Ever since Art Spiegelman's Maus in 1986 became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize--depicting the experiences of Spiegelman's father as a Shoah survivor, with Jews portrayed as mice, and Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs--graphic novels have become a serious medium for reflecting and sharing history.

David Lester's 312-page graphic novel The Listener (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishers, 2011) deftly portrays how German society was complicit in the rise of Adolf Hitler. Seven years in the making, this unusually complex work of visual storytelling mixed with history quickly went into a second printing and was a finalist for a Book of the Year Award sponsored by the US magazine ForeWord Reviews in the graphic novel category.

By reflecting the under-examined, formative era of Hitler's rise--when he parlayed his party's narrow electoral victory in the state of Lippe, in 1933, into an alleged "massive victory," whereupon his "fake news" triumph prompted President Hindenburg to appoint him as Chancellor of Germany just two weeks later--The Listener awakens contemporary readers to the fragility of democracy.

The story starts with Louise--the "listener" of the title--as she takes a tour of the museums of Europe, trying to overcome guilt and sadness after a young Cambodian activist, inspired by one of Louise's sculptures, fell to his death while hanging a protest banner off the Woodward's W tower in Vancouver. She has received letters absurdly blaming her for the death of the activist. As an antidote, Louise decides to examine famous and favorite paintings and sculptures throughout Europe, seeing re-direction and possible inspiration.

In Austria, she meets Tomas, an intellectual who has a particular interest in artists who were monsters. She learns Stalin and Mao wanted to think of themselves as poets; and Hitler believed he could be serious painter. Tomas accompanies Louise to the Mauthausen concentration camp where Louise struggles to absorb the atmosphere. On a hill above the market town of Mauthausen, roughly 20 kilometres east of Linz, in Austria, once stood the main camp of a group with nearly 100 further subcamps located throughout Austria and southern Germany. Awestruck, she mostly feels her inability to fully comprehend the magnitude of what occurred there.

In 1975, when Yosef Wosk visited the infamous rock quarries of Mauthausen, about 100 miles west of Vienna, in northern Austria, where close to 200,000 had been imprisoned and over 90,000 died tortuous deaths, he observed, "We saw wild Spring flowers blooming on the hills and wondered how anything could ever dare grow there again?" Yosk noted that Mauthausen was a camp like no other because it was mostly used for extermination through labour of the intelligentsia--educated people and members of the higher social classes, hence. A place to kill artists.

Louise and Tomas discuss the role of art and the responsibilities of artists. Is it possible that most artists are recklessly self-centred? We learn the brilliant and articulate Orson Welles was once asked to run for the U.S. Senate but declined, whereupon Joseph McCarthy won that election. Eventually, Louise meets an older couple, Marie and Rudolph, who recall working for a newspaper in the conservative state of Lippe, in Germany, in the 1930s. The couple recall joining the DNVP (German National People's Party), hoping for the return of the monarchy. In a series of flashbacks, we revisit how attacks on Jews, and restrictions on their freedoms, were popular with the German people. When Paul von Hindenburg, the President of Germany, had to select a new Chancellor, the main choices were the DNVP's Alfred Hugenberg (who owned the paper where Marie and Rudolph worked) and Adolf Hitler. At the time, Hitler's stubborn desire to be autocratic was actually hurting the party?s fortunes, but Hugenberg struck a self-interested deal with Hitler, hoping for a position of power in a Hitler-led government.

Marie and Rudolph describe how Hitler's party was in deep financial trouble. The Lippe election fight could have marked the end of Hitler, but Hugenberg ordered his newspaper?s staff not attack the Nazi Party. When Nazi party stormtroopers arrived in Lippe from across Germany, local rallies were manipulated and members of the opposition were brutally attacked. DNVP campaign posters were covered over with Nazi posters. The Nazis won the Lippe election in January of 1933 with only 39% of the vote. After Hitler had been appointed as Chancellor by Hindenburg, other political parties were banned. Opposition leaders were killed, communists were beaten. Persecution of Jews greatly escalated. With Trumpian vanity and insanity, Hitler presented himself as a national hero.

