Cover illustration for The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is known as a masterpiece of wit and political passion, one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written, but it was Owen's forbearance rather than his radicalism which moved me. His capacity for suffering is almost masochistic; I set out to depict him with an emaciated Christ-like aura as he endures the harrassment and intimidation of his overseer (left) and employer (right).
The working drawing (left) and an alternative color way used for the 2008 edition (right).
With the anniversary of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' publication, and a star-studded BBC Radio 4 serialisation, sales of the book surged. In the midst of a dire economic climate, it confounded expectations by reaching number six in the Amazon Movers and Shakers list. Actor Ricky Tomlinson caused a further spike in sales when he commended the book on BBC1's One Show. A former plasterer and a union activist, Tomlinson believes Tressell's message is timely. "Nothing's changed. People are still getting killed in the building industry. There's hardly any safety work, hardly any hygiene conditions. Toilets are as rare as rocking-horse shit."
I stumbled across a copy of the book in Waterstones, Aberdeen. The note underneath says "A wonderful, inspiring book about working class life in the early 20th century socialist movement in Britain. This will stay with you for the rest of your life".