Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with the Graphic History Collective

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Graphic History Collective

Illustrate, educate and organize — that's the rallying call of the Graphic History Collective, a unique group of author-illustrators who create worker-focused books and art with the purpose of spreading awareness of workers' rights and Canadian labour history.

They first came together to create May Day: A Graphic History of Protest in Canada and they're back now with another love letter to the labour movement, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between the Lines Books). With wealth disparity becoming an increasing problem in first world countries, it is a timely publication, focusing on the history of the working class and their experiences in Canada.

The Graphic History Collective came together to respond to our Lucky Seven series, where we talk to creators about their new books, their process and more.

The Collective members tell us about May Day led them to this new project, about the process of working with so many writers, researchers and artists on a single book and the socialist slogan that shaped their artistic process.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Drawn to Change.

The Graphic History Collective:

After the publication of our first comic book, May Day: A Graphic History of Protest (BTL, 2012), members of the Graphic History Collective began dreaming of a new collaborative comics project. We wanted to build on the skills and knowledge we gained from our first book but also work with and learn from new artists and activists. In the fall of 2012, we made a call for proposals for short, ten page comics that focused on activist history.

We received many interesting ideas and soon after we started working with teams of writers, researchers, and illustrators. In total, twelve comics were completed. The majority of the projects focused on different aspects of Canadian labour and working-class history, from the oppositional efforts of the Knights of Labor in the 19th century, to the struggles of migrant care workers in the 21st century. As the Graphic History Project wound down, we realized that a collection of the graphic histories focused on working-class struggles in Canada would be an important contribution to Canadian history and to the tradition of activist comics. The result is Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (BTL, 2016).


Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?


One question at the heart of Drawn to Change is: how can working class people organize to make their lives better? Our original call for proposals for the Graphic History Project asked for “alternative history comics,” broadly conceived, but interestingly the majority of projects ended up examining different aspects of Canadian labour history that highlighted the strength of working people to struggle to build a better world. As a result, a central theme of Drawn to Change is the importance for working-class people to learn from past organizing efforts in their attempts to bring about social change today.


Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?


The project was completed over a four-year period and was it was labour intensive. It took a long time to consult and collaborate with the more than 20 artists, researchers, academics and activists whose work features in the collection. Collaborative artistic work (like labour organizing) can be challenging, but in the end the ability to create something much bigger than your self is deeply rewarding.


What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


Each artist/writer/researcher has a different work routine/process/supply of tools. One thing that we all share, however, is a passion for blending art, activism, and history. The belief in a better world sustains our art practices and keeps us motivated to continue working on our projects.


What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?


One of the benefits of a collaborative project is that there are always people to reach out to for help. A common socialist saying is, “from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs.” The GHC embodies this saying. Artists and researchers have access to a network of folks interested in helping and supporting each other to produce their work for the betterment of society.


What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.


To us, a great book is one that inspires people to make social change. It challenges people to see the world differently and encourages them to talk with their friends, families, and fellow workers about how they can, collectively, take steps towards empowerment and action. Good books are revolutionary tools. In this vein, two activist comic books that we have been inspired by are Gord Hill’s The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book (Arsenal, 2010) and the Corrective Collective’s She Named It Canada Because That’s What It Was Called (Press Gang, 1971).


What are you working on now?


The Graphic History Collective is working a number of exciting projects. We are in the beginning stages of a new comic book about the history of the strike in Canada as a political tool of protest. This summer we will be releasing an activist colouring book that features prominent North American labour organizers with a special focus on Canadians. We are also working on a special project to be unveiled in late 2016/early 2017… so stay tuned and get connected!

The Graphic History Collective is made up of Sam Bradd, Sean Carleton, Robin Folvik, Mark Leier, Trevor Mckilligan, Kara Sievewright and Julia Smith.

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