Michael Kluckner, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 09 November 2015

Michael Kluckner, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 09 November 2015

Abstract
Michael begins by describing his early days working for various media outlets as a cartoonist. He explains his interest in the Japanese-Canadian experience and how that has influenced the development and creation of his various graphic novels. Michael then goes on to outline the premise and main themes of his graphic novel about a Japanese-Canadian girl named Toshiko. Afterwards, he details his involvement in the Places that Matter Program where he vetted applications and wrote plaques for the commemoration of certain historical areas and buildings in Vancouver. Michael also talks about the new discoveries he encountered while researching the dispossession and internment of Japanese-Canadians as well as the challenges of incorporating such politically charged information into his graphic novel. Near the end of the interview, Michael talks about the future of his writing/cartooning career.
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Labove Joshua (LJ)
It is November 9, 2015. I am Josh Labove in Vancouver, British Columbia with Michael Kluckner. So I guess we'll just start ... maybe you can tell me a little bit about how you came to the form of the graphic novel as a ...
Michael Kluckner (MK)
Long ago, in the late 1970s, I was a cartoonist. I drew a lot of cartoons for alternate newspapers and then around 1979, 1980 I was doing illustrations for the Vancouver Sun and the province and the Victoria Times – the dailies around here. I got out of that a couple years after that and moved more into fine art media and began to illustrate history books. History had always been an interest of mine rather than anything that I had studied academically. I'm a very visual person and so I began to create artwork and particularly as the years went by things were changing in the landscape, the vanishing Vancouver sort of thing, and then research what, to a certain degree, were extended captions for these things. That became a more serious interest in history; again, still not academic. That evolved along and around 1999 with my awareness of the relatively newly invented internet at that time, I realized that I could put some of the images that I had been doing, and these were particularly in rural British Columbia where I liked to travel and so on, that I could put them up on the internet and then with the help of the CBC and, well I guess the invention of Google, I could get feedback from people who knew stories about places that were in areas that didn't have museums, archives, and formal records. It was a way of enhancing a kind of a roadside memory for me. We'd come forward to that and one of the threads that emerged from a book called Vanishing British Columbia, which UBC press published in 2005, was this thread of Japanese Canadian, well, the enforced diaspora that came out of the declaration of war and the decision of the federal government and the provincial government to expel all people of Japanese ancestry from the coast. I kept picking up these sites and there would be a Japanese-Canadian connection here and there and so on. One story that particularly appealed to me was of a farm in the rural area near the salmon arm in the British Columbia interior. It's about 300 miles, 450k east of Vancouver. It was interesting, partly to me, because my family had a little shack on the beach there on Shuswap Lake when I was a child and I knew the area really well. When I was a child there were a few Japanese Canadian families who were there and I didn't know ... at that point I'm a kid of the early teens and I didn't know about the history, or at least not in any detail. But then I come to it later on, in the early 2000s, and I'm looking at this area, went and explored it and then had a contact who was actually the daughter of a woman who was born on this farm in 1942, 43, and met her mother Fumiko (?) who was, at that time, an old lady. Shortly after I met her she had a stroke which took out all of her English. She reverted back to her birth language. She could only speak Japanese after the stroke but there was this extraordinary connection there and I wrote about that and did a few paintings and reproduced a handful of photographs that they had from that period. It was 2005 and the story stayed with me during subsequent years. I thought, from my point of view as an artist, I was spending increasing amounts of time drawing rather than painting, a different side of the brain, travelling a lot and then drawing. Drawing was a good thing to do.
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MK
I realized in a way that, potentially, what I could do is I could use this drawing medium and then the graphic novel medium ... you know, the outgrowth of the comic books in my childhood that I could use that, possibly, to tell a story. I couldn't say anything more about it in nonfiction and then the question came of how to begin to tell it and there was a comment that I had heard from a couple of people in that little Japanese Canadian community about “there were two sisters who were there” and they were preteens during the war. They were girls but they stayed on there until about 1952. The migration restrictions came off in 1949 but they stayed on there and they worked on the farm and it became a community that they were a part of. And, you know, people said “oh, these girls are good looking.” It's just a comment that stayed in my mind. There was this other, total happenstance, of a friend, a colleague of my wife's at Vandusen Gardens got a copy of Vanishing British Columbia and he was astounded to find the Calvin Farm in there because he had grown up on a nearby farm. Again, he had been about ten, eleven years old in the latter years of the war but he remembered working on the farm and he remembered the Japanese Canadian families who were there. He said that he had a crush on one of these girls, Setsuko, who was there and this was, by this time, in the early 1950s. That stayed with me and I thought, hm, what if I recreated the Calhoun Farm in this situation of it but created a couple of teenage characters. You know, a sixteen or seventeen or eighteen year old girl and give her a male cousin who was on there because this was a big extended family and then have them interact with somebody who would be a local farm boy and, you know, just watch what happens. That was in effect how it began. It began just with drawing it. I had the geography, based on a couple of old photographs, down; opened up the landscape a little bit; began to draw it; put in school buses which didn't exist until after the war. There had to be some way to have these people interact that wouldn't otherwise happen and then, you know, explore. The young man who is unnamed, he gets nicknamed 'Cowboy' because of the sharp sense of humor that Toshiko has because he smells of cows. She's only ever lived in the city and she's way more sophisticated than he is. She's smarter she is, in a sense, empowered and has had the bad luck of the war coming in the way of her plans to go to university to become a teacher, to study more literature. His vision is much smaller, is much more local, he's grown up in a quite religious rather, racist, community; knows very very little of the outside world but he's a nice guy; not the sharpest knife in the drawer, effectively. You've got both the racing that's happening there between the Japanese ancestry people and then the Caucasian people in the area but you've also got a social class interaction beginning to happen. They're thrown together by circumstance. He's lonely and lives out in the middle of nowhere and she, in a sense, is this girl he's attracted to and she feels that her teenage-hood, her girl-hood is effectively passing her by. I really wanted them to think and act like teenagers, not that that term existed in the 1940s, but in a sense to be self-focused rather than having a big picture view of the world which I don't think ... you know, I don't think that ... I certainly didn't have one when I was seventeen or eighteen.
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MK
Also, that they would be impetuous or reckless and not really think through the consequences and so when it ends up that their little relationship becomes quite a scandal and there's a big fight at the high school dance, that doesn't really involve her Japanese-ness. It's a guy who, a classmate of theirs, who has signed up for the war. He's in uniform. He's going to go and fight and he's effectively calling our hero a chicken for not signing up and he goats him by insulting Toshiko and there's a huge fight which ends up bringing in the BC Security Commission because there's a Japanese Canadian kid involved. This precipitates our hero, Cowboy, being kicked out of the house by his racist father effectively. So he says he's going to head off to Vancouver. He didn't really know what the rules are but he's going to go off to Vancouver because he knows that there's work there. He wants to get training. He doesn't want to be a farmer anymore and she says “I'm going to go too.” I think it's just sort of a reasonable decision that teenagers would make. They would just say “well, we'll go. It'll be okay. It'll all work out.” So they hop on a freight train and end up hitchhiking the final part of the way to get to Vancouver during the war and the adventure goes from there.
