The family of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands is incensed that a graphic novel depicting his story and death was published without their consent. Sands died on hunger strike in 1981 at the age of 27. His family claims the book exploits his memory.

The National Lottery funded the graphic novel, which is titled “Bobby Sands: Freedom Fighter,” through the Arts Council. The comic, written and illustrated by 80-year-old Gerry Hunt and published by O’Brien Press in Dublin, was launched on Feb 22.

In a statement, Sands’ family said: "It is reprehensible that the family, including our elderly mother, was first made aware of this book when confronted by extracts displayed in the media.

"We are given to understand that the book contains intimate family scenes that no one, other than our family members, would be privy to. It is unfortunate that well-meaning people, such as Mr Hunt, are misled by those who profess to be authorities on Bobby's life story.

"Our family once again reiterates that the Bobby Sands Trust does not act on behalf of Bobby, nor does it represent our family, in any shape or form. We again call upon the trust to disband and desist from using Bobby's memory as a commercial enterprise."

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the family is opposed to having Sands’ legacy controlled by the Bobby Sands Trust, which is run by senior Sinn Fein members, such as Gerry Adams, who authored an epilogue for the book, and Danny Morrison. The hunger striker’s sister, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt (who is married to prominent dissident, Michael McKevitt) has called for the end of the trust several times.

Unionists have also criticized the comic, saying it glorifies terrorism.

“Because it is a comic book, it is directed at young people. It is wrong to be sending out a message that somehow terrorism is appropriate. That is just not right,” said Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott, the Irish Times reports.

“He was not a freedom fighter. He was a terrorist who belonged to an organization that murdered fellow Irish citizens,” he added.

“How the Arts Council ever came to fund this project I have no idea. I will be putting in some questions about what were the criteria for funding to the department and to the council,” said Elliott.

A spokesman for the Northern Arts Council said: “The Bobby Sands book, a full color graphic novel by Gerry Hunt, is by an author and illustrator who has a significant track record in the genre of graphic novels and has written other historical graphic novels."

He added: “We do not interfere with editorial content nor do we draw a line regarding content chosen by publishers which may attract controversy,” he said.

Michael O’Brien, the book’s publisher, said he was surprised by the reaction and regretted that the book had become “highly politicized.” He said the graphic novel form is aimed at adults and not children.

In response to Elliot’s description of Sands as a terrorist, O’Brien said, “You could also call the men of 1916 terrorists. I would say when all peaceful protests have failed and there is grave injustice sometimes people are left with no alternative except violence.”

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast.Creative Commons/Wikipedia