Tag Archives: workers rights

Duck, Duck, Profundity: Kate Beaton’s Time in the Tar Sands

It is a simple thing for the analytical mind to pry open the panel of oppression and see the whizzing cogs and grumbling gears of race, class and gender working mechanically to produce social relations.  How neatly our familiar intellectual frameworks structure our understanding of human life!  There is a reassuring consistency with which these lenses are employed, reducing the world’s complexities to a comfortable, mechanical pattern. Useful as it is, the cold-blooded methodology that sees the operation of capitalism, patriarchy and racism in all things fails to capture the essential ambiguity of our humanity.

ducks
Cause they’re dead! DEAAAAAD!

It is this ambiguity of the human experience that Kate Beaton has captured in her recent series, Ducks.  Threaded beautifully into starkly political themes of environmental destruction, corporate recklessness and workplace safety are more explicitly human experiences: isolation, camaraderie and the moral complexity of survival in one of the world’s deepest wounds.  The essential humanity of surviving in such a profoundly dehumanizing environment defines this painfully nuanced piece.

hateithere1
The Red Shoe Pub, it ain’t.

Humanity is a dangerous concept, but an important one.  It is too often emphasized by exclusion, used to demonize some people to serve the ends of others.  Still, it is too important an idea to abandon. When the easy tautologies of political analysis fail us, it is the idea of our shared humanity that helps to explain what makes people hang together.  For students of struggle, insights into this frustratingly elusive element of history are precious.

Like generations of easterners, Kate Beaton left her home town of Mabou, Nova Scotia to make a living in the scabrous sprawl of the tar sands.  With few economic prospects at home and the promise of good pay, thousands have followed its siren call into the maw of destruction.  ‘Ducks’ recounts Beaton’s experiences working on one of these sites, centred around the deaths of hundreds of ducks in a tailings pond near Fort MacMurray, Alberta.

shitintheair
I think Stan Rogers covered this in “The Idiot”

There are no easy truths framed by these panels.  An action by Greenepeace that clogs a tailing pipe endangers the lives of workers on site.  A sex worker finds herself frightened and cornered in a work site bathroom.  Kate Beaton discovers that working in the tar sands comes with a persistent skin rash.  Her equipment is covered in dirt, even indoors.  Workers die on the job.

crane
There’s nothing funny to say about this.

The comic is shot through with death: the ducks, a man falling from a construction crane, others killed in an accident on the highway.  In the last case, Beaton hears the dead men were Cape Bretoners and seeks out another islander to see if she knew them.  Even halfway across the country, the threat to home is real.

Beaton exposes a vein of callous indifference in her subjects.  Men grumble about traffic on the highway on the day of the accident.  Workers joke through an announcement on the death of the crane operator.  The corporate response to the duck deaths is a scarecrow and some noisemakers.  But for every example of inhuman indifference there is a counterpoint of dignity or sorrow.

newfs
Delicious

There is the memory of home, too, in gentle jibes about Newfie Roundsteaks – a teasing nickname for baloney.  A man shares photos of his children at home.  The lethal crash is framed in terms of the phone call to the families.  When Beaton confesses she hates it there, her coworker response captures the essential truth of the situation, and the strip.  No one wants to be in the tar sands, watching the planet die.  But they don’t have much of a choice.

hateithere2
In response to “hating it here”

Kate Beaton is not always a political artist – she is not even always serious.  But in framing a part of her own experience, she has given expression to an often difficult truth.  We survive in the little acts of kindness, in shared experiences and frustrations that complicate our day.  Though we may grow numb or compromised, at the end of it all we are bound together by our common humanity and our ability to find beauty – and absurdity – in even the most trying situations.  That is a political lesson than captures an intangible truth outside the reach of cold analysis.  How we apply the lesson is up to us.

It isn't an article about KB without this little bastard stuck in somewhere.
It isn’t an article about KB without this little bastard stuck in somewhere.

Sneak Peek at Additional Content for 100 Year Rip-Off

After confirming the project with the work’s artist, Bob Altwein, I am now set to begin reprinting 100 Year Rip-Off within the next two weeks!

An exciting add-on to this momentous occasion (my first experience with “printing”/”publishing”) is some supplementary information that I’m providing within this graphic history of British Columbia.