LJ
So Toshiko would be, I guess, in her late eighties by now if we did a ...
MK
Chokes on water. Excuse me for drinking water while thinking at the same time.
LJ
Are you okay?
MK
Yeah, I'm fine.
LJ
Alright. I'm just thinking that she might be in her late eighties by now. Have you, since this book has come out, come across folks from the Japanese Canadian community and go “I wonder if you knew her. I wonder if you knew Toshiko.”
MK
In a way. It's interesting, the woman who came to the book launch, her name was Aki and is a mother of Vivian Ringstad and I think she was born Kobayashi. Let me just get that because I can put it properly on your tape. This doesn't have her birth name on it. It'll just take a sense and then I can get her proper name for you.
LJ
She sounds very familiar to me.
MK
Yeah, she's very involved with the ... Oh, this is not going to give it to me on this form. Anyway, we can fill the name but I think it might be Wakabayashi. But regardless of this ... but she had arrived in there. She had arrived into the Blind Bay area which is very near Tappen and she's ninety-six now. She was an adult of about twenty-four, twenty-five and it's kind of interesting because when this is presented with this rather willful young woman who, in a sense, is Canadian. She insists that she's Canadian, that her Japanese-ness is not something that she's ashamed of but she sees her future just totally in Canadian terms. I don't know exactly how that sat with people who were around at that time and then also that there's a bit of sexual activity that comes along in there too. You know, you can imagine somebody looking at that and thinking “I would never have done that” or “this is a made up kind of a character.”
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MK
But, you know, in a sense I suppose of the creation of the character of Toshiko that, you know, she's moving through life and she's making her own decisions and she says just explicitly “everything's changed, there's no going back.” When they get to Vancouver they go out and walk down the street of her old block and she sees that the whole block has been transformed. It's either been bought by or rented out to white people. She carries a little photograph of her and the girls on the block in 1942, you know, before Pearl Harbour. She just looks at it and her whole world is gone and at that point she's, in a sense, free to move on. I don't know exactly how the real people would respond to that and I'm sure to get more feedback from people as it goes along. The one that I'm most interested in hearing from, when she gets a copy of the book, is this woman Saiyan Reiko Upton who is the daughter of Kathy Fukahara-Upton who was born on the farm and Saiyan was the one that was an educated anthropologist. She's now working and she's been working for the past several years for the Department of Foreign Affairs. She's a refugee processing officer in Beirut. She just wrote and said she was probably going to be coming back on a break back to Canada, back to Vancouver later in the fall and said she was going to get a copy or something like that. I really want to know what she thinks about this, whether she thinks this is a reasonable portrayal of a young woman. But again, what I'm doing is throwing out in the graphic novel format what looks to be, on the surface, a kind of a standard treatment of Japanese Canadian history. A group of people who are exiled, who losing everything, who are countering the racism and everything but then trying to turn that on its ear a little bit by saying, you know, these people were individuals. They did not necessarily behave according to type and saying that, in a sense, that idea which was said very much by Japanese Canadians at that time saying “we are Canadians.” Well, okay, here's one who is Canadian whose whole vision is her ... she wants to study literature. She's eighteen years old. She thinks Romeo and Juliet is the best play ever written. She's effectively memorized it and then to play her off this guy and then the question is “do you feel sorry for Cowboy, himself?” as he gradually realized that she won't marry him, that her vision of the future doesn't include a guy who's going to be a mechanic. So you get all of these threads going along at the same time and along the way the beauty of the graphic novel format is that if you stage the scenes, if you illustrate it in a way that ... you know, I hope I've done with this scene ... you can put a lot into it that just gets into people subtly, it's not didactic. You're not creating characters who are making pronouncements, so that you can absorb something of the atmosphere of the time and staged scenes that are really, what you would call teachable moments, what Barack Obama would call teachable moments or learning opportunities where you can say that. For example, where Cowboy realizes that Toshiko wants to come with him and he says “we're eloping” and she says “not so fast” and then he has found out that if she married him that she would be reclassified as white. So it's that kind of hard information that you can insert into a graphic novel in a way that is more difficult than a conventional novel. When you put that kind of information into nonfiction it just becomes effect piled up on effect. With any luck, people who are reading this will discover this level of detail about that time almost by osmosis rather than by having it hammered into their heads that this was going on.
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MK
I would hope that people would get a real sense of the injustice of the period and of the laws and also realize how insidious the governmental actions were at that time without, again, having it hit over their head. Another aspect, we were talking about how the extraordinary serendipity of ... I was doing this and then Landscapes of Injustice got going. I think the other thing that came along that was so interesting was the Niqab issue during the federal election in the fall of 2015, where we are, and Bill C-51 and this whole issue of citizenship and people being classified by their races, being capable of doing 'acts' and therefore there would be a governmental response just based on race. Also the graphic novel format, for example, she has the opportunity to pull out her identity card. You know, first photo ID in Canada and stamped right on it, it says that she's Canadian born but that doesn't matter. It's her race, it's only her race that matters. You can kind of roll these things in in a subtle way in a graphic novel. Let's put it this way, I very rarely read historical novels because I find the characters are just set up to make statements.
LJ
Yeah, I think that I've found here as in a lot of graphic novels, but here especially, that it's learning history along the way of being incredibly entertained about these characters. The history seems to happen in the background as you get absorbed into the drama.
MK
Yeah, and I'm really pleased with both Toshiko and Cowboy. Fiko, the cousin who is a fisherman, he's from, well, it doesn't really say where he's from but it just says that he works on Main Island on his uncle's fish boat during the summer but his vision of himself is to do what his uncle has done. In a sense he's fitting into that classification of jobs that Japanese Canadian people did. He, in a sense, is a bit more three dimensional as a character. He's not fleshed out but he has the opportunity to lament how his life is just passing him by. Like, he got onto the farm when he was sixteen, he's now eighteen and he can't find a girlfriend. He wonders whether he would be better off in the internment camps because then, at least, he could find a girlfriend. I mean, if you're a teenager you would think “yeah.” Even film, in the Sleeping Tigers movie, that movie on the Asahi baseball team that was done a decade or more ago and you see the film has a shot of that and all of these, in a sense, they've replicated the Japan town or the Little Tokyo and this camp situation so all the interactions and stuff are going on there. But instead, he's this kid he's just totally isolated and he's just got his cousin Toshiko over there. It also made sense just from the logistics of telling the story to have only the single narrator and to have that narrator be Cowboy, the character, because he then is discovering what Toshiko chooses to tell him about her culture rather than, you know, if it were told from a third person narrator, an omniscient narrator that you would see Toshiko going through and doing all this type of stuff and it would kind of, to my way of thinking, get the story more bogged down and it would have to introduce a whole range of characters who can only just appear slightly. They just step on stage like Toshiko's father appears very briefly at one point. In a sense, it's his learning and his interpretation where he's discovering all kinds of stuff about himself and as well about her, you know, a little bit about her culture but, again, it's not really about him learning about a Japanese culture in Canada it's about him learning about injustice is the theme of the thing.
