This Is Birmingham
by Jan Bowman
This interesting and quite delightful book, somewhere in between illustrated poetry, travel guide, social history and comics, was something Dave Hopkins, manager of Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham pointed out to me last time I was in the shop. I’m ever so glad he did.
The title and content obviously owes a huge debt to the classic “This Is ….” series by Miroslav Sasek. But although This Is Birmingham evokes the feel of these books, it’s certainly not a slavish reproduction and it’s style is all it’s own.
This Is Birmingham is a celebration of the city I was brought up in, a city I love. And the book does a great job of capturing so much of the place, all the diversity and beauty of a very modern, forward looking city.
Birmingham is packed full of beautiful buildings, magnificent spectacles and unexpected delights. This Is Birmingham covers so much of this, from the diversity of areas like Soho Road, with bright lights, colourful markets, something for everyone – and the best Indian sweets I’ve ever tasted, to the sheer unexpected beauty of Spaghetti Junction – an oasis of green and winding canals amongst the huge concrete pillars supporting the brutal yet somehow aesthetically pleasing mass of the worlds’s largest motorway interchange.
But the most inspired section of This Is Birmingham is seen when Bowman travels back in time and uncovers the origins of the city, when great men made huge changes, transforming a city of typical 18th Century squalor to become a beacon of enlightenment with an influence around the world.
The historical portion of the book is quite beautifully paced, not just a blank history lesson, but doing that greatest of things and creating a very dynamic, practically heroic portrait of the Lunar Society and its Lunaticks, that group of enlightened businessmen, scholars, physicians, inventors and scientists who banded together in the 18th Century to completely change the city’s future. And not just Birmingham – the Lunatick’s ideas and their influence radically changed the world and led Birmingham to the forefront of the industrial revolution.
The carefully constructed, poetic verse sits atop the gorgeous, full colour illustrations and comic pages – a lovely example of the blurring boundaries between illustration, children’s picture books and sequential art. There’s a beautiful range of artistic styles throughout the book. But one thing that remains constant is the obvious passion and love Bowman has for a great city. It comes through in every page.
Jan Bowman’s This Is Birmingham is a perfect addition to any Brummie’s Christmas stocking, but geography shouldn’t come into play here – it’s a book that anyone will enjoy.
This Is Birmingham should serve both adults and children equally well and it’s certainly something that I’d hope a lot of primary and secondary schools in Birmingham have on their shelves.
This Is Birmingham is available from all good bookshops – but if you’re in Birmingham, pop into Nostalgia & Comics and ask for it there.