Body snatchers Burke and Hare turned into comic book stars

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THE serial-killing antics of William Burke and Willam Hare, the two Irishmen who famously sold the bodies of their victims to an Edinburgh surgeon, are set for a new wave of notoriety after being turned into comic-book stars.

An Edinburgh publisher's new graphic novel has been based on the numerous factual accounts of their gruesome deals, which saw them murder at least 16 victims in the space of a year.

Glasgow-based writer Martin Conaghan spent years researching the 19th-century killers, including searching through the archives of the likes of the National Galleries of Scotland to try to produce accurate portraits for the book, and paying a visit to the skeleton of Burke held by the Royal College of Surgeons.

The book, the first historical graphic novel to be produced by Insomnia Publications, depicts some of the duo's most notorious killings and chilling murder methods, as well as the famous Christmas Eve trial when Hare turned "King's Evidence" against his accomplice.

The main black-and-white artwork in the book has been produced by the leading comic artist Will Pickering, from Lanarkshire, while a host of his contemporaries, including Frank Quitely and Gary Erskine, have produced a gallery of their own interpretations of the killers.

Mr Conaghan, 38, a former psychiatric nurse who now works in sports journalism, said: "I've tried to make it as true to what happened as possible. There are only a couple of fictional elements in the graphic novel. The vast majority of it is based on all the existing historical accounts and research that has been done over the years.

"I did an awful lot of research, seeking out almost every book, article, documentary, film and poem I could, and went through all the official documents, such as the court papers, trying to check as many facts as possible.

"We went around the city of Edinburgh, taking pictures of the various locations that appear, and even visited the museum where Burke's skeleton is held."

Crawford Coutts, the managing director of Insomnia, said: "We very much wanted to present the facts and move away from the kind of thing that happened with Braveheart, which had so many inaccuracies. It's as much a work of scholarship as entertainment. Readers will almost be able to smell the 19th century every time they turn a page."

It is hoped the book will debunk many myths about Burke and Hare, including the common misconception that the dastardly duo were graverobbers. In fact, they lured the poor and destitute to their deaths in the West Port, off the Grassmarket, convinced they would not be missed.

Alan Grant, the Dumfries-based comic-book writer who has worked on the likes of Batman and Judge Dredd, has penned the introduction to the book. He said he had a mini-epiphany when he realised that Burke and Hare were not "resurrection men".

He says: "It was a revelation to discover they were actually serial killers, vile brutes who measured the price of human life in pounds, shilling and pence, monsters for whom alcohol and smothering were the tools of their trade."

The pair were caught when suspicious lodgers found the body of their final victim, Mary Docherty. Each blamed the other for selling the corpses, and Hare was given immunity in return for testifying against Burke.