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LJ
We haven't talked about Vanishing Vancouver and Vanishing British Columbia but I'm wondering how those books set you up to do this? And, I guess, the flip side of that question is drawing or representing Vancouver different when you do it through Toshiko's eyes? Did you have a moment when you were sketching out Vancouver, sketching out Powel Street or Hastings and you think “oh, it might look different if I was seventeen and Japanese or ...”?
MK
It might have been that. I think part of the thing was the opportunity to recreate, reimagine, a city that had disappeared more or less by the time I was born and so, you know, looking for historic references, recreating the squatter's community on False Creek where Toshiko and Cowboy end up, and Chinatown and all that business. The Japanese-Chinese interaction is also one of the threads that runs through here. From the artistic point of view and comparing it with Vanishing Vancouver and Vanishing BC that the artwork in them is generally ... I go out and I sit down in front of the place and, obviously, I take a view liberties with the place. I move trees around or, you know, I simplify things. I'd make a painting that would, in a sense, stand on its own as a work of art. With a graphic novel, you're staging it like you're making a film. You just don't have to hire the actors and get the old cars and that type of thing. As an intellectual exercise, it's really very interesting where you've got a page for them and your narration has pushed you forward into a scene and you say to yourself “what shape should the panel be for this? How can I make this really work?” So in some cases there is total bird's eye views, aerial views, and in other cases effectively worm's eye views and long kind of panoramic landscape panels and then small ones that are extreme close-ups. What you're doing is filmmaking without a camera and a crew. It's just huge fun. It's really really a lot of fun. Everything that you contemplate doing in a graphic novel, like for example, if you put a character in a dress that has all kinds of detailing on the dress and then you realize that that character has to appear in the next few pages in that dress you're setting yourself up for a lot of drawing. So you think your way through this. Or you've got them in a room and a room has a piece of furniture and you've got to draw that piece of furniture time after time after time so you're thinking all the way through this which I think is an intellectual exercise. It's very very interesting. In the Vanishing Vancouver Vanishing BC thing you're looking more for tableau that exists and represents something a little more than what they are. So, you know, in a romantic nostalgic sense, the lonesome farmhouse on the ridge with the view down the valley, that type of thing.
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MK
Something that speaks to a passage of time and a movement of people through a landscape, that type of thing ... but I think the potential ... and for me also with the graphic novel thing I'm unusual, I'm not unique, but I'm unusual in doing both the writing of it and the drawing. Most graphic novels are collaborative efforts, a lot of them are anyway. Certainly coming out of the comic book industry they were incredibly like a division of labour down from the writer to the guy who did the pencil to the guy who did the ink to the guy who did the actual dialogue balloons, the guy with the terrific printing, and then there would be yet another person who would colour them after that. I can't imagine working in a collaborative way like that and I also can't imagine storyboarding to that degree. I think, for example, I was probably thirty pages into Toshiko before I realized that they were going to have to go to Vancouver. Yeah, maybe twenty, twenty-five, thirty pages into it before I'd figured out how to get Cowboy kicked out of his house, like what would precipitate this, you know: high school dance, big fight; his relationship with this Asian woman becoming a scandal in the community. And, not to put down Salmon Arm or Tappen near the BC interior but it's fair to say they're pretty redneck places. One of the quotes that I used in Vanishing British Columbia, which was from an article in the Province or the Sun of early 1942, was a town meeting where the town almost unanimously stated that they didn't want any more japs in their community. They didn't want to take any more. I think the depiction of the community, and this is probably accurate, I can imagine people being a bit annoyed.
LJ
So you may not have won any fans up in the Shuswap.
MK
Not of people who want to sugar coat history and it certainly doesn't ... you know in all of those communities that had the interface between a camp or between these self-sustaining communities, the kind of independent living people like on Calvin Farm ... It's hard to imagine how the individuals would deal with it but I think collectively they were pretty suspicious, pretty xenophobic. My correspondent on this was this man, Dick Mackenzie, who I put into the afterword, the historical note in the back. He talked about how when he was a kid he said it was school that made the Japanese ancestry kids and the Caucasian kids realize that they were all human beings. The particular story which, I think, spoke very eloquently to the lack of opportunity that there was for everybody at that period was that this school friend of this man, a Japanese Canadian boy, he drew quite well and he could draw fish boats. My contact had never seen a fish boat before. You think of a world that is almost devoid of images. What kind of images would he have gotten in? Maybe the Star weekly newspaper, coming out of Toronto, that they would get if they bought the newspaper on a Saturday. Books didn't tend to be illustrated. Their world was so closed in and so even from that point of view that the Japanese Canadians who were arriving up in the interior had seen a lot more of the world than they had. So again, it comes down to that contrast of people and the one group who are Japanese Canadians who are extremely disadvantaged by the war and the rural people in the interior who have been extremely disadvantaged by circumstance and the closed-ness of their upbringing. So you put them together and watch the way they interact.
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MK
Again, the way that I worked on this was, I would have just the most general idea of where the characters were going and then as I put them together, as I drew them being together, I'd think “they would probably do this at this point.” In a sense the characters would begin to lead the story. I don't want to be too precious about it but what they were doing in this had to stand a test of plausibility and it's much harder to do that if you storyboard the whole story. This is a reason why a lot of graphic novels and certainly comic books have a formulaic quality to them.
LJ
There must have been tons of research that you had to do to sit down and write this. Did you have a moment in doing the research where you were just sort of like “gosh, that's new to me”?
