KLUCKNER, Michael




Author Tags: Architecture, Art, Graphic Novel, Japanese

LITERARY LOCATION: The site of Calhoun Farm, on Calhoun Road near Tappen on Shuswap Lake.

The Calhoun Farm was first recorded in print as a chapter in artist and heritage expert Michael Kluckner's non-fiction book Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005) describing the wartime experiences of a group of Japanese-Canadian families who exiled themselves there, leaving behind homes in Vancouver and on Mayne Island, during the internment years that began in 1942. The Calhoun Farm is also the setting for the early chapters of Kluckner's graphic novel Toshiko (Midtown Press 2015), which recasts the true story into a Romeo & Juliet saga involving a local farm boy nicknamed Cowboy and a teenage Japanese-Canadian girl, Toshiko. When their romance becomes a scandal and he is thrown out of his house by his racist father, he escapes with her on a freight train bound for Vancouver.

ENTRY:

Involved for decades in the preservation of Canada's old buildings and historic places, Kluckner was the founding president of the Heritage Vancouver in 1991. He served as president of the Langley Heritage Society from 1993 to 1998. From 1996 until 2001, he was the British Columbia member of the board of governors of the Heritage Canada Foundation, and served as chair from 1998-2000. He also sat on the board of the Heritage Society of British Columbia during that period. He chaired the Vancouver Heritage Foundation in 2002-3. He received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for the contributions made, through books and volunteer efforts, to increasing awareness of Canada's heritage and culture.

Following several years in Australia, Kluckner returned to live in Vancouver in 2010 and two years later published Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years (Whitecap Books, 2012), an update on his 1990 book, Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap Books, 1990).

Kluckner lived until 2006 on a nine-acre sheep farm in rural Langley where he raised sheep and chickens and helped his wife, Christine Allen, also a writer, maintain her large cottage garden. He wrote for various Canadian magazines and exhibited original artwork at a Vancouver gallery. The move to Langley in 1993 signalled a change in his painting and writing. “There’s a time to fish and there’s a time to mend nets,” he said. “This is net mending time for me.”

Inspired by his travels around the province, Kluckner published British Columbia in Watercolour. "These paintings are done for pleasure rather than politics," he said. "My last book, Paving Paradise, was probably too much of a rant. I realized I don't have to paint big diggers clawing at old houses to carry on my work."

Having travelled for several decades to compile the impressions for Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005), Michael Kluckner distilled the multi-faceted province into 12 essential colours: cerulean blue, manganese blue, ultramarine light, Payne’s grey, cadmium yellow deep, yellow ochre, olive green, viridian, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sepia and India red. His 160 blue/green paintings of heritage buildings, usually nestled amongst trees and hills, are unmistakeably Kluckner.

Inspired by Delacroix and by Japanese sumi-e sketches as a young man, Kluckner has developed a coherent style, using washed-out hues, to match his preservationist aesthetic. Vanishing British Columbia doesn’t rescue the past; it invests the ever-ephemeral present with mystique. Unlike some of Kluckner’s earlier work, Vanishing British Columbia doesn’t feel commercial, and perhaps that’s the result of more tasteful packaging, increased maturity or else more remote subject matter.

After a string of ‘Vanishing’ books in the 1980s, the heritage activist refined his peculiar historical bent that merges academic precision with folksy reportage. The end result is at once charming and useful—a rarity for an art book. Engaging Mark Forsythe’s BC Almanac program to serve as his intermediary to the public, Kluckner attracted oldtimers and history buffs to his website. These people supplied background tidbits — ‘local colour’— to complement his watercolours, archival photos and Union Steamships memorabilia.

Kluckner’s paintings of humble sites such as ‘the Brilliant bridge’, ‘the Dunster store,’ ‘Wong’s Market,’ ‘the Rolla Pub’ or ‘the Union Bay Station’ were all started out-of-doors, on location, and completed in his studio. Kluckner’s subjects are devoid of drama, dignified, at rest, almost invisible unless we are stationary with them. Humans are eerily absent.

