Forgotten resistance stories
“The Bund” was formed by Jewish intellectuals and workers in 1897 during deeply repressive times.
November 18th, 2023
This small but courageous group fought for political and workers’ rights. Michael Kluckner discusses his contributions to a new graphic novel about this historical resistance.
Interview by David Lester
Following up on the success of The Rooming House: The West Coast in the Seventies (Midtown, 2022), Vancouverite Michael Kluckner has illustrated The Bund: A Graphic History of Jewish Labour Resistance (Between The Lines $34.95), written by Sharon Rudahl and Paul Buhle.
A virtually forgotten piece of political history, The Bund is an important addition to the canon of graphic literature depicting resistance against tyranny.
The Bund was founded in Vilnius in 1897 by a small group of Jewish workers and intellectuals from the “Pale of Settlement” areas in tsarist Russia. Pale of Settlement is an archaic term for places that Jewish people were allowed to reside in. Beyond these borders, Jews were mostly forbidden.
The group organized against industrial exploitation and fought against the murderous Soviet and Nazi regimes. Through all this, The Bund kept secular and progressive ideas alive. Prominent Bundists included Pati Kremer (1867–1943), a Russian revolutionary socialist, and Bernard Goldstein (1889–1959) who helped smuggle in arms in preparation for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The Bund was co-written by Sharon Rudahl, a graphic novelist in her own right, and a key figure in the ground-breaking feminist Wimmen’s Comix, an underground comics anthology published from 1972 to 1992, and Paul Buhle, a veteran of work on almost 30 non-fiction graphic novels.
Kluckner’s previous graphic novels are Julia (Midtown Press, 2018); 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery (Midtown Press, 2016) and Toshiko (Midtown Press, 2015).
David Lester: Quite a leap from the West Coast in the 70s to tsarist Russia.
Michael Kluckner: The shift in locale and time was interesting. I could say I passed Horse 101 in art school and drew a lot of beards for The Rooming House so I was well-prepared. The image research was fairly straightforward thanks to the Internet. I was able to find photographs (to draw from) of some of the quite minor Bundists as well as the recurring characters like Pati Kremer, Bernard Goldstein, and Lenin of course. The rural Ukrainian and Polish scenes were re-imagined from historic photo sites, and there are photos online of, for example, the tsar’s crown and the Kremlin, which repeat throughout the book in different roles.
DL: Your previous graphic novels were in black and white. How was it to work in full colour?
MK: I had been playing around, adding some flat watercolour to black-and-white ink drawings like the “woodcuts” in The Rooming House—colouring them in with patches of watercolour rather than really “painting,”—and it worked out very well. I used a kind of “poverty palette” of umbers and ochres, with a couple of dull greys, for the Bundists and peasants, and a brighter palette of blues and reds for the panels of the aristocracy. I also drew quite a number of cartooned maps using digital colour, for example to show the Pale of Settlement in Ukraine / Poland / Russia where Jews were confined. Showing the geography of their oppression was one of the tasks I wanted the book to accomplish. Another thing was figuring out Polish, Yiddish and Russian placards and signs for a few of the pages. I didn’t want any English in the graphics. The publisher had a linguist check all of them, I believe!
DL: You normally write and illustrate your own books. What was it like collaborating with the legendary Sharon and Paul?
MK: Both were very supportive and Sharon’s script was easy to follow. It became a question of splitting it out into about 100 pages, with the inevitable need to start a chapter on a right-hand page and stage the narrative so that I could use a two-page spread for some important and dramatic moments. Devin Clancy, the production designer at Between the Lines, picked up a few vignettes from drawings and repeated them, even reversed them, on a few pages to enrich the layout. All in all, it was a great collaboration, and so 21st century: Paul’s in the eastern US, Sharon’s in LA, BTL is in Toronto. The first time I saw them was in a Zoom presentation at a San Francisco library in October.
DL: Is there a particularly profound moment in the book that stood out to you as a historian and artist?
MK: The book is haunted by our knowledge of the pending Holocaust. The Warsaw ghetto scenes were difficult, as was the page almost at the end where the women and children in Vilna (in Lithuania, now known as Vilnius), in sorrow and with dignity, are being forced onto a truck at gunpoint to be driven to an extermination camp. And, of course, Russia had invaded Ukraine (yet again) just a few months before I began work on the book. Learning more about Imperial Russia and the oppression over centuries of its neighbours, Jewish as well as every nationality nearby, was disturbing. I think the couple of pages I enjoyed drawing most were about Japan beating the crap out of Russia in their 1905 war.
DL: Any future graphic novels or book projects in the works?