MK
I just kept learning as I went along. For example, this actually would have happened just slightly before I started on this but I was involved in the Places that Matter Program. It was a project of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, begun in 2011 for Vancouver's 125th birthday. It was, in a sense, a historical commemoration project rather than a heritage preservation project. One of the sites that was identified very early on as being worthy of a plaque were the livestock buildings at the PNE which was the center of the internment, the beginning of the internment, the 'rounding up,' for lack of a better term, of all the coastal Japanese population who arrived there. The men were put in the hockey arena and effectively in a dormitory situation. The women and children were put into what were effectively the livestock pens. In the build up to that and in the writing of the plaque it was quite interesting from my point of view because I was doing a lot of the plaque writing and the vetting of things and then as you got a sponsor involved with the plaque which, in the case of this, was the Nikkei Association. They wanted to have control over what the plaque said. I was really surprised at how charged the language was that they wanted in there. They were still really mad. This is seventy years on and time had not healed the wound for a lot of the people who were involved in that and it added to me this sense of injustice that was not just that they had lost their livelihoods and that they had been uprooted and treated ... they were obviously second class citizens because they had never been allowed to vote whether they were Canadian born or otherwise. But bringing back the whole thing and in particular I think of learning along the way of the mechanism by which property was seized and sold and this was particularly that I was very involved with the Vancouver historical society and I tended to lecture by Jordan Stanger Ross of UVic and where he was describing preliminary research. They were trying to find the trigger for this business of the property not being held by a custodian but being disposed of. I knew that very little of the money had reached the former owners. It's just astonishing the way that this juggernaut had come along.
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MK
Trying to figure out how to put this into a graphic novel without the graphic novel becoming a real finger pointing, head banging exercise. I didn't want it to become that and I've seen graphic novels that have that real finger pointing quality where characters are standing up and saying “you did this to us” and “you're guilty” and all the rest of it. I was seeing the anger that was going on and I thought “well, okay that's totally fair” but in the graphic novel I put in a couple of panels that spoke to the way in which Cowboy would respond to this. In the first one, it's where Fiko, the cousin, says to him “anyway it's not your fault. Just don't be an enemy.” In a sense, Fiko is saying to him “I know you're not responsible for this decision and even though you're white you didn't do this.” In the other scene, later on, when Toshiko and Cowboy are fleeing, they're on the road, and they see a Native Indian kid riding a horse and she's not aware that they're just on the edge of an Indian reserve and Cowboy says “well, they're different. Like, they don't come to school. They go to school in Kamloops” and Toshiko says “well, why not?” and he says “I don't know” and she pulls out her identity card and says “see, I'm different too. Is it always going to be this way for me?” He says, “people like me don't make the rules.” I don't know if that's a cop out but, in a sense, he's saying “just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm responsible for what's happened to you.” So I thought, fair enough, to have him throw that back at her at this point effectively saying “don't tar me with this brush of just because I'm this race that I am therefore one of your oppressors.” To have that go back and forth I hope that people who do a close read of it will see that and will mull that over. I really wondered about doing this. I wondered whether I was straying into something. Was this relationship with the Chinese ... there are two Chinese characters. One is the guy who runs the café in Salmon Arm who is a no nonsense guy and he doesn't want any trouble in his café. The second one is the ... where Toshiko says that she can pass as Chinese and that's the way that she's going to get a job when they come to Vancouver and she speaks a little Chinese because she worked in the fish packing plant. She says that she's a little taller and her family always teased her for looking more Chinese than Japanese. There's the other part that runs along in there where they point out that Life Magazine had wrote an article, late in 1941, called “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.” This is actually, you can find it on the web. I had heard of it before and I'm looking for it. December twenty-second 1941, so that's a couple weeks after Pearl Harbour and it's yeah “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese published in Life Magazine pages eighty one and eighty two.” So you'd find that on the web. It's got pictures because the Chinese were American allies, British allies, and the nationalists were allies. It had all of these pictures and a kind of ... is physiognomy the right word? This analysis of facial features and head structure that says that, you know ... they used the term that this guy's Chinese and he's our ally and this guy's a Jap, right. So Toshiko says, “my family always teased me and said I look more Chinese than Japanese.” So she goes off and with the willfulness of an eighteen year old, manages to get herself a job as a waitress in Chinatown in Vancouver once they've arrived.
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MK
She's not sure whether her boss is fooled by her at all. Anyway, but her boss wants an Asian waitress. Why would he have trouble getting a Chinese girl as a waitress? It gives the opportunity to bring up the Chinese Immigration Act which started in 1923. So twenty-one years earlier, all Chinese immigration into Canada was banned and there were comparatively few Chinese women before that because of the head tax and so she is able to say “well, they banned all Chinese immigration.” So, in a sense, it just comes up in the course of the plot and then she's working in the café and Cowboy comes in after having worked unloading fish from fish boats that turned out to have been stolen from the Japanese and he's really offended by the theft of the boats and by the casual racism of the fishermen. He's just worked for them for a few hours and made a couple dollars unloading fish and then he says to her “I can't go back, the boats are stolen.” In the next frame, she steals a plate of food and gives it to him. I'm going to interested to see whether in the reading of this if people pick up on that contrast because it's the sort of thing that you would do. You're a bit desperate, you're on the run, you have no money. You know, here's a guy, the boss has gone outside for a smoke, I can feed him a plate of food and then not charge him. She only ends up charging him a nickel for the coffee that he's had and she's able to say “well, I could only give you one cup because coffee is rationed” so it throws in just this other little fact that you can dump in there. So anyway it was fun doing this. Fun trying to craft the history into it and, you know, these are the sorts of things that come along.
LJ
Is writing about the Chinese-Canadian community a third rail in Vancouver? It seems like that could be ...
MK
Yeah, I couldn't do it. The reason that I think I was able to write about the Japanese-Canadian community was partly the knowledge of just a straight historical knowledge but also the creation of a character who is not expressing her Japanese culture. I would have found that a bit difficult to do. I would have felt presumptuous if I had told a story from her point of view. So then she would have been interacting with her parents ... I thought about this and I did quite a lot of reading about the habits, you know, the way that parents were addressed, the way that grandparents were addressed, what she would have done, and how it kind of would have been interesting to imagine her with her nascent Canadian-ness and so on and doing that. But, in a sense, that's another book, another character. To a degree, I think that if I were to contemplate doing a graphic novel about Chinese-Canadians it would be tough. You could go through the motions, you could draw the people, you could stage scenes of them learning back and forth. Larry Wong who's the past president of the Chinese-Canadian Historical Society, he's a great character. I could get Larry to vet the whole thing but it's not my place. What's very interesting about this class at McGill, that's been learning and discussing the book, that one of the questions that I received from them was about the depiction of First Nations. They picked up on just a couple of characters who just barely come on stage in the novel and ... “was that difficult? How did that work out?”