His image of Maquinna Avenue in Zeballos shows the Zeballos Hotel, built in 1938, and an adjoining two-storey building that housed one of the town’s brothels. The static street scene, complete with parked cars, is non-descript, and yet Kluckner has validated this forgettable scene as a link to a soon-forgotten era. In this way, ghosts are redeemed and we are not trapped in Anywheresville, USA.

Amid architectural details, thumbnail biographies and historical summaries, Kluckner includes human punctuation marks. While discussing two paintings of residential schools since converted to Aboriginal centres (St. Mike’s at Alert Bay and St. Eugene’s north of Cranbrook), Kluckner recalls a local woman saying to him, “This is where they tried to take my culture away, so it is fitting that it will now help me to get my culture back.”

How many people today can remember Siska Lodge in the Fraser Canyon, managed by Fred and Florence Lindsay in the 1950s? After incorporating excerpts from a Barry Broadfoot column, Kluckner quotes a Quesnel obituary that notes Fred Lindsay was a self-published author of gold rush tales who had “a few enemies and a hell of a lot of friends.” Perhaps this is what they mean by magic realism. Poof. Fred Lindsay had vanished, but Kluckner, as an artist/magician/historian, has succeeded in plucking him out of a huge hat called history.

Vanishing British Columbia won 2nd Prize for the BC Historical Federation Book Writing Competition. Vancouver Remembered received the 2007 City of Vancouver Book Award.

Kluckner turned a new page for his first graphic novel, Toshiko (Midtown $19.95). Set during World War II, it recalls how Toshiko Yesaki and her cousin were sent to BC’s interior from 'Japtown' in Vancouver due to the internment of Japanese Canadians. They go to school and also work on Calhoun Farm near an unfriendly town [Salmon Arm] where most residents view them as enemies. But one of Toshiko’s classmates is curious and sympathetic about the exile of Japanese-Canadians, and romance develops.

"Remember Romeo and Juliet in the first term?" she says, during one of their secret meetings. "That's us."

The scandal of this relationship between Toshiko and a local boy, nicknamed Cowboy, who doubles as the novel's narrator, pushes the couple out of BC’s interior and back to Vancouver when his racist father objects. The two, love-struck teenage runaways know they will be forced to face the racial, moral and social realities of wartime Canada but they head to the coast anyway.

The Calhoun Farm, on Carlin Road, in the Tappen Valley, near Shuswap Lake, is where Henry and Hilda Calhoun welcomed Japanese Canadian families during the internment. Most were the extended family of Kumazo Nagata of Mayne Island. Kluckner's teenage characters are fictional, but Cowboy's side of the story is partly inspired by an acquaintance, born in 1934, who had worked on the Calhoun Farm in 1952.

The only extant photograph of the Calhoun family, who took in the Japanese Canadians in the middle of the bitter winter of 1942–3, found its way to an antique store in Clearwater, B.C., following the death of Harold Calhoun, the son of farmer Henry Calhoun. Michael Kluckner found the photograph there in the summer of 2003, shortly before the store was razed in a forest fire.

"For the myriad talks I have given about Vanishing British Columbia," Michael Kluckner recalls, "I always ended with the story of the Calhoun Farm and the long route taken by those families, including from a house on Mayne Island and a grocery store on Main Street in Vancouver. And the Calhouns themselves were quite heroic, demonstrating such tolerance and humanity in the midst of a hostile province. The opportunity to revisit that period in a fiction format was a bonus."

As Tom Jones might have said, go big or go home. As a follow-up to his first graphic novel Toshiko set during World War II, Michael Kluckner has hit the fast forward button and created 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery (Midtown Press / Sandhill 2016). Evoking a futuristic West Coast in the wake of a Patriotic War and a pandemic, Kluckner's dystopian wasteland features Detective Sara Fidelia on the trail of a murderer in a ruined landscape. Sort like Walking Dead Lite meets Raymond Chandler meets cautionary environmentalism. You can't say it ain't original. The genesis, according to Kluckner, was a trip to Cuba in 2012 mixed with the onslaught of news stories about humans wrecking the planet. Impressed by Cuban propaganda, Kluckner created a charismatic Great Helmsman along the lines of Castro or Mao, only his dictator is a Sensei, whose strict environmental laws, including population control, dominate the planet in the wake of global chaos, circa, 2028–30. "Visually," he writes on his blog, "the setting looks like Vancouver, but the only text reference is in a couple of signs; I couldn't resist adding the 'nuclear weapons free zone' sign to one drawing."

Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers believed the demoliton of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. She therefore spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, Eve Lazarus, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner--who has published a book called Vanishing Vancouver--and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson.

CITY/TOWN: Langley

DATE OF BIRTH: April 4, 1951

PLACE OF BIRTH: Vancouver

EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Artist

AWARDS:

Hallmark Society of Merit Award, 1992 (Paving Paradise)
Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award, 1991 (Vanishing Vancouver)
City of Vancouver Book Award, 1991 (Vanishing Vancouver)
Toronto Book Prize (short list)
Heritage Canada Medal of Achievement

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery (Midtown Press / Sandhill 2016) $19.95 9781988242187
Toshiko (Midtown Press, 2015) Price: $19.95 978-0-9881101-7-5
A Year at Killara Farm (Harbour, 2012) Illustrations. (see Christine Allen for full entry) $29.95 978-1-55017-571-4
Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap, 2012).
Vancouver Remembered (Whitecap, 2006). 1-55285-811-1
Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press, 2005). 0-7748-1125-0
Vancouver Walks (John Atkin, co-author) 2003
Wise Acres: Free Range Reflections on the Rural Route (Raincoast, 2000)
Canada A Journey of Discovery (Raincoast, 1998)
The Pullet Surprise (Raincoast, 1997)
Michael Kluckner's Vancouver (Raincoast, 1996)
British Columbia in Watercolour (Self-published, 1993)
Heritage Walks Around Vancouver (Whitecap, 1992)
Paving Paradise (Whitecap, 1991)
Vanishing Vancouver (Whitecap, 1990)
Toronto The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1988)
M.I. Rogers, 1869-1965 (privately printed, 1987)
Victoria The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1986)
Vancouver The Way It Was (Whitecap, 1984)

[Caricature: Kluckner, self-portrait]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Art" "Architecture"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Vanishing British Columbia

Wise Acres (Raincoast $19.95)
Article



As his ‘free range reflection on the rural route,’ Michael Kluckner’s 13th book is Wise Acres (Raincoast $19.95), a title derived from the Old Dutch term for smartass.

Kluckner’s barnyard homage was going to be called Farm Noir “because there’s lots of sex and death down on the farm,” but that moniker was deemed too obscure.

Before Farm Noir, Kluckner--never one to be sheepish about using a pun--figured he’d come up with the ideal title for his sequel to The Pullet Surprise, his story about a couple converting to farm life in the Fraser Valley.

“This one was going to be called Embraceable Ewe,” he says. “I was sure the implications of sheep-shagging would appeal to the CBC and the Globe & Mail. Bestiality being the last frontier, we thought we could get maximal airtime on Arthur Black.”

Kluckner’s second instalment about two plucky urbanites in gumboots is mainly from the perspectives of the barnyard animals. Jethro and Bev are geese; Bruce the duck murders four of his offspring.

As he and his wife Christine Allen try to cope from duck pond crisis to chicken coop mayhem, the sheep enjoy pop songs like ‘Born To Be Mild’ and ‘We’re Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time’.

Ever the wisecracker, Kluckner watches from the sidelines with one chapter called A Ruminant With A View.