Click to enlargeRFP page 3 MAP_v2

 

Posted here is  an “Historic” Map of B.C. that I’ve drawn. It includes the territories of First Nations in the province; relief camps during the 1930’s, which were hotbeds of squalor and social unrest;  and finally, the locations of B.C.’s 15 WWII-era internment camps, where thousands of Canadian citizens and residents of Japanese descent were held against their will. It was the largest mass exodus in Canada’s history.

Needless to say, I was a bit surprised that even this basic information (the numbers and locations of these camps around B.C.) necessitated several hours at the Toronto Reference Library. You think everything is on the internet… until you want to investigate history in detail.

While the map is located on page 3 of this 30-page comic book, I have also added a glossary of names and terms to the back, for those outside of B.C. who may not immediately understand that B.C. Hydro is our public electricity company, or that the I.W.W. stands for Industrial Workers of the World.

I look forward to your feedback! If this is up your alley, then stay tuned – #100Year Rip-Off will be available for purchase as a 30-page comic book in July 2013!

IBEW Turns to Comics to Teach About Unions

Having been a member of the IBEW for a short while back in Vancouver, I find this to be very interesting… Take a look!

Graphic Policy

Comics345_000Though comics might be known for their spandex and capes, they have a long tradition of being used for political and educational purposes though. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has turned to comics to tell the story of the hero of the “union men and women who made the American middle class.”

Local union chapter Local 1245 in Vacaville, California earlier this year published First Day. It’s a 20-page comic that goes over the history of Local 1245 and the labor movement. It’s given to all new members in their orientation packets and so far the reaction has been positive.

The comic was created by the communications director of the local union Eric Wolfe and artist Tom Christopher.

“First Day” tells the story of a new employee at California utility PG&E. The worker tells his son about the IBEW and all the good benefits…

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“Wage Theft” Educates Workers About Their Rights

View the comic as a PDF file in both English and Spanish.
View the comic as a PDF file in both English and Spanish.

This is an interesting new comic that’s just been brought to my attention. It’s called Wage Theft: Crime & Justice (1# – will there be a series?), and is more or less an educational pamphlet that details interviews with low-income earners (including migrant and undocumented workers) who are experiencing illegal cuts to their pay checks from their employers. The project appears to have been launched by a group called Interfaith Worker Justice out of Texas, with grant support from a couple of different church groups.

Wage Theft is written by Jeffry Odell Korgen and illustrated by Kevin C. Pyle (whose work includes Take What You Can Carry, Blindspot, and Prison Town. He is also a former co-editor of World War 3, America’s longest-running radical comics anthology.)

If you have trouble viewing the booklet above, try this link here.

Interview from the makers of MAYDAY: A Graphic History

“The work we do defines how we live, and how we fit into society.” That’s the first sentence in MAYDAY:  A Graphic History, recently re-published by Between The Lines Press for the group known as the Graphic History Collective. To me, the depth in that simple statement speaks volumes. It’s on the first page of the book, but it’s probably my favourite panel.

MAYDAY is an entry-level look at labour history, and as such is more P.S.A than prose. I’m pleased to be able to share this interview with Sean and Robin of The GHC about this project. In it I feel they’ve offered some important insight on how politics and history can be simplified without being dumbed down… the trials of indie comic book publishing, and the ongoing importance of a political holiday that began with blood more than a century ago.

NMG) I like the way that Graphic History highlights the importance that Mayday has had for working people through the ages, and its transformation from a seasonal/cultural holiday to a socio-political holiday. From your research, when were the earliest expressions of Mayday in relation to labour contracts?

“May Day as a day of celebration for honouring the seasonal transition from Winter to Spring has roots in pre-capitalist traditions. May Pole dancing is perhaps the most familiar expression, but celebrations of this seasonal change also appear in many Indigenous cultures around this date, although “May” was not used to as a term to define time. However, as capitalism began to emerge as a mode of production, the first of May also became the day for renewing contracts in some areas. This possibly could be identified as the real emergence of a relationship between May Day and labour contracts, but the more recognized starting point for May Day as a day of worker resistance, renewal, and protest is generally talked about later, in relation to the fight for the 8-hour working day and the 1886 Haymarket Affair. Out of that grew the 1889 declaration for May 1st to be recognized as an international day for workers (Blogger’s note: This was made by the Second International, a pre-union federation of workers from some 20 countries). Since then, celebrations continue, in different forms and in different contexts, but consciously linked to identities as workers.” 

NMG) How long did this take, from beginning to end?