MK: I’m going back to the future, as it were, with a book called Surviving Vancouver that will be out next spring. It is like my old works of watercolour illustrations and a text mixing historic and current information. Then I may work on a sequel to The Rooming House—I received so many fascinating emails from people recounting their own lives and adventures in the 70s and thereafter. There are more stories to be told, and the graphic novel format works well. 9781771136365
2023 GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP
Twenty-five years in the making, What’s Fear Got to Do With It? by Ivana Filipovich (Conundrum $18) is set during a single evening at the Richmond Night Market, North America’s largest night market. Two women, Eva and Mia, share the same boyfriend, Max—a feared member of the city’s criminal underground. It is not love that motivates this triangle, but power, money and fear. BC-based Filipovich has had her work published in Slovenia, Sweden and Serbia. 9781772620887
Edited by Bevan Thomas and Hannah Myers, Through the Labyrinths of the Mind (Cloudscape $20) is a graphic novel anthology of 11 stories that tackle depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and other mental heath issues with empathy and understanding. 9781927742204
Couches Get Lonely Too (Lulu.com $26) by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin is her entirely embroidered graphic account of living through the Covid-19 years. The book promises humour and wisdom. Gabriola Island-based Shefrin runs a website called Stitching for Social Change, where you can learn about her quilts, community projects, illustrations and workshops, all of which are interlaced with her vision for a better world. Contact: stitchingforsocialchange.ca
Mr. Block: The Subversive Comics and Writings of Ernest Riebe (Between the Lines $34.95) is a remarkable collection, both as labour history, and comics history. Mr. Block, a bumbling, boss-loving, anti-union blockhead was created by Ernest Riebe, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The strip first appeared in 1912 in the Industrial Worker. Riebe combined comics and humour to burst the bubble of workers who placed faith in a capitalist system that exploited them. Joe Hill even wrote a song about Mr. Block, to the tune of It Looks to Me Like a Big Time Tonight. The anthology was edited by the Graphic History Collective, with Paul Buhle and Iain McIntyre. 9781771136099
Vancouver-based writer and illustrator Claire Lordon’s graphic memoir One in a Million (Candlewick $16.99) tells her story of living with a brain tumour in high school. After multiple surgeries, the tumour was removed. She survived the ordeal thanks to her art and the support of friends. For teens and young adults. 9781536213676
Eight years in the making, Phobos and Deimos: Interplanetary high school drama graphic novel by Jonathon Dalton (Cloudscape $35) follows Maida Kilwa, a teenage refugee from Mars. Adapting to her new life on Earth, she navigates high school and a troubling dystopian government. Maida is torn between security and the fires of rebellion. Dalton wrote Phobos and Deimos after teaching in East London for a year and thinking a lot about class and migration. He is president of the Cloudscape Comics Society in Vancouver. 9781927742525
Mystery and magic for ages 8-12 in Doña Quixote: Rise of the Knight (Henry Holt $14.99) by Rey Terciero and illustrated by Monica Magaña. A middle-schooler in a small Texas town, Lucia, wearing her grandfather’s magical helmet discovers the town mayor is secretly a shapeshifting beast of Mexican lore. Her parents think she’s imagining things. But that won’t deter her from stopping the mayor from unleashing evil on their town. Magaña lives in Vancouver. 9781250795526
Keeping it real for ages 6 to 9, Pup and Dragon: How to Catch an Elf (Sourcebooks/Wonderland $12.99) by Alice Walstead and illustrated by Vancouver’s Paul Gill tells a charming story of two best friends, Pup and Dragon who are trying to catch one of Santa’s little helpers on Christmas Eve—only they have no idea what a Santa is, let alone an elf. Their adventure leads to an understanding of Christmas. 9781728270517
Third in the “Paws” graphic novel series for middle graders is Priya Puts Herself First (Razorbill $12.99) by Nathan Fairbairn and illustrated by Michele Assarasakorn. The story revolves around the Baby-Sitters Club for pets, and this time, the team of best dog-walkers in town must overcome personal challenges—Priya’s family is being evicted and Gabby wants to be internet famous. Fairbairn is an Eisner-nominated comic creator. Assarasakorn has worked for Marvel and DC. Both live in Vancouver. 9780593351970
Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second $17.99) follows Alix, a hothead who is desperate to play in the Women’s U18 team, but she must first learn to control her temper. To help, she enlists the calm and poised Ezra, a boy from the drama club. The two become close, but will it be more than just a friendship? Hicks is a Vancouver-based Eisner Award winner. Ages 14-18. 9781250838728
Though not BC-based authors or illustrators, Arsenal Pulp Press has issued English translations of Can Dundar and Anwar’s Erdoğan: A Graphic Biography: The Rise of Turkey’s Modern Autocrat ($28.95) and 40 Men and 12 Rifles: Indochina 1954 ($32.95) by Marcelino Truong, about love, beauty and war in 1950s Indochina. Erdoğan: 9781551529219; 40 Men and 12 Rifles: 9781551529233
David Lester is a graphic novelist, musician and BC BookWorld designer.