He describes how country living has affected his wife’s diet. “Christine was a vegetarian,” he says, “but I’ve convinced her that chickens are vegetables.” 1-55192-304-1

[BCBW AUTUMN 2000]


Vancouver Walks (Steller Press $16.95)
Article



Vancouver Walks (Steller Press $16.95) by Michael Kluckner and John Atkin is a comprehensive walking guide to appreciating Vancouver’s heritage buildings.
1-894143-07-8

[BCBW 2003]


Toshiko (Midtown $19.95)
Article (2015)


from BCBW (Autumn)
Artist and heritage expert Michael Kluckner has turned a new page for his first graphic novel, Toshiko (Midtown $19.95). Set during World War II, Toshiko Yesaki and her cousin have been sent to B.C.’s interior from ‘Japtown’ in Vancouver due to the internment of Japanese Canadians. They go to school and also work on Calhoun Farm near an unfriendly town [Salmon Arm] where most residents view them as enemies. But one of Toshiko’s classmates is curious and sympathetic about the exile of Japanese-Canadians, and romance develops. “Remember Romeo and Juliet in the first term?” she says, during one of their secret meetings. “That’s us.” The scandal of this relationship between Toshiko and a local boy, nicknamed Cowboy, who doubles as the novel’s narrator, pushes the couple out of B.C.’s interior and back to Vancouver when his racist father objects. The two love-struck teenage runaways know they will be forced to face the racial, moral and social realities of wartime Canada but they head to the coast anyway. Klckner notes there was a Calhoun Farm, on Carlin Road, in the Tappen Valley, near Shuswap Lake, where Henry and Hilda Calhoun welcomed Japanese Canadian families during the internment. Most were the extended family of Kumazo Nagata of Mayne Island. Kluckner’s teenage characters are fictional, but Cowboy’s side of the story is partly inspired by an acquaintance, born in 1934, who worked on the Calhoun Farm in 1952. 978-0-9881101-7-5


2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery
Review 2017



Reviewed by Mark James Dunn

*

Vancouver historian, artist, and illustrator Michael Kluckner has turned his eclectic talents in recent years to graphic novels, starting in 2015 with Toshiko, a remaking of Romeo and Juliet set in a Japanese internment camp in 1944, followed a year later with 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery, both published by Midtown Press.

Reviewer Mark Dunn takes us to Kluckner’s Vancouver after the apocalypse, a walled and fortified city with four gates, a dwindling population of 55,000, and no Internet except a heavily-censored Facebook.

Kluckner’s dystopian view of Vancouver is not entirely fanciful. Vancouver city planners talk a good game, trying to compete with Copenhagen for kilometres of bike lanes; meanwhile The Guardian newspaper has just published a story about how and why Vancouver is one of the most unfriendly cities on the planet, a place where loneliness thrives. While Kluckner’s dark vision is meant for entertainment, it also serves to puncture the city’s self-inflated sense of its own superiority -- Ed,

*

It’s thirty years in the future and Mayor Gregor Robertson’s oppressive and authoritarian regime keeps Vancouver in a perpetual state of poverty. Sea storms ravage the walled and gated city and force its citizens into shelters. On the plus side, rent in Yaletown and Coal Harbour has never been more affordable.

On the Welcome to Vancouver sign, the population is crossed out and 55,000 is tagged underneath.

In Michael Kluckner’s 2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery, Vancouver is part of a world government created by Sensei -- a Big Brother type character obsessed with population control who has also, however, led the people of the planet out of a devastating post-war period.

The book also takes a kindly pot shot at long-lasting Mayor Robertson and his Happy Planet company that continues to make organic fruit beverages in the post-apocalypse.
The story follows Sara, a detective investigating a murder within the walls of the city. The narrative follows the pursuit of the murder suspect at the same time as an unlikely romance develops in this dystopian world. Early on we see a woman placed in stocks for being pregnant, right alongside a polluter, and we learn about Pleasant Planet, the free and widely distributed beverage that works simultaneously as birth control and an intoxicant -- as well as a clever nod to Robertson’s Happy Planet brand.

2050 is driven by the investigation of a “mort” near one of the gates to the city. Bodies are common, and the clean-up crew picking up this corpse already has two from the latest storm. The investigation soon partners Sara with John Malpais and a romantic subplot emerges.

