British Columbia

Q&A: Michael Kluckner introduces first graphic novel

Michael Kluckner's pictures and words blend together to tell a fascinating tale of a young Canadian born Japanese girl who falls in love with a rural farm boy.

Toshiko tells the story of two lovers in BC during WWII who challenge both racism and isolation

Kluckner says this type of graphic novel is the best way to tell such a rich story.

Historian and author, Michael Kluckner, is releasing a new graphic novel.

Kluckner is known in BC for his award-winning books, Vanishing British Columbia and Vanishing Vancouver. 

The new novel is called Toshiko and launches today at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby.

The novel follows the story of Toshiko and a local farm boy from B.C.'s interior. The two fall in love as the Second World War rages on and racism towards the Japanese is rampant. They flee from the isolation in the Shuswap and head to Vancouver.

Stephen Quinn talked to Kluckner on The Early Edition.

Who is Toshiko?

Well, she is a made up character, she is a teenager, a city girl. She is Canadian, born in Vancouver but is caught up in the racism of the time. During the war, all Japanese Canadians were forced off of the coast.

The family and the farm are the real part, but I created a character. There was a Calhoun Farm in the Shuswap and there was a group of families up there.

I knew if I could create such a character; a self-confident and smart young woman, that I could create an interesting dynamic between her and some of the locals. Themes of love, social class and racism allowed me to tell a lot more about the Second World War than I may have been able to do with non-fiction.

Why was this story compelling to you?

I know the Shuswap quite well. I spent a lot of time there when I was young, so I knew about the isolation of the locals.

Because of this isolation, the boy, Cowboy, knows nothing of the outside world. So in a sense he is trapped up there just as Toshiko and her family are trapped up there, just for different reasons.

He was in danger of being drafted at the same time as she was trying to escape to Vancouver, so they are both on the run trying to make a life together. 

How realistic was their experience in Vancouver when they arrived?

There were a lot of jobs in wartime Vancouver, but you needed to be registered by a federal agency, the national selective service system.

So he can't get in there and ends up using his skills as a farmer to get a cash job where he works for a dairy farmer.

She gets a job working as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant because there were so few Chinese women at that point because of the Chinese Immigration Act that had banned all immigration into Canada since the early 1920s.

They live in a hotel and then a shack with squatters in False Creek, before they get caught and he is conscripted to the army and she gets sent back to the interior.

These are all realistic as to what could have happened based on stories in the newspapers of the time about people being where they shouldn't have been.

Why do a graphic novel?

Well, I used to be a cartoonist back in the 1970s before starting into non-fiction and I thought that this this was the only way to tell this type of rich story. It seemed that a picture is worth a thousand words and also that clipped language that you need in a graphic novel is very fashionable at the moment. He was an opportunity to clip it down and tell it in bits and pieces.

All in all it's a departure (from usual work), but maybe starting a new direction, but we'll know after the book has been out for a while.

(Interview has been condensed for brevity)

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled Michael Kluckner introduces first graphic novel

With files from Margaret Gallagher