Review by Ian Keogh
Any graphic novel that highlights worthy people who might otherwise fly under the radar has to be worthwhile, and anthologies where contributors select a woman that’s impressed them and produce a strip about them is an idea that’s worked before (see recommendations), and it works here. It’s politically themed, but importantly, this isn’t just some fusty historical selection. It begins with Emmeline Pankhurst’s fight for women’s right to vote before World War I, but ends with a selection of women still under thirty as of 2018’s publication. Better still, while some may be known to people within the catchment area of the Glasgow based publisher, they won’t be known even throughout the UK, and these are people whose achievements deserve to be sung far and wide. Anyone whose social conscience is activated can’t fail to be impressed by passionate firebrand Mhairi Black elected to Parliament aged just 21, or the even younger Glasgow Girls, still schoolgirls in 2005 when they began a campaign to prevent their classmate being returned to Kosovo.
Diane Abbott, Joan Bakewell, Betty Boothroyd, Shami Chakrabati, Jayaben Desai, Bernadette Devlin, and Nicola Sturgeon are also still very much with us as of publication, some now no longer as active, and some perhaps with their best days still ahead of them. It’s a brave move for Heather Palmer and Rebecca Horner to include Margaret Thatcher among generally more liberal company, but there’s no arguing that in terms of public profile and respect she ranks ahead of anyone else featured. It’s a shame then, that her confrontational wrong-mindedness and failures occupy more space than her hard fought successes. It’s a contrast to Hannah Berry’s strip about Jayaben Desai whose story is a testament to persistence in the face of persecution. Not every battle is a victory, but highlighting injustice is.
Some strips are frustratingly short. Fionnuala Doran’s look at Bernadette Devlin only focuses on a single incident from her 1960s/1970s activism, Siana Bangura’s text about Helen Bamber almost infringes on Letty Wilson’s portrait, and Kathryn Briggs’ impressive single page faux stained glass illustration barely tells us anything about Ann Begg. Her Glasgow Girls piece with Heather McDaid is more effective.
For all the justified praise highlighting important and caring work, We Shall Fight Until We Win isn’t entirely a hagiography, Denise Mina revealing Beatrice Webb’s later regrets about wholeheartedly embracing Stalin’s form of Communism. And not every strip works. Sabeena Akhtar and Erin Anker’s celebration of the anonymous women living suppressed and repressed lives is muddy, with the title never adequately explained. However, the sheer joy of Jenny Bloomfield and Grace Wilson’s Mhairi Black as a pseudo-Beano character, and that everyone will learn about someone they didn’t know about outweighs any minor missteps. It’s particularly pleasing to see Diane Abbott, the most unjustifiably vilified politician in the UK, given full credit for her lifetime’s achievements by Bangura and Wilson.
It’s a shame the page count couldn’t have been extended to give everyone their due, but anyone looking for role models, inspirations or just further knowledge can’t go wrong.