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00:50:05.000
MK
I effectively said, “well, it was only bringing them in just to do a thing and not trying to get into their heads of what was going on other than the fact that they were suspicious of and antagonistic to the police” which I think is historically correct but not trying to stage scenes where they would interact where you would have a group of Native people who would be interacting amongst themselves. To me, it would be really difficult to do. The trope is that all novelists write autobiography now. Cowboy obviously in me but he comes out of a culture that I was really aware of: both that small town interior BC culture but then also just ... I was born in 1951 and the world was just infused still with the Second World War, all through my growing up. Our parents were all war veterans, my mother was a Canadian army nurse and the stories were still very much a part of what was going on. I could write and draw with great confidence about that. It was kind of interesting getting into other cultures, other ethnic groups, and what you could do and whether what you would do would have any credibility at all and also whether you're being incredibly presumptuous doing it. All the appropriations come up that are more in fine art, probably, than in literature but they're huge. You can't pick up anything about Bill Reid or Emily Carr without getting into a bit of an appropriation debate.
LJ
Oh, for sure. Yeah, and I think one of the ways that, you've probably said this but, you avoid the appropriation label is by not assuming or not suggesting that these are stand-ins for every Japanese and every country boy.
MK
Yeah, and that was one of the questions out of the McGill class was “do you feel that you are making this too much a story about individuals and therefore not properly telling the story of the Japanese-Canadian internment?” I said, “yeah, I really do feel that” because I think that, at least for the purposes of this, history is made by individuals as much as it is made by definable groups and by classes within those groups. I think it's a lot easier to teach history if you teach it in a kind of Marxist way of people being a part of groups and they behave because of that and there's obviously an element of that in the behavior of individuals. But I think the other thing that's very Canadian about Toshiko is that Toshiko sees herself as being mobile. She's born into middle-class but Japanese-Canadian. She sees herself as being middle-class but just Canadian. Well, she's not really just Canadian. There's obviously a side of her that values her own culture although that's never explicitly stated. She's, in a sense, mobile within her classes. The question that, I guess, comes up in this and right at the end when Cowboy comes back from the army to help his mother after his father has died and she goes looking and he realizes that they haven't just gone back to Vancouver, they've gone to Toronto, why? They weren't allowed to move back to the coast. He learns another aspect of this but when that comes off and when he meets her in Vancouver in 1950 and she's with her fiancé who is also her prof, which I just had to throw in laughs and he's a Caucasian guy. She is demonstrating, conclusively, that she is mobile within Canadian society which I think is a very very Canadian story.
00:55:07.000
00:55:07.000
MK
He is less mobile. He stays effectively working class but he becomes slightly entrepreneurial by leasing a garage but he's happy with that. It's that mobility of individuals that I think is or ought to be one of the great Canadian stories in everything rather than ... you know, you think of the old British thing of the working class guy who gets his seat in the pub when he's eighteen and he falls off it when he's seventy-five. That sort of thing, a place where everyone is in their place which is more a European situation rather than a North American one.
LJ
It seems like you can't help be a geographer. I hear you talking about place and scale and mobility which, as a geographer, I find that this is fertile ground for conversation but thinking about it through people is a unique way. I'm suspecting that folks who are new to your kind of works have found Toshiko, for a number of reasons, this is a little bit different than some other things that you have done before. In some respects you may have become an unintended, I don't know if you imagined, but a champion for the Japanese-Canadian community at least in the lower mainland and in BC more broadly. Was that something you imagined when you set out? Like, “oh, the Nikkei National Museum is going to love this.”
MK
No, I mean I'm really pleased that they seem to like it, that they carry it in their shop. I hope people will talk about it and disagree with it or say “why'd you have to do a romance? Why'd you have to do an interracial romance? Why couldn't you have done ...” You play this thing out and you say “well, what about a romance in the Kanups” Well, that would have gotten me into this thing of being more deeply immersed in the Japanese-Canadian culture than I feel qualified to be. Yeah, I don't know. Well, the geography thing I think one of the reasons that people have so much difficulty understanding and remembering history is because they are not approaching it from a geographical point of view. I organize my mind geographically and I pin little facts to places. That's the way that I remember. That's the way that I see broad patterns. If I had ever pursued any kind of academic career, I probably would have been a geographer rather than a historian. I think that the ... The Japanese-Canadian thing, this is where all these things begin to come together, yes it's about war time and it's about the Japanese-Canadian experience but it's about human rights and, to me, which is something that I could potentially be a champion of or be an advocate for that sort of thing. The current exhibition at the Nikkei National Museum is called Revitalizing Japan Town? with a question mark at the end of it and it's talking about the right to remain. Particularly, it's talking historically about the displacement of Japanese-Canadian people, obviously, in 1942 out of the Japan-town area and the potential displacement of the people who live there now who are the poorest of society and whether reintroducing the idea of Japan-town, of a rebranding of that, would be a trigger for more gentrification.
01:00:08.000
01:00:08.000
MK
All of these words that more appear in academic literature rather than in regular conversation come out of aestheticisation of that being what it would appear might happen there. Again, it becomes sort of a human rights thing. That's drawing a pretty long boat to go from Toshiko to what's happening now but it is speaking to the human rights issues and decisions that are made about people who, in a final analysis, are individuals. They're not members of a class. They're not members of a race and what this sort of thing really means, in a way, that justice goes forward in a country like Canada and how democracy is really expressed. One of my sideline interests over the last couple of years has been gentrification itself and I did a lecture at SFU a couple of years ago, and then I reprised it for another group, of a history of gentrification in Vancouver. I think one of the things that is going to come out of Landscapes of Injustice about Japan-town is that there was a push to dislodge all of the Japanese-Canadians out of that. It was to get hold of the land. It wasn't ... just the complexity of all of the things that were coming in there. Ask me a question, I'm just beginning to ramble.
LJ
No, no, it's fine. Well, it's funny, a lot of folks that I've spoken to for the last couple of months ... I was in Alberta last month, two weeks before the election I suppose, and folks would express similar worries, like you, about human rights and current events. I would just sort of say “well, it's an election year.” Now we've had that election and where do you imagine this story going? Is this story a cautionary tale about C-51 as you said, or the Niqab issue or ... Even the way that we have this election, which was so frayed around the device of identity politics ...
MK
Yeah, dog whistle politics.
LJ
Yes, it's a story about Japanese-Canadians but, like you said, there's all these human rights threats. So what are these human rights threats and is the job done now because we all went and we wrote it or is the work just ...
MK
No, I don't think these things ever go away. I think they retreat back into the shadows and particularly in economic good times they do. As hard times come along and anti-immigration ideas and that was partly racial and that was partly immigration. I remember the expression about Japanese-Canadians in the 1930s: “the peaceful penetration of our province.” It was the fact that, unlike the Chinese who were controlled by head taxes coming in, it was very difficult for women to come in because of the Hayashi-Lemieux agreement that entire families could immigrate and the Japanese-Canadian birth rate was very high. The number of children, I hope I'm right about this, but I think there were 500 students at Strathcona elementary or maybe between Strathcona and Britannia which would be the elementary in the high school. In 1941 all these little Japanese Canadian children they were industrious and they were going to have more children and that was the peaceful penetration thing that some politicians were completely against. In terms of the story about Toshiko, and this is where it would get back to Toshiko's character, would be whether people would see her as an individual.
