Drawn to Change

Drawn to Change

Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle

By Graphic History Collective, with Paul Buhle


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  • Wilson Book Prize, The Wilson Institute for Canadian History, 2017 (Winner)
  • Public History Prize, Canadian Historical Association, 2017 (Winner)

Canadian labour history and working-class struggles are brought to life in this anthology of nine short comics, each one accompanied by an informative preface. Each comic showcases the inspiring efforts and determination of working people who banded together with others to fight to change the world.

The history of working-class struggle is a fascinating story of conflict and coercion, of resistance and triumph. It has the drama of defeat mixed with the thrill of victory, though not always in equal measure. But, working-class history is not just interesting and exciting; it also contains important lessons for labour and social justice activists today. Illustrate! Educate! Organize!

Contributors include Jo SiMalaya Alcampo, Althea Balmes, Christine Balmes, Sam Bradd, Paul Buhle, Nicole Marie Burton, David Camfield, Sean Carleton, Conely de Leon, Robin Folvik, Ethan Heitner, Greg Kealey, Orion Keresztesi, Mark Leier, David Lester, Andrée Lévesque, Zenee May Maceda, Dale McCartney, Doug Nesbitt, Bryan Palmer, Andrew Parnaby, Joan Sangster, Kara Sievewright, Julia Smith, Ron Verzuh, Tania Willard (Secwepemc Nation).

More by this Author

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  • 1919

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Drawn to Change is an extremely well crafted and informative graphic novel.

– People’s Voice

Brilliant and beautiful… .visually stunning.

Our Time’s Magazine

Canadian workers have never lacked intelligence, integrity, or organizational talent. National histories, however, rarely tell that story. Drawn to Change is the entertaining antidote. You can enjoy learning about what reactionaries would have us forget.

– Veronica Strong-Boag, activist and women’s historian

There are some books you always want to have handy on your coffee table or bookshelf. The latest anthology edited by the Graphic History Collective, Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggles, is one of those books.

– Rank and File

This graphic history anthology brings to life the rich and complex heritage of the labour movement and workers’ struggles in Canada. Filled with little-known stories of resistance and perseverance–some won, some lost–this book truly illustrates the enduring tenacity of workers and their families to improve their lives.

– Joey Hartman, President of the Vancouver and District Labour Council

There are so many exciting and vitally important stories from the history of social movements, and the most engaging way to tell those stories is through art, in its various forms. The Graphic History Collective is brilliantly doing just that.

– David Rovics, singer, songwriter, activist

Brilliant and beautiful… .visually stunning.

– Our Time’s Magazine

The Graphic History Collective has created another engaging and multi-faceted portrait of how–and why–women and men have not only shaped but made history. The result is both informative and inspiring.

– Kendra Coulter, Centre for Labour Studies, Brock University

With vivid, compelling, and often amusing graphics, Drawn to Change makes working people’s diverse history of struggle leap off the page. Full of inspiring yet honest portrayals, this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what it takes—personally and collectively—to transform our world for the better.

– Stephanie Ross, Work & Labour Studies Program, York University

These graphic artists are engaged in the humble and tireless work of documenting untold histories in the service of current social movements. Drawn to Change is necessary and I highly recommend it.

– Harsha Walia, No One Is Illegal organizer and author of Undoing Border Imperialism

Drawn to Change takes some of the most important events in Canadian labour history and turns them into inspiring comics that are relevant to today’s workers.

– Jennifer Whiteside, Secretary-Business Manager, Hospital Employees’ Union

A riot of graphic ingenuity rages through these tales of real-life heroes, their triumphs and tragedies, uprisings and setbacks, as they fought to make our working lives better. Recommended for anyone who has had or hopes to have a job.

– Sabrina Jones, author of Our Lady of Birth Control: A Cartoonist’s Encounter with Margaret Sanger

Drawn to Change is a potent collection of little-known histories of Canadian workers. Its use of engaging images makes the stories of struggle accessible for activists of any age, and any experience with the labour movement. This kind of storytelling is invaluable.

– Nora Loreto, labour activist and author of From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Labour Movement

The Graphic History Collective makes the political personal, and beautiful, and inspirational.

– Kate Evans, author and illustrator of Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

A brilliantly creative, richly researched, and determinedly accessible history of working-class organizations, personalities, and struggles. Bravo!

– Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor, York University and co-editor of The Socialist Register

As long-silenced histories of resistance come to life on paper, Drawn to Change is proof that there is still revolutionary magic left in pens and pencils.

– Erica Violet Lee, Indigenous activist and author

Drawn to Change is a vibrant and invaluable collection of important stories from Canada’s working-class history. These stories of struggle and organizing are as beautifully presented as they are insightful. This collection will be a source of knowledge and inspiration for all those fighting to build a militant working-class movement.

– David Bush, Editor, RankandFile.ca

This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labour organizing should inspire us to “dream of what might be” and to act to bring it about.