Pursuing their only lead, Sara and Malpais, from the surveillance wing of the government, leave the confines of Vancouver for Excursion (present day Surrey), a wild and lawless place where the citizens aren’t provided with state benefits and don’t follow the teachings of Sensei. People in Excursion seem more interested in free market economics and electric guitars than co-ops and Pleasant Planet.

Excursion is accessible only by a reaction (cable) ferry, based on the existing ones that Kluckner knows well on the Skeena and Thompson rivers, and at Lytton and Big Bar Creek on the central Fraser River.

It’s the sharp contrast between Vancouver and Excursion that makes the book feel like a critique of communism, or left-wing politics more generally, in the same vein as Orwell’s best-known novels. Life is not good within the heavily controlled city. The people are subjugated and oppressed. There’s no Internet except for Facebook -- a terrifying idea!
Vancouver seems really nasty compared with Excursion, which has pubs with beer, Victory Gin, and live music. Only folk music is allowed in Vancouver because the instruments don’t need power.

2050’s big villain, the Sensei, is an environmentalist, imposing energy restrictions and showing a strong disdain for fossil fuels. On the other hand, the people of Excursion consider building a refinery. Even during the apocalypse, it seems, the energy debate rages on.

Kluckner’s graphic novel exists in a fascinating world. We get to see Vancouver from the pen – and pencil – of someone with a deep knowledge of the city’s past. Indeed we’re given little history lessons throughout. And Kluckner interprets districts like Yaletown, Surrey, and a stretch of Kingsway in a whole new way.

But the book has some weaknesses. The mystery aspect feels a little forced. For a 130-page graphic novel, there’s a lot packed into its pages. Alongside the deep history of the universe Kluckner has created, the kind-of-uncomfortable love story, and the investigation, 2050 feels cluttered. Perhaps it could’ve been stretched into a few graphic novels and the ideas more fully fleshed out.

And maybe the book’s size doesn’t allow enough time for the story to develop, a narrative compression that makes the characters’ motives seem strained and even, at times, a little unrealistic.
The Sensei, the symbol for the regime, feels a little derivative. He’s 1984’s Big Brother in his control and his personality; Chairman Mao in his glorification of agriculture; and Kim Il Sung and Kim John Il, as well as communist leaders like Stalin, in his cult of personality. One of 2050’s biggest flaws might be that it’s too clever. The story gets lost in the textual references and allusions.

The narrative is framed by an odd critique of communism, environmentalism, and equality. At one point a character in Excursion, referring to life in Vancouver, says, “there’s none of that ‘everybody’s equal’ shit here.”

It made me wonder if ideologies are being critiqued -- or if the work is simply so inspired by science fiction staples that the criticism just slipped in with the characters and the clichés.
Despite these weaknesses, the issues of obsession and surveillance are explored in a fascinating way in the romantic plot of 2050. The entire division of the government tasked with trawling Facebook is terrifying, more so because it has grown out of today’s cultures and technologies of surveillance.
Graphic novels often have a writer and an author. Here, Kluckner is both. Compared to the ultra-polished nature of most comics, the greyscale pencil art of 2050 is refreshing both in quality and style. Kluckner’s distinctive drawing, all done with 2B pencil on Bristol paper, is quick but effective.

And because the landscapes are familiar, it’s fun for those of us who like apocalyptic fiction to visualize Vancouver in ruin. The billboards show propaganda much like those in North Korea today. The slogan, Make Love, Not Babies markets Sensei’s population-control policy and is a clear nod to some ideas in Brave New World, where people are distracted and seduced by pleasure.

In the Author’s Note, Kluckner lists the books and films that influenced his work on this novel. In the process, he provides a challenge to those who like searching for references, intellectual clues, and influences. Indeed, the intertextuality of 2050 may be its defining characteristic.

2050: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery has a lot going on. It should entertain Vancouverites interested in science fiction and amuse those curious about where we might be going.

*

A native Vancouverite, Mark James Dunn is studying in the School of Communication at SFU. You can follow some of his work on his website: www.markdunn.ca

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