01:05:08.000
01:05:08.000
MK
If they were looking at it now and they had it in the back of their mind “oh yeah, there were these Japs” to use the term of the time which, apparently, is coming back into slang unfortunately. But they would see these kids as being kind of a block. All the girls were demure and I didn't know what they wanted to do but they just did this stuff which wasn't like us. So if creating a really empowered, smart female character, entirely plausibly to do that, whether people looking at that now would say “yeah, they were individuals.” You know, like any population, like any group within society there were the smart ones and there were the dumb ones, and there were the adventurous ones and there were the conservative ones but they would say “they're just like us because they're individuals.” The Canada that we ought to have is one where it's a meritocracy where doors open for people and people are able to pursue their dreams regardless of their race. So I really hope people would see this and they would see this really fraught couple of months which is the summer in 1944 which effectively is the main part of the book. They would see a young woman trying by her wits to get through this with some sense of dignity and without throwing her life away. That would be my hope. Besides, I really like strong women. I really like empowered women. It's so much easier to make her a three dimensional character and really to make Cowboy a three dimensional character too because he has a lot of learning to do in the book. He loves her and he wants to be with her. If you look at the whole story from his point of view he is not enlisting, not going to fight the patriotic fight and it's partly just because he wants to be with her and he knows that if he goes away from her he'll never get back with her. Everybody, in a sense, has an opportunity to make a bunch of decisions and that rather than just being type-cast by race and plotting through a plot of triumph or hard times or victimhood or whatever it would be.
LJ
You mentioned talking to a class at McGill. Is there something that you really hope that they get from this story?
MK
Yeah, oh yeah. It's funny because, again, you've got a lot of time to kill when you're doing a graphic novel because the part of your brain that's drawing is not the part of your brain that's thinking verbally and so on. You know, you're just drawing away. Part way into this I began to think, you know, this can be curriculum somewhere. It introduces a little bit of sex or a little bit of whatever in it and you think “okay, high school curriculum and beyond.” Hooking up with Lou Yong Teel, the publisher of Midtown Press, he has a French side of the imprint there so the idea of it being translated, that was an interesting challenge because of French running twenty or thirty percent longer to say the same things. I guess twenty to twenty-five pages into the book we agreed that he would publish it and also make a French addition so he began to redesign the panels just a little bit, leave a little bit more oxygen in the panels to make room for the French. Just that idea that a story could come out of British Columbia could be useful to people both to entertain them but also to teach them a lot of stuff, to me, I hope I'm right about this, but to teach them history in a more subtle way than you would get out of just the textbooks. I don't know what school textbooks are like now but the stuff when I was in school, many years ago, gone, almost fifty years ago, it was horrible, I mean, the textbooks were terrible. The fact that I remembered anything from them at all, I think just shows how much of an interest I had in history.
01:10:19.000
01:10:19.000
LJ
Maybe this is going backwards but you were born in raised in Vancouver and went to school here. Where did you go to high school?
MK
I went to MaGee. At that point this is in Karisu, you know, so kind of leafy west side, at that time ... middleclass is now quite a wealthy area ... but it was really a mixed middleclass. In my class at MaGee in the 1960s there was initially one Chinese boy who lived behind a grocery store on forty-first avenue. He had come over as a very small child and somehow or another he had been able to get to Hong Kong and this would just be in the wake of the communist takeover in China in 1949 because he would have been born in 1950. So, I don't know, somehow or another he got into there and then was sent to Canada. So he was the Chinese guy in the class and there was a Japanese-Canadian girl named Grace whom I dated once if I can remember correctly but we never hit it off in any way beyond that. Other than that it was white. Lacking racial divisions to beat other people up for the ... they turned to religious ones so kids who were Catholic were pushed away. It was probably about maybe ten percent Jewish but the Jewish kids were really assimilated. They were not in any way distinctive at all and everybody hung out with everybody else. I don't actually remember any anti-Semitism at all in that school.
LJ
It's far more Jewish than I think we would find in Vancouver today.
MK
Probably, probably. The Jewish kids who are in Vancouver ... I mean, it's totally scattered now. It's like the Italian population that was very concentrated first off in Strathcona and then in Grandview and then spread, certainly in the 1960s and 1970s they began to spread out more towards the suburbs. With a lot of these communities and the Chinese-Canadian community in the same way they kept a commercial heart where they returned to where they could get, in the Italian a cappuccino and the Chinese case steamed buns or whatever. The Japanese never got that back. They were never able to reestablish Japan-town. They've managed ... I'm going to be showing ... I curate and narrate the film showing every year for the city of Vancouver archives and it's at the Van City Theatre downtown. The films that we're showing this year has this amateur footage of an Oban festival in Japan-town on Jackson Street in 1962, 64, 64 actually. So that's fifteen years after the migration restrictions came on. I haven't done the level of research to know how many Japanese-Canadian people reestablished themselves in that community but I would bet it would be a handful. The only cultural landmark touched on that they had there was a language school which is, apparently, the only building owned by the Japanese-Canadian community that was returned to them after the war by the government. It just went through a big restoration, renovation, and everything and we gave them a huge heritage award last year at the City Heritage Awards. Oh yeah, so we were talking about school and, yeah, it was just this very very white place and you grow up and there are a handful of Asian kids, not that many in Vancouver in the '60s and '70s.
01:14:58.000
01:14:58.000
MK
My wife taught ESL, English as a second language at Vancouver Community College and a number of the instructors who also taught there with her, I got to know a little bit, had gone to Japan and had come back with Japanese wives. It was a bit of a joke that these great big white guys would come back with Japanese women as wives. The joke was, in a way, that in believing that they had ... the cliché was that these women were kind of docile and caring and all the rest. But they were really these formidable women and one of them, one of the women, was named Toshiko and I never heard the name before but it stuck in my mind and her husband called her Tosh and I just loved the sound of it. It just stuck in my mind and I thought “well, I'll name my character Toshiko” just because it's got that nice sound to it. A good friend from back in that period, he was an English ESL teacher, and he hadn't married a Japanese woman but he had as a girlfriend a Japanese-Canadian woman named Wanda. Wanda spoke no Japanese and Tom spoke very good Japanese. He was a linguist and he loved that. A bit of Wanda's character, the fact that she was of Japanese ancestry but she'd been born here and grew up here and she could probably speak a few words but she would describe herself as being Canadian. When she and Tom went off to Japan and people would come up or they would be speaking with people and everybody would address Wanda and Tom would have to answer. I thought that was pretty funny but it also, you know, I mean, all these things they speak to mobility within a society. I think that an enormous wake up call for Canada, the Second World War represented in various years but all the racial restrictions begin to fall off beginning in 1947 with the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act. South Asians get the right to vote in 1947. Finally, the restrictions on Japanese-Canadian movement and citizenship come off in 1949 and then there are a handful of others, the Mennonites and then, of course, the First Nations that follow that a little bit afterwards. The Canadian body politic gave its head a collective shake after the war. Probably the founding of the United Nations and the realization of how much hatred there had been that had prompted the war just caused people to think towards a new kind of country, a new kind of tolerance. There was a lot of Chinese immigration into Vancouver in the 1950s and then in the 1960s and then thereafter. Particularly with the Pearson and Trudeau governments it becomes a much more multicultural country, a hugely richer country for that. The nostalgia for an earlier Canada might be for architecture or the amount of oxygen that there is around buildings or, you know, the affordability or that type of thing but in terms of what kind of a place it was to live in it's just nothing like it is now. Josh and Michael talk briefly about the church bells ringing in the background.
