written by Sharon Rudahl, edited by Paul Buhle
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|I worked from Sharon Rudahl's script which was divided down into
scenes, some of which became pages. The idea was to do about 100
pages of illustrations, with chapters starting on a
right-hand-page and the need to stage the narrative so that
particular scenes were double-page spreads. It was a pleasure
working in colour, "colouring-in" over a brush-Chinese ink base
with some fine detail in pen, and I used a sort of "poverty
palette" of ochres, umbers and dull greys (Payne's Grey and Davy's
Grey) in watercolour on Strathmore Bristol "vellum" – a paper that
you're not supposed to use wet media on! The pages with
aristocrats such as the Tsar of Russia got a different palette:
bright blues and reds. I wanted it to look rough – the antithesis
of the smooth digital Pixar-type art that I loathe – and it
worked. And lots of hand-drawn maps, as the geography was so
important, at least to me.
|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.
Solidarity Across Borders and Time: The Jewish Labor Bund
|Richard Kuper writes in a website for left-wing Jews in the
UK: It is, as the title and front cover suggest, a
beautiful comic book history of one of the most powerful
political movements to develop among modern Jewry.
Only the Zionist movement could rival it – and it took the Second World War and the Holocaust to enable the triumph of the latter…The book tells its story well with a light-touch, short-dialogue approach and beautiful, sometimes haunting, cartoon illustrations.
It has a brief introduction by David Rosenberg of the Bundist-influenced Jewish Socialists’ Group in Britain, and an afterword by its editor Paul Buhle, a veteran of the 1960s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and prolific chronicler of the left’s history, often in graphic form. His most recent publication is What Could’ve Happened Here, a graphic novel asking the question, ‘What if the attack on the U.S. Capitol succeeded?’
I wish The Bund were longer than its 120 pages but, alas, producing graphic novels isn’t cheap, and this volume is already relatively highly priced.
Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, for Between the Lines
publishing, Toronto, 2023
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