Comic art by Gary Erskine with embedded timeline design by Paul Fillingham

Dawn of the Unread comic panel by Marvel artist Gary Erskine and ‘Mad Madge’ timeline design by Paul Fillingham.

Madge World

A peek behind the panels of The Guardian Award winning digital comic Dawn of the Unread

Paul Fillingham

Paul Fillingham
August 2023

My digital storytelling collaborations with James Walker are typically layered with related themes. The digital comic Dawn of the Unread (featuring zombie rebel writers awakened by declining literacy levels and library closures) is augmented with guest essays, video and graphics. One of my favourite graphic elements in issue #15 of Dawn of the Unread is a timeline depicting the life of rebel writer Margaret Cavendish, AKA ‘Mad Madge’, AKA the Duchess of Newcastle.

Mad Madge Poster

The ‘Mad Madge’ timeline poster includes references to the English Civil War, bubonic plague, the collapse in the speculative Dutch tulip bulb market and the Great Fire of London.

When a printed anthology of Dawn of the Unread was published by Spokesman Press in 2016, it became apparent that without the embedded content (amounting to hundreds of essays and media clips) the original aim of the literacy project was somewhat diluted.  With the prospect of designing a new timeline depicting the travels of D.H. Lawrence, I decided to revive Madge’s timeline artwork to see how I could embed it into a webpage.

The original artwork is more impactful as a physical poster. So, I’ve added a thumbnail image which opens up a new window which shows the detail and can be scrolled. Users don’t often scroll left to right on desktop browsers, unless they are using a dating app like Tinder but at least you can see all the gory details of Mad Madge’s life.

An infographic timeline depicting key events in the life of Margaret Cavendish
Explore the life of rebel writer Margaret Cavendish (1623 – 1673). Timeline viewer (Opens in new browser window).

Active during the mid 17th Century at the time of the Great Plague and the Great fire of London, Margaret was dubbed ‘Mad Madge’ by diarist Samuel Pepys, who appeared somewhat aggrieved that a woman should be invited to join the elite scientific academy of The Royal Society. Margaret was a visionary who launched the science fiction genre with her novel The Blazing World (1666).  Margaret Lucas originally married into the Cavendish family in 1645, whose ancestral seat was Welbeck Abbey, located in the North Nottinghamshire Dukeries. She was wealthy and well connected but her aristocratic background should not detract from her steadfastness and remarkable talent.  Whilst The Blazing World conjures up a utopian vision of a world illuminated by two suns, her earlier work ‘Poems and Fancies’ (1663) was equally imaginative, exploring the glittering facets of a diamond earring and imagining sub-atomic worlds within.

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Poems and Fancies

Of Many Worlds in This World
Just like as in a nest of boxes round,
Degrees of sizes in each box are found
So, in this world, may many others be
Thinner and less, and less still by degree.

Although they are not subject to our sense
A world may be no bigger than two pence.
Nature is curious, and such works may shape,
Which our dull senses easily escape.

For creatures, small as atoms, may be there
If every one a creature’s figure bear.
What several worlds might in an earring be
For millions of those atoms may be in
The head of one small little single pin
And if thus small, then ladies may well wear
A world of worlds, as pendants in each ear.