A century is not so very long.

Not really. Just beyond the edge of a lifetime. Sometimes not even that. We say "100 years ago" to mean forever but it's not. It's within living memory. The memory of our grandparents or great grandparents.

But we forget. We forget that 100 years ago women in this country didn't have the vote. We forget that just over 100 years ago women were marching and fighting for their suffrage and some were tortured for doing so. And maybe we forget some died for the cause.

Before she started the script for her new book Sally Heathcote Suffragette, Mary Talbot admits that what she knew about the suffragette movement you could fit on a postage stamp. But looking for something meaty to get her teeth into after the success of Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes, the Costa Prize-winning graphic novel she made in collaboration with her husband and comic veteran Bryan Talbot, she found it in the quest for the vote.

"Once I started reading up on it I realised 'Gosh, there's so much'," she says as she sits in the living room of the Talbot home in Sunderland, nursing a frozen shoulder and wearing her replica "Votes For Women" badge. "I hadn't realised how massive the movement was and I thought this needs retelling properly to a new generation."

The result is Sally Heathcote Suffragette, a graphic novel told in handsome ink brush and water colour, courtesy of her husband (who did the rough artwork) and Edinburgh-based cartoonist Kate Charlesworth, who did the meticulous, sumptuous finished pages, and with a cool, considered feminist advocacy courtesy of Talbot's script.

It's a story that touches on the few things most of us know about the suffragettes - the Pankhursts, Emily Davison's ill-fated dash in front of the king's horse on the Aintree course during the Grand National - and puts it in context through the experiences of a fictional red-haired working-class Lancashire servant girl turned militant activist.

"Perhaps we tend to think of it as being a rather upper-class endeavour," suggests Mary Talbot. "It wasn't. It did include aristocratic involvement, very importantly because they financed it, but it also included working women at the heart of it."

The story of Sally - who progresses from fighting off sexist men to blowing up Lloyd George's unoccupied home - allows Talbot to explore the size of the movement, its geographic reach (Dublin, Manchester, Huddersfield and Westminster figure as locations in the story), its social and political divisions, the way some in the movement resorted to public disorder and the violence that was meted out to many of them by the state.

"It was only when they started using direct action that they started to get results," Bryan Talbot points out when he joins us, "because up until then the powers that be could ignore them."

The state had a wide-ranging notion of militancy, it should be said. "Heckling was called militancy," Mary Talbot says. "Even a woman speaking in public was outrageous." Still, the more aggressive the suffragettes were the more notice was taken. "I think it was acknowledged at the time by Millicent Fawcett, who was the leader of the constitutionalists, that with activism they achieved more than they had done in 40 years by getting media attention."

"The WSPU [the Women's Social and Political Union] was very modern," argues Bryan Talbot, "recognisably modern in terms of the methods they were using - not necessarily stone throwing but in terms of using the media of the period. What surprised me was they had this whole range of WSPU merchandising, from cups and saucers to a card game, Panko. It was all raising money for the movement. They had shops."

"It's very modern in that sense," says Mary. "Nowadays they'd be using social media. They were using the social media of the period."

"The suffragettes did not miss a trick, they were so savvy," adds Kate Charlesworth when we meet in Edinburgh a few days later. "They had badges with photographic reproductions of Mrs Pankhurst. It's absolutely nothing new. It reminded me a lot of the old days of Gay Lib and Second Wave Feminism campaigns. I felt a direct connection straight back there. And they did this thing of utilising women's crafts which is a very Second Wave Feminism thing to do. I read somewhere that one of the women they approached to help out with the embroidery didn't quite realise what the suffragettes were about. Genteel women's crafts essentially serving the cutting-edge of street politics."

That media-conscious nous could have unfortunate - even tragic - consequences, of course. "It wasn't a coincidence that Emily Davison was in front of a camera when she performed her act of protest on the race track," Mary Talbot explains. "She knew where she was going to do it. She wanted to get public attention."

Not all that attention was welcomed of course. There were anti-suffrage movements. Suffragettes were repeatedly caricatured, "unsexed", as Mary puts it. Demonstrations were attacked and, in the wake of the Black Friday demo in 1910 which saw suffragettes and police clash, arrested women - or at least the working-class women among them - were tortured and force-fed in prison. The latter is one of the most powerful sequences in the book.

"It occurred to me that young men and young women reading this will look at it and think 'This is why we vote'," suggests Charlesworth. "And when you've got the likes of Russell Brand saying 'Don't vote, don't vote ...' I could slap that boy, honestly."

On another level, the prison sequence is an example of how effective the graphic novel form can be. "Mary came up with that visual device of when you go into prison, you have the white background fading to black," Bryan Talbot points out, "and rather than a nine-panel grid it's an eight-panel grid which gives you the effect of looking through prison bars. Drawing it was very oppressive. Turning the page was a relief. I'm hoping the reader gets some of that."

"I think you can do things that are new in graphic novels because it's a newer form," Mary adds. "You can do something new and interesting. If I'd written a novel I wouldn't have felt I was breaking ground. It wouldn't have stood out as much."

It's worth noting that Sally Heathcote is not a one-eyed account of a historical moment. If anything, some of the Pankhursts don't emerge well from it. Perhaps that should come as no surprise when you learn of Mary Talbot's attitude to Mrs Pankhurst. "She's a nasty piece of work. I'm sure her motives were good to start with but towards the end she was obviously battle-scarred and totally ruthless."

It is Sylvia Pankhurst, Mrs Pankhurst's communist daughter, she has sympathy for. "Her and the youngest sister Adela were basically disowned by their mother. They stayed with the cause of suffrage throughout the war whereas Mrs Pankhurst and Christabel [her oldest daughter] didn't. They actually appropriated what was left of the funds and put it into the war effort and tried to get women into munitions."

It wasn't until another 14 years after the start of the war that the franchise was extended to all women over the age of 21 in 1928. Just over 85 years ago. Possibly less than a lifetime. But could you honestly say you knew that date?

We forget so much. But as Kate Charlesworth says, Sally Heathcote is the story "of how hard it was to get the vote and how crazy it is to throw away that heritage, whether a woman, a man or a young voter." That's worth remembering. Always.

Sally Heathcote Suffragette by Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot and Kate Charlesworth is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99