LJ
So what's next? Is there more in this story and in this time period or is there something else?
MK
I can't think of anything in this time period at the moment but what's interesting about the Second World War, and actually about the Great Depression too, of the '30s, is how the society responds to real stress and, obviously, internment of Japanese-Canadians is one aspect of that. But I don't know that there's another thing in there for me. Something might come up, some idea of something to do. I'm not one for doing series. I shouldn't say that, I've obviously done series. But in terms of stories there might be something in there. From my point of view now, in terms of graphic novels I'm playing around with a murder mystery set in 2050 in Vancouver.
LJ
Wow, we're going into the future now.
MK
Yeah, to get some idea of what might be left of society in 2050. There's another idea that I've been playing around with. I've been actually thinking about how I could do it for, oh, thirty-five years of a woman named Julia Henshaw who was a writer, an explorer, and an ambulance driver during the First World War and, unfortunately, never left the proverbial shoebox full of letters or photographs. She's been dead since the late '30s but she is an exemplar of an adventurous woman and a very buttoned down late Victorian going into Edwardian period. I think I collected all of the material that I could possibly find about her in the 1980s. Her daughter married a mini Lord Beaverbrook press baron out of Toronto and they ended up with a great big house on the western outskirts of London that is now Pine Wood Studios. It's really quite the interesting story but there's not enough there to write a non-fiction work, I don't think. I'm not sure whether a graphic novel would do justice to her. You can only novelize somebody's life so far before you're doing them a disservice, at least in my mind. I don't know, I might push that one and some other possibilities along but I'm not really sure where we'll go from her.
LJ
We just named a laneway after Julia Henshaw.
MK
You did. I was very pleased with that.
LJ
About a year ago, I guess, now. There's some pretty cool names that came up in the laneway discussion.
MK
Yeah, and you could see in the Civic Asset Naming Committee a different attitude towards street naming than one that existed a century ago.
LJ
Yeah.
MK
You know, it was family members and all that type of thing; royal navy officers and long since forgotten politicians.
LJ
Oh, yeah. Some incredibly small scale politicians for sure. Nowadays it's much more of a mandate on First Nations individuals, women, and Asian Canadians who have all contributed to Vancouver so it's ...
MK
Yeah, people whose lives will trigger the telling of stories and an understanding of the city.
LJ
Well, a richer telling of stories than, you know ... I always thought it was funny that George Vancouver never actually found Vancouver laughs. Then again, Simon Fraser didn't find what he was looking for either but, you know, so ...
01:24:49.000
01:24:49.000
MK
Yeah, all that type of thing but once every five years somebody rediscovers Joseph Trutch and put racist signs, you know, “Trutch the racist” all up Trutch Street in Kitsilano and then there's a flurry of interest in the Media whose memory is a mile wide and an inch deep, call me up and say “what's this about?” or call up somebody else like John Atkin. So you try to explain and try to put him in a context of a period but because the media only has four minutes for it ...
LJ
Context becomes difficult.
MK
It does. It does. He had this useful life and then he became a really negative influence on history. What we are still dealing with because of the decisions that he made when he became governor, you know, stripping out the preemption ability of First Nations people and reducing the reserves by ninety percent and all of this type of thing. I think it was in his term as ... we were actually a province by then ... but I think he was leftenant governor that First Nations people were disenfranchised, it was 1874, and then combined with all the federal initiatives of residential schools ... Now it's just astonishing history but that's what makes it so great is that it's so completely nutty. Like, who would believe that a Japanese ancestry woman could be declared white by marrying a white guy?
LJ
That is admittedly a little strange. Your knowledge is encyclopedic to say the least. Did it always just sort of spawn out of curiosity?
MK
Yeah, just curiosity and geography. I'm really interested in change. If I were forced to describe in one word what it is that I'm interested in, I'm interested in change. I'm interested in the way that societies respond to it. I'm interested in the way that Landscapes responds to it. The theme of Vanishing Vancouver was changed due to development. The theme of Vanishing British Columbia was changed due to abandonment. What can you learn just from the evolution of a building across a few generations? What will it tell you about people's priorities? I mean even the evolution of house design in Vancouver is one of my huge interests.
LJ
I was going to say I thought ... change is probably more apolitical. I was going to say that it was ... there's a certain romanticism or a nostalgia but a wistfulness through a lot of your work. I don't know, there's something about watercolour.
MK
Oh, yeah. Yeah, watercolour lies really sweetly and people go all soft and gooey in front of watercolours. It's partly, I think, because a well done watercolour leaves a lot of room for the imagination so people approach it with all this cultural baggage. The softness of the colour and the arrangement of how the shadows are cast and everything it seems to, when people are looking at watercolours, it seems to bypass their intellect and go directly into their emotions. I'm really intrigued by this and play to it in a way. I never put it explicitly ... nostalgia making things into paintings I wouldn't say. It's interesting when people are able to add those themselves. As a tool in the books, which is what they are there, illustrations of a book that has a political point to make, they sell so softly. They're so soft and so sweet. Photography, generally, doesn't have that ability although there are people who do soft focus in photographs and stage things really beautifully and they have that, kind of, same effect. But it's a cultural thing with watercolour, I think.
LJ
Oh yeah, which is interesting because in Toshiko you didn't choose to use watercolour, which is the medium that everyone thinks of when they think of...