More of a listener than an activist, Louise feels incapable of mounting any meaningful response to evil when she returns to Canada. Then she meets someone who knew the Cambodian-born activist who plunged to his death near the outset of the story. He tells her the life story of Vann, a Cambodian doctor who had survived genocide under the Pol Pot regime. Vann lost his parents and was never able to overcome his survivor's guilt. Because the Pol Pot regime particularly targeted artists for execution, Vann took a great interest in art, wondering what made artists so dangerous that so many of them had to die. Louise learns Vann was inspired by her art and she was not responsible for his death. She is inspired to create a new sculpture that is the culmination of all she has learned on her journey through Europe.

All her "listenings" have not been for naught.

Much of the dialogue from Hitler (and other Nazi party leaders) in The Listener contains direct quotes from his speeches and writings. Lester details what are historical facts and what are his own inventions at the back of the book, which also includes an excellent timeline for the rise and fall of the Nazi party. There are also mini-biographies for pro-Nazi animators, filmmakers and cartoonists, detailing their specific involvement in Nazi propaganda, as well as want happened to them after World War II.

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Graphic novelist David Lester, born in Vancouver in 1958, is a professional graphic designer and a musician whose band, Mecca Normal, a venerable guitar-and-voice duo with Jean Smith, has garnered international acclaim, including a four-star CD review in Rolling Stone, and fans throughout Europe and North America. The duo has been featured at the 'Experience Music Project' Museum in Seattle.

Lester is also the publisher of Get-to-the-Point Publishing, an imprint that has produced 20 titles since 1993 including Bud Osborn's Keys to the Kingdoms, winner of the City of Vancouver Book Prize. His own chapbooks include Afternoon Descends to Night (illustrations), The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism and I've Fallen in Love With You (written with Wendy Atkinson). The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism has been widely reviewed in such diverse places as New Internationalist (UK); Magnet Magazine; Impose (New York); Razzorcake, Rockpile; Briar Patch; Chart; Vice; Alternative Press and Punk Planet. An interview with David Lester discussing his book with C.S. Soong, host of KPFA's "Against the Grain," can be heard via www.arbeiterring.com/new/gruesome.html

In December, 2006, a revised second edition of David Lester's book, The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism was published. All author royalties have been donated to the Canadian Centre For The Victims of Torture, raising over $2,000. In 2010, David Lester's poster of Paul Robeson was included in Celebrate People's History: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution (The Feminist Press, $24.95). Edited by Josh MacPhee. The book celebrates acts of resistance and great events in an often hidden history of human and civil rights struggles from the perspective of some of the most interesting and socially engaged artists working today.

David Lester's poster of Malachi Ritscher (18 x 28") was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial (March 7 to May 25) in New York City. The exhibition also includes a recording from a live set performed by Mecca Normal, and both sides of the cover of the Mecca Normal 7" record that includes the song "Malachi" about war protester Malachi Ritscher. These artifacts are all part of Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher, an exhibit curated by Chicago's Marc Fischer about American activist and music documentarian Malachi Ritscher (1954-2006) who self-immolated on a freeway median outside of Chicago to protest the war in Iraq.

In 2017, on two nights in a row, an unconventional, graphic-novel styled educational book called Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle!, with artwork by David Lester, won two of Canada's top awards for history. On May 29, in Ottawa, the Canadian Historical Association's Public History Prize went to the collaboratively created Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle! edited by the Graphic History Collective with Paul Buhle (Between the Lines $9.95). The previous night, in Toronto, the publishers were awarded the $10,000 Wilson Prize, sponsored by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History (McMaster University). The Wilson Prize goes annually to the best book that "succeeds in making Canadian historical scholarship accessible to a wide and transnational audience." B.C. contributors other than Lester included Kara Sievewright, Sam Bradd, Robin Folvik, Mark Leier, Tania Willard, Dale McCartney, and Ron Verzuh. Visit graphichistorycollective.com

