, but it also felt like a great idea to turn Robert Burns into a witch hunter.
“Tam O’Shanter lends itself perfectly to being adapted into a graphic novel as it’s such a great story.
“It’s amazing to get things to this stage and to be launching the book in Alloway, as it’s a hugely atmospheric place. We’d certainly love to get the chance to do a sequel.”
Chris Waddell, learning manager at the Alloway museum, said: “It certainly made our ears prick up a bit when we heard about this book, as the museum is really all about telling the true story of Robert Burns.
“But when we looked at it, it was so beautiful and was so jam-packed with Burns references we decided we had to sell it here.
“We think it will hold a lot of appeal to a specific demographic, which doesn’t go to museums in huge numbers these days.”
Mr Trevallion said: “Robbie’s journey felt to me like a right of passage. He’s led around the place by his libido and his poetry, like a force of nature.
“The fact that he becomes embroiled with demons and witch-hunters almost doesn’t touch the sides, but helps to reinforce his skills as a poet, and refine his romantic nature.”
Alexander Finbow, editor-in-chief at publisher Renegade, said: “I’ve loved this book from the pitch through to holding the hardcover. It is a truly special story that the creators should be very proud of and I feel lucky that Renegade could be a part of it.”
• Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter is on sale now
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