01:30:05.000
01:30:05.000
MK
They think of me, yeah. It's partly that you've got two ways of representing things: tone and line. If you are illustrating just with tone, so none of the outlines of a cartoon type drawing or a line type drawing, then you're either working much much bigger in order to try to capture some kind of a subtlety of expression or you are losing the expression and your figures become much more archetypes rather than individuals, I suppose. You know, like a lot of magazine illustrations of a few generations ago. So one of the things in terms of doing Toshiko purely in pencil with a little help from my friend Photoshop, was that I could work fairly small, I could work fairly fast. I don't like graphic novels where it's obvious that the originals are really large and they've been reduced down to a huge amount because all of the spontaneity goes out of the drawing. For example, DC Comics has that dramatic pose but it's absolutely frozen on the page. You've got all these other issues of depth of field and so on that you can do better in a medium like this. But it's also the fact that working like this in black and white, very difficult to get a colour book like this published in a Canadian market. If you look at colour graphic novels that, probably the majority of them are coming out of the DC comic type superhero mold or maybe they're coming out of Britain or places that have got a bigger market that they can sell into ...
LJ
Drawn and Quarterly was the one that came to my mind.
MK
I don't know enough of their catalogue to know but they do some things in colour and some things in black and white. But it's also working like this in pencil that I can stop start. I don't have brushes to clean. I'm not staring at a screen all the time as if I were working purely digitally, which would drive me crazy. My life is so divided up by these little bits and pieces that I like to be able just to sit down for an hour or two when I can grab some time and the pencil is always there. It's ready. I don't even have to get a brush wet and pen and ink I find a pain. I did way too much of it back when I was cartooning commercial artist stuff. I never really want to go back to that again. But yeah, colour is huge. Beyond the cost of it, it is a huge huge time suck. Whether you're doing mechanical colour or whether you're doing everything you're doing all full colour illustrations and then trying to separate them and print them so that they've got some snap to them is difficult to do.
LJ
Yeah, I had come up with a whole story about how it was, like, you know, by not putting colours in you were allowing us to see everyone as the same.
MK
Well, that's interesting. Now, that's an unintended consequence. Also, there was another one that came out of the McGill students which was “black and white makes it look like it happened long ago” and I thought “well, yeah, that's fair enough.” I'm really interested in everybody's interpretation of it but really, probably, what it comes down to is that there's real pleasure pushing pencil around on a piece of paper and probably the closest that I could get to, like, scratching with a stick on a cave wall, just something that goes right back to the basics of representation and without the bells and whistles of colour and so on. Even if colour were available it would be hard to imagine, really. Anybody who takes on a graphic novel is sort of a combination of a dreamer and a fool because they're an enormous amount of work.
01:35:00.000
01:35:00.000
MK
In theory, if you're writing a regular novel you can get somebody to cross a road in a couple of sentences but if you're drawing that or, you know, the school bus pulled up in front of Cowboy's farm with, you know, he stood by the mailbox and you've got to draw the mailbox, you've got to draw the bus, you've got to draw the landscape, and so on. Probably, you've got to draw it multiple times. It's just an enormous amount of work as it is but it's such a sweet medium. The possibilities of telling a story partly visually and partly by dialogue are just enchanting. What can I leave out in terms of dialogue? What can I put in subtly that will tell somebody part of a story and then I don't have to tell it in words? I think also that people who do read a fair number of graphic novels and even people who read comic books, I don't know what comic books are like now, but they have a kind of a visual literacy that the readers of straight text don't have. Maybe? The flip side of that is that they may lack imagination, that ability of a whole world to be conjured up out of a page of words, that's missing from this but there's another world that you can put in here.
LJ
Well, it's been really a pleasure to chat with you about this and to learn more about the whole genesis of the project and I looked forward to seeing what comes next even if it is Julia Henshaw and ...
MK
Yeah, it might be that or it might be this.
LJ
And what is this?
MK
Oh, this is the murder mystery set in 2050.
LJ
Oh, neat. Josh and Michael discuss the details of the murder mystery graphic novel that he is working on. 01:37:10 – 01:47:24
LJ
Do you imagine what American audiences could do with your book, with Toshiko?
MK
I wonder how they would deal with it. The Japanese-American experience, as I understand it and I don't know it very well, was way more cut and dried. Japanese-Americans were forced off the coast. They were effectively, as I understand it with very few exceptions, put into what were more or less concentration camps. You see those famous images out in Utah and the camp out in the middle of, effectively a desert. But at the end of the war it's like dusts off hands well, that was that, back you go, here's your property back and here's your train ticket and, I believe, some compensation. In that kind of “turn on a dime” American way, I may be not entirely correct about this, I don't know it well enough but it's like they did it, bang, they were attacked, they made the decision, it was the wrong decision they recognized that and, in a sense, they got over it really quickly whereas the apology and redress here, another really interesting thing, 1988 the Mulroney government. The conservative government does it. Trudeau would never do it. Trudeau would never apologize for what happened in the past; Pierre Trudeau. I think his son would if something like that came along. I mean, it will be interesting to see whether the head tax redress movement gets any traction with the new Liberal Government, you know, I can't guess.
LJ
It is amazing. I'm always reminded when we talk about redress that it happened under a Conservative government.
MK
Well so, of course, did the Species at Risk act and the absolute heyday of Environment Canada was under the Mulroney government and the heyday of the American Environmental Protection Agency was under Nixon but, mind you, down there that was with ... you know, the states is hard to compare because that was with a democratic congress.
LJ
Yeah, I was going to say the heyday of not much was under Nixon. Well, thank you again. It's been a pleasure.
01:49:52.000

Metadata

Title

Michael Kluckner, interviewed by Joshua Labove, 09 November 2015

Abstract

Michael begins by describing his early days working for various media outlets as a cartoonist. He explains his interest in the Japanese-Canadian experience and how that has influenced the development and creation of his various graphic novels. Michael then goes on to outline the premise and main themes of his graphic novel about a Japanese-Canadian girl named Toshiko. Afterwards, he details his involvement in the Places that Matter Program where he vetted applications and wrote plaques for the commemoration of certain historical areas and buildings in Vancouver. Michael also talks about the new discoveries he encountered while researching the dispossession and internment of Japanese-Canadians as well as the challenges of incorporating such politically charged information into his graphic novel. Near the end of the interview, Michael talks about the future of his writing/cartooning career.

Credits

Interviewer: Joshua Labove
Interviewee: Michael Kluckner
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Vancouver, British Columbia
Keywords: Salmon Arm ; Tappen; Places that Matter Program; Vancouver Heritage Foundation; Vancouver Sun ; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; Victoria Times; Google; Vanishing British Columbia; Shuswap Lake; Vandusen Gardens; Calhoun Farm; Chinese Immigration Act; Nikkei National Museum ; SFU ; Blind Bay; Toshiko; Strathcona; Hayashi-Lemieux Agreement; Chinese Head Tax; MaGee High School; Japan-town; Jackson Street; Vancouver City Theatre; Vancouver Community College.; 1920s – 2000s

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.