Few Canadians know much about the Winnipeg General Strike but it was once the most famous labour strike in Canadian history. In May of 1919, more than 30,000 workers walked off the job in Winnipeg, Manitoba to fight for higher wages, collective bargaining rights, and more power for working people. The strikers battled police, vigilantes and the government. Along the way they made international headlines. The story has been graphically retold in 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg Strike (Between the Lines $19.95), with illustrations by David Lester, to mark the 100th anniversary of the strike. The text author of this graphic novel is known as The Graphic History Collective, a group of activists, artists, writers and researchers who are passionate about comics, history and social change. 1919 was the co-winner of the Canadian Association for Work & Labour Studies Book Prize in 2020. The CAWLS prize is for the best book in work and labour studies published in the previous year. The prize committee described 1919 as "a clear example of community-inspired research" and that it "makes an exceptional contribution to labour studies in Canada by inventively adopting a format which, while not conforming to the usual academic mode of exposition, has the capacity to circulate radical labour history to new audiences." -- Canadian Association for Work & Labour Studies, Brock University (Ontario).

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BOOKS:

1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg Strike. (Between the Lines 2019) $19.95 978-1771134200

Direct Action Gets the Goods (Between the Lines 2019) $14.95. The Graphic History Collective with Althea Balmes, Gord Hill, David Lester & Orion Keresztesi. 978-1-77113-417-0

Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between The Lines, 2016). An anthology that Lester contributed a 12-page comic called The Battle of Ballantyne Pier.

The Listener (Arbeiter Ring Publishers) 2011. ISBN: 978-1894037488. Available from Amazon:The Listener:
The Listener

Author website:The Listener / bio / sneak peek / films:
The Listener / bio / sneak peek / films

Celebrate People's History!: The Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution (The Feminist Press, $24.95, 2010). Edited by Josh MacPhee. Contains poster of Paul Robeson by David Lester. ISBN: 9781558616776

The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2005, second edition 2006) ISBN: 1-894037-20-0; ISBN13: 9781894037204. Available from Amazon:The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism:The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism

Afternoon Descends to Night (SMARTEN UP! & Get To The Point, chapbook)

I've Fallen In Love With You (SMARTEN UP! & Get To The Point, chapbook)

I Talk so Fast That My Words Lose Context & Meaning (SMARTEN UP! & Get To The Point, chapbook)

DESIGN & ARTWORK published in:

Drippytown Comics
Warburger (Slovinia)
Stereoscomic (France)
The Best of Zines
Canadian Forum
Wegway
Canadian Fiction
Broken Pencil
Writer's Block
Vancouver Review
Sub-terrain
Re-sister
Geist Magazine
The Leveller (London)
Time Out (London)
Cultural Correspondence (NYC)
Latin America Newsletters (London) Resurgence (London)
Ten illustrations for Rebel Moon by Montreal poet Norman Nawrocki (1996) AK Press, San Francisco

GRAPHIC DESIGNER:

* Book covers * letterhead * posters * brochures * catalogues * CD covers * business cards * buttons * t-shirts * logos. CLIENTS INCLUDE: Anvil Press, Bluefield, Touchstone, Pink Ink, Playwrights Theatre Festival, Blizzard, Firehall Arts Centre, Tamanhous, New Star, Pulp Press, Crown, Harbour, New Society, Caitlin. OF SPECIAL NOTE: Zines (Booth-Clibborn Editions) design work featured in two page spread. * West Coast Music Award nomination for album cover design. * Paul Robeson poster (Celebrate Peoples' History Series, Chicago). * Inspired Agitators poster series featured in Punk Planet Magazine. Poster art in punk graphics anthology, Fucked Up Photocopied (Gingko Press).

David Lester has designed B.C. BookWorld for more than thirty years. David Lester and Alan Twigg began working together to produce the quarterly newspaper in 1988.

EDITORIAL DESIGNER:

* BC BookWorld * Vancouver Sun * Musqueam News * V Magazine * Vancouver Magazine * Latin America Newsletters * Georgia Straight * North Shore Weekly * Open Road * West Ender * People's Law School * Canadian Forestry Association

ANIMATOR:

Change Is How You Act shown at 25 Years of BC Animation Festival (Pacific Cinematheque) 1999

[BCBW 2020] "Art" "Publishing" "Politics" "Music" Alan Twigg / HolocaustLit