As part of the GHC’s efforts to inspire people to make their own activist art, we asked contributors to our most recent project, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle, to explain and reflect on their creative process. We will be publishing the responses this fall as a series on our website, starting with GHC artist and activist Kara Sievewright. Kara produced the Bill Williamson comic book in Drawn to Change.
GHC: Tell us a bit about your process in creating your comic for Drawn to Change.
Kara: My project actually started off as a fictional comic based on a play my friend David had written about Bill Williamson based on the book Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War by Michael Petrou. When I saw the Graphic History Project call out for historical comics, I decided I wanted to do a non-fiction comic based on Bill.
Bill was a photographer and I found out that some of his photos as well as some of his letters were in the National Archives in Ottawa. So I went to Ottawa to track them down.
I also found out that in the early 1980s Bill gave two long interviews about his life and there were 21 reels of tape at the Imperial War Museum in London. I ordered CDs of about 9 reels of this interview and once I started to listen to these tapes, his story and the way he told it was so compelling that I realized that I wanted to write the story using his own words. So I ended up transcribing many hours of interviews, writing out the stories and then writing them into a comic script.
Bill was very influenced by the film Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstein which he saw at a clandestine screening in a warehouse in the harbour in Sydney, Australia. In fact this film had a large impact on the trajectory of his life.
Battleship Potemkin is so visually stunning that I wanted to use screenshots from the film on some of pages.
He tried to get to the Soviet Union many times but ended up in China and then in Spain just in time for the Spanish Civil War. When Bill arrives in Spain and he says how arriving in Spain on a ship was so much like when the battleship arrives at the port of Odessa. So for this page I referenced Battleship and some actual images from Spain which were remarkably similar to shots in Battleship Potemkin. Which is not surprising since Eisenstein’s film had a huge impact on film and visual culture.
Bill’s fascination with Battleship also influenced me to look at Soviet film posters and reference their design on some of the pages.
GHC: What are you working on now?
Kara: Currently I am working on a few posters for the Graphic History Collective’s new historical poster project to be launched in 2017. I am also working on a short graphic fiction book called Atlantide and on a longer graphic novel. I also do a lot of commissioned graphic design, illustration and other visual work from my home on Haida Gwaii.