Twist in the tale of 'world's worst poet'
OVER the decades Dundee has been the birthplace of a host of iconic cartoon creations, from the pie-chomping cowboy Desperate Dan to the bothersome brat Minnie the Minx and the couthy Caledonian charm of the Broons.
Now the city of Discovery has a new comic-strip hero in the unlikely shape of William Topaz McGonagall. The life of the man widely regarded as the world's worst poet has been immortalised in a new, lavishly illustrated book.
The graphic novel is the brainchild of teacher-turned-artist Charles Nasmyth and features an introduction by Scottish arts impresario Richard Demarco.
Unlike the squeaky clean fare of the Beano and Dandy, The Comic Legend Of William McGonagall is strictly an adults-only affair, with a host of risqu illustrations that would surely have left the God-fearing Dundonian covering his eyes in disbelief.
The book, which is bound in jute as a tribute to McGonagall's roots as a weaver, features the much-mocked 19th-century tragedian rubbing shoulders with a host of latter-day stars, including John F Kennedy, Elvis and Charlie Chaplin.
The cover of the surreal tome also depicts the pock-marked poet sharing a post-coital cigarette with Marilyn Monroe while a train plunges into frozen waters in the background.
It is, of course, a depiction of McGonagall's best-known poem, 'The Tay Bridge Disaster', which contains the lines: "Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay!/Alas! I am very sorry to say/That ninety lives have been taken away/On the last Sabbath day of 1879/Which will be remember'd for a very long time."
The book also features a cameo caricature appearance by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, depicted as John Bull, complete with a Union Jack vest.
Not to be outdone, First Minister Alex Salmond also appears in an over-sized Tam O'Shanter and SNP tie, stating: "The book underlines the need for an independent Scotland with Queen Victoria as head of state."
The pictorial history takes an anarchic look at the key moments in McGonagall's life, including his shambolic performance as Macbeth when he refused to die and had to be hauled off stage.
It also depicts his doomed attempt to walk from Dundee to Balmoral Castle to serenade Queen Victoria - only to be turned away by a courtier.
A flashback to McGonagall's childhood shows his classmates as Rabbie Burns, Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hugh McDiarmid and Sir Walter Scott.
Fife-based artist Nasmyth claimed the work was a humorous but sincere tribute to the clown prince of poets which owes as much to "the Broons and Oor Wullie artist Dudley Watkins as it does as William Blake and the surrealists".
He said: "McGonagall was as near as you can get to a 19th-century wannabe who missed out on appearing on Big Brother, but with the vital difference that he wanted to be famous for following a noble calling - that of poet and tragedian."
Nasmyth also defended his decision to use a 20th-century icon as a female foil to the unglamorous wordsmith.
"Marilyn Monroe, like McGonagall, certainly achieved fame for reasons other than her ability, and part of her fame, like his, was established by people who abused her and took advantage of her naivety.
"McGonagall and Monroe may seem an unlikely couple, but they were kindred spirits."
The Comic Legend of William McGonagall is published by Waverley Books
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