A DARK graphic novel set in Swindon is finally on sale after the manuscript spent two decades in its author’s attic.

Black Charity is about a man who moves into a house whose other tenants include a violent conspiracy theorist and a dominatrix.

Together they find themselves embroiled in the aftermath of a sordid incident involving the highest reaches of the Establish-ment, and discover that powerful people will stop at nothing to cover it up.

Black Charity is the work of Bal Speer, which is the pen name of Andrew Rogers, who lives in Wroughton and teaches at Swindon College School of Art.

The long delay between creation and publication was mostly down to a single unfortunate conversation with an American publisher.

“Black Charity was going to be published 20-odd years ago by an American company,” said Andrew, 47, who is married with two children.

“They said, ‘You’re unknown, so if you could illustrate one of our books then we could get you known and publish yours.’ They sent through a long fax with a synopsis.

“I read it and it was awful. It was about an avenging ghost – chronic, horrible stuff. It wasn’t even just the first one. There was going to be a series. The publisher rang me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I spent five minutes telling him.

“It was when he didn’t say anything that I twigged. I said, ‘You wrote this.’ He said, ‘Yes, I did.’ I said, ‘You’re not going to publish my book.’ He said, ‘No, I’m not.’”

Black Charity was consigned to the attic while Andrew built a successful career, but about three years ago his wife suggested he try again to get it published.

The result was a deal with Archaia, another American publisher. It was available from the US last year, but a new UK distribution deal means it’s now easier than ever to get hold of a copy on this side of the Atantic.

Black Charity is a dark tale in which the Swindon of the 1990s is almost a character in itself. Readily recognisable locations include the Beehive pub and some of the streets and houses nearby, and one scene is set at Wanborough’s Harrow Inn.

Andrew came up with the idea for the novel after returning from a work stint in Los Angeles, where he was in charge of a team of animators.

“When I came back I kept thinking about comics and stuff, and that I ought to just do one.”

In spite of being a self-confessed procrastinator, Andrew managed to complete Black Charity’s 96 pages in as many days.

“I wanted something very English. All the stuff out there was either American or Japanese. I wanted to do something that celebrated our culture rather than anything else in the world.”

Andrew is currently working on a new graphic novel, provisionally entitled Roughhaus. Like Black Charity, it features Swindon heavily, but this time in a plot encompassing everything from the strange pranks of a tycoon to the nature of pub culture.

Black Charity can be ordered from bookshops and is also available at www. amazon. co.uk


ANDREW ROGERS’ pseudonym, Bal Speer, is rooted in old languages and an incident in which Children’s TV presenter Johnny Ball sprinted through the Swindon branch of Woolworth’s.

Speer, the author is at pains to point out, has nothing to do with Hitler’s armaments minister Albert Speer, but rather the old European derivation of ‘Rogers’ as ‘spearman’.

And Bal? Many years ago Johnny Ball was appearing at the Wyvern theatre.

Andrew and some friends watched as he chased somebody through Woolworth’s, presumably as part of a publicity event.

“Johnny Ball!” said one of Andrew’s friends in a Geordie accent, making it sound like ‘Baal’, then pointed to Andrew and said: “Baald head!”

In that moment, a nickname and half of a future pen name were born.