“The project happened in stages, sometimes with long lapses in time going by without too much progress. It was a side project for all of us, and we worked on it when we could. Research began in 2006, but things really started to come together in 2008-09. We self-published for May 1, 2009, did another print-run in 2010, and then worked with Between the Lines Press for the most recent release in 2012.”

NMG) How are you drawn to history, and what makes the graphic experience of history interesting to you? (This is sort of that essential “Why history? Why comics? Why politics?” type question.)

(Sean) “I have always followed and enjoyed comics; however, when I first read Maus: A Survivor’s Tale in the early 2000s I realized that the genre was capable of so much more. I started following the graphic novel phenomenon more closely and found that there were many politically minded projects out there (Persepolis and A People’s History of American Empire were two very influential ones.) For me, political graphic novels are appealing because they are visually appealing and yet are very accessible and quick to read. Not everyone can sit down on a rainy afternoon and finish Marx’s Capital, but they can get through May Day: A Graphic History of Protest and a few other novels and get that itch to do something personally about the injustice in the world.” 

(Robin) “The history I usually find most inspiring wasn’t part of what I learned when I was younger. Once I began to study history seriously–and moved to a larger area where there were bookstores and bigger libraries–I had the opportunity to more critically engage with ideas. I realized a lot of what I had thought true was actually limited in scope and that the stories were always much more complex.

“This myth-busting component of history really appeals to me, and carries over into my interest in politics. The two are very much linked, and the past is frequently referenced to make political points in the present. History is used as a means to define or shape identity, which in turn influences decision-making processes in many ways.

“All of the Collective members engage in our own separate projects that explore history, politics, and education, and enjoy experimenting with new ways to translate big ideas into smaller chunks of information. Reading detailed, in-depth studies and essays do serve a purpose. Songs, posters, poetry, plays, films, and of course, comics, also serve a purpose and can be used to share information and spark interest in a topic. Comics are also great because of the flexibility and wide range of options that are available for the visual side. I love comics that layer narratives through the text and visuals, particularly when there are story details hidden in the images. These hidden gems compel me to read and re-read comics, historically-focused or otherwise.”

NMG) The larger audience outside of comix culture has been pretty slow in realizing that comics aren’t “just for kids”. Most comics written and published today are for the 20 – 35yr old crowd. Who is MAYDAY’s intended audience? Were you picturing a particular readership when you were writing/drawing?

“Over the past few years an increasing number of scholars, librarians, educators, and youth have started to make the case that comics can be used as teaching tools, and this idea is something that speaks to all of us. We wrote and illustrated the comic influenced and inspired by the growing numbers of really great comics out there. In our own project, we are hoping to appeal to a number of different communities. The comic will likely appeal more to those who know little about the history of this day; it is more of a general overview than a deeply detailed analysis.”

NMG) How did you create this comic as a collective? What was the division of labour? Did one person research while another wrote – or did everyone research? How did the writers contribute to the graphics? etc….

“Creating the graphic history unfolded in many stages and the boundaries of labour were fairly blurry. Robin, Mark, and another researcher, Jeremey Milloy, originally spearheaded the research and drafting. Robin continued on with the drafting of scripts and coordination and then Sean came on to help with writing and editing. From there the three of us, with Sam and Trevor’s suggestions and guidance, wrote and finalized the “script.” At different times, we each took on some of the other work–tracking down graphic designers, making choices about printing and costs, coordinating our launch party, for example–depending on our paid work load and familiarity with the task at hand. We’ve all learned a bit more about that “behind the scenes” work and it has been useful elsewhere in our lives.”

NMG) I’ve recently seen postings by the Collective to collaborate with readers and followers on other historical events. Can you say a little about the ideas and aspirations of any future projects right now?

“We are currently embarking on a new project with Professor Paul Buhle, who has an impressive level of involvement in documenting political graphic histories. Our intention is to create a new “Graphic History Project” which would bring together all those people interested in radical graphic histories and help promote them and the medium at the same time. We are still calling for submissions to the project and the deadline is 21 November 2012.”

“Full details as well as an example of what we are looking for is up on our website.”

For more information about MAYDAY: A Graphic History, the GH Collective, or their call-out, please visit their blog:

graphichistorycollective.wordpress.com/

(And one final Blogger’s Note: There is, in fact, a comic book version of Marx’s Capital that I’ve yet to read–but if you’re interested, you can find more information about it here. I hope there are speed lines used to depict workers’ alienation towards capitalist production, in true Manga fashion…)