– Noam Chomsky

As Albert Camus once said, ‘Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.’ The beautiful comics of Drawn to Change inspire us to take revolutionary action and create social change.

– Elettra Stamboulis and Gianluca Costantini, non-fiction comic writers and artists, founders of the Komikazen International Festival of Reality Comics

Drawn to Change is a visually rich collection of stories that cleverly captures the spirit and struggles of the ordinary working people. Keep Drawn to Change on your shelf for inspiration.

– David H. T. Wong, author of Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America

Finally, a re-telling of Canada’s radical history in a medium that can travel to schools and kitchens and across the popular imagination. We need to know how committed the people before us were to fighting for justice, because their lives offer important lessons for our collective futures.

– Min Sook Lee, activist and award-winning filmmaker of ‘Migrant Dreams’

Drawn to Change offers a timely reminder that if we venture nothing, we will gain nothing. The text makes this point incredibly clear. Moreover, unless we fuse hope with action, we stand no chance of winning anything, either electorally or in the workplace.

– Truthout

Drawn to Change is an extremely well crafted and informative graphic novel.

– People’s Voice

A feisty, entertaining, contentious, and informative introduction to dramatic stories in Canadian labour history.

– Ian McKay, Wilson Chair in Canadian History, McMaster University

I am writing to let you know how much my students and I have enjoyed and learned from your amazing comics, ‘Coal Mountain’ and ‘The Battle of Ballantyne Pier’. They have not only provided the students with an accessible medium, but also an analytically engaging medium. It can be difficult to get students to think deeply and critically about historical methodology. I found that comics like yours are really wonderful for pulling students into this interpretive world.

Thank you for doing the work that you do and please know that it’s making an impact in my classes.

– Eryk Martin, Department of History, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

With such vivid imagery, humanized struggles, and honest portrayals, Drawn To Change is an excellent tool to reach a wide range of readers, especially youth. Although some pieces are more fulfilling than others, every part of the collection is poignant and insightful in its own way.

– Monica Miller, SubTerrain Magazine

Drawn to Change is a comprehensive historical account that easily outshines other labour history texts because of its progressive self-reflection and grassroots feel… an invaluable resource that should be utilized by both labour educators and history teachers.

– rabble.ca

The future of the labour movement will be shaped by three things: 1) Remembering the history of workers’ struggles and honouring their victories; 2) Learning from lessons past to help inform the future; 3) Broadening the tent so the movement grows. Drawn to Change will serve as a vital resource on all three fronts.

– Trish Hennessy, Director, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ontario

These engaging comics bring vividly to life important moments in working-class history, focusing on the historical achievements and travails of ordinary working people as they struggled to pose real alternatives to unchecked capitalist development.

– Steve Brier, founding director, American Social History Project, CUNY, and co-developer of Who Built America?

This graphic novel takes key moments in Canadian labour history – moments that do not have a significant place in our general national collective memory – and makes them accessible to a very wide and non-traditional audience.

– Wilson Book Prize Jury

Through a wide variety of styles and approaches the artists and writers of Drawn to Change have come together with a common purpose: to inform, illuminate, and express the struggles and achievements of various workers through the medium of comics. Say that again? Yes, comics–tackling serious personal and political subjects. Powerfully executed, this book brings history to readers in an accessible and engaging form.

– Peter Kuper, cartoonist, author of Ruins, and co-founder of World War 3 Illustrated

The rich history of working-class struggle is not taught in schools or found in text books. The powers-that-be want us to forget the power that we have and the victories we have won. This project brings histories of working-class struggle to a new generation in an accessible way. That, in and of itself, is revolutionary.

– Mike Palecek, President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

This book is a brilliant example of what exciting things can happen when artists and writers collaborate. The fascinating visual storytelling in these pages combines wonderfully imaginative artwork and lively text. What better way to bring to life many dramatic moments in Canadian workers’ history—from the battles of industrial workers in the 1880s to the struggles of Filipina women in the 21st century. This is “active history” at its best.

– Craig Heron, Department of History, York University


Preface Working Class Comics that Matter
Paul Buhle
Introduction History, Hope, and Radical Comics
The Graphic History Collective
1. Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labour in Canada 1880-1900
2. Working on the Water, Fighting for the Land: Indigenous Labour on Burrard Inlet
3. The Battle of Ballantyne Pier: An Injury to One is an Injury to All
4. Bill Williamson: Hobo, Wobbly, Communist, On To Ottawa Trekker, Spanish Civil War Veteran, Photographer
5. Coal Mountain: The 1935 Corbin Miners’ Strike
6. Madeleine Parent: A Life of Struggle and Solidarity
7. An ‘Entirely Different’ Kind of Labour Union: The Service, Office, and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada
8. The Days of Action: The Character of Class Struggle in 1990s Ontario
9. Kwentong Bayan: Labour of Love
Contributor Biographies
The Making of Drawn to Change