Review by Win Wiacek
Everybody needs an abiding passion in their lives, and born storyteller Lucy Bellwood seems blessed with two as this superb paperback compilation of her comics about tall ships and the history of sailing delightfully proves.
Her introduction describes how at seventeen she fell under the spell of rigging, sheets and wind after spending a few life-changing weeks crewing aboard the Lady Washington, a fully functioning replica of a 1790s Brig. It inspired her to produce a succession of strips detailing her time afloat, and many of the things she learned then and since make up the first seafaring snippet ‘The Call of the Running Tide’ a funny, fact-packed evocation of the immortal allure of sea and stars. Following that is an utterly absorbing data page deftly describing and exactly explaining ‘What is a Baggywrinkle?’ I now know, but won’t tell you because it’s truly cool and not a surprise for spoiling.
‘Sea of Ink’ describes with captivating charm and sheer poetic gusto The Baggywrinkles Official Guide to Nautical Tattoos, covering the history, development and specific significance of the most popular symbols worn by mariners across the centuries. It’s followed by a definitive ‘Fathom Fact’ and an account of Bellwood’s first days at sea traversing ‘Parts Unknown’ whilst nailing down the very basics of the ancient profession. It is backed up by the nitty-gritty of sea-man’s staple ‘Hard Tack’.
‘The Plank’ hilariously and wittily debunks the accumulated misleading mythology surrounding the pirates’ most infamous human resources solution and is counterbalanced by an evocative look at the first Lady Washington and her forgotten place in history. ‘Pacific Passages’ details how, in 1791, the Boston trader and accompanying sloop Grace deviated slightly from their journey to Shanghai and discovered Japan by anchoring in the Oshima Bay.
A tale of remarkable restraint and mutual respect ended happily for all concerned, but the real trouble started 63 years later when Commodore Matthew Perry showed up and forced isolationist Japan to open her doors to foreign trade. The heartwarming tale is supplemented by a glossary of Japanese and English terms and is followed by a superb and succinct history of the greatest scourge ever to afflict nautical travellers.
‘Scurvy Dogs’ relates the effects, causes and raft of solutions postulated and attempted by every stripe of learned man in the quest to end the debilitating condition’s toll of attrition. It’s followed by ‘Scurvy Afterword’: an engrossing essay by Eriq Nelson relating how we’re not out of the woods yet and why Scurvy still blights the modern world from individual picky eaters to millions suffering in refugee camps.
Wrapping up this magnificently beguiling treat is ‘The Scurvy Rogues’, an outrageously enticing and informative ‘Guest Art Gallery’ with strips and pin-ups from fellow cartoon voyagers Lissa Treiman, Betsy Peterschmidt, Adam T. Murphy, Kevin Cannon, Ben Towle, Steve LeCouilliard, Isabella Rotman, Dylan Meconis and Beccy David. And while we’re at it let’s not forget to applaud the colouring contributions of Joey Weiser and Michele Chidester.
Meticulously researched, potently processed into gloriously accessible and unforgettable cartoon capsule communications, the stories shared in Baggywrinkles are brimming with verve and passion. It’s a true treat for all lovers of seas, wild experiences, comfy chairs, good company and perfect yarn-spinning.