Arts & CultureCampus & City

Q&A with Jamie Michael, historical graphic novelist

University of Alberta alumnus Jamie Michael is a writer in the Jewish community. Offering accessible insight into Canada’s history, his latest graphic novel project, Christie Pits, tells the true story of when Jewish and Italian immigrants squared off against Nazi-inspired thugs in the streets of Toronto. The Gateway spoke with Jamie to learn more about the project and why its history is relevant today.

Doug Fedrau

The Gateway: Tell me a little bit more about the project.

Jamie Michael: This is an incredible true story of Jewish and Italian immigrants fighting against Nazi-inspired thugs in a 10,000-person brawl in Christie Pits Park in Toronto, to decide who would be considered genuinely Canadian. It ended up inspiring Canada’s first anti-hate speech legislation.

What inspired you to start Christie Pits?

Believe it or not, I was in a pub, and I heard somebody reference the story as though it was common knowledge. I thought, “I’m a young Jew in Canada and I’ve never heard of it. This is impossible, this has to be made up.” Like any millennial, I checked out Wikipedia, and the story was real. I became obsessed. I thought, “This is such an amazing story and no one knows about it.”

Did the rise of alt-right ideology or “white nationalism” influence your writing?

Christie Pits is depressingly topical. But I actually started this project before the rise of Trump, before the alt-right ideology and white nationalism began to unfold. Seeing the events in Charlottesville, I had to stop and rewrite, and think about how much nuance I want to use. What brings people to these mentalities? At some point you’re a Nazi and you have to say that. Not everyone in these rioting groups is a Nazi, but some of them are. The same holds true in Christie Pits.

What appeals to you about the graphic novel medium?

I think there’s a correct format for every story. This is going to be accessible, digestible, it can be in classrooms, you can read it on the bus. People aren’t just reading history books for fun. This is the age of Netflix, Youtube, Twitter. Even the traditional novel, it’s a beautiful form, but the graphic novel brings the story to life in a new way.

It’s a gateway. For some people, they’ll see parallels to today. In the book, we produce a historical document. We have illustrated renditions of pages from the Toronto Star. If you want to dive more into the history, it’s all there in the book. We tell you our sources. It’s a great stepping stone.

What’s it like funding a project through Kickstarter?

We’re generating momentum. Kickstarter is great for getting the community involved and seeing where the project is going to fit in. It gives us a chance to engage with people we might not otherwise have access to. The other benefit is that we’re all young artists running an independent press…it’s not easy to bring these stories to life financially. It’s risky, because it’s all or nothing. But we’ve received such great feedback.

Christie Pits is being published by Dirty Water Comics, by writer Jamie Michael and artist Doug Fedrau. The Kickstarter project to bring the story to life is currently live. 

Doug Fedrau

Katherine DeCoste

Katherine DeCoste wishes she was a houseplant, but instead she's a third-year English and history honours student. When she's not writing reviews of plays or hot takes about fossil fuels, she also dabbles in poetry, playwriting, and other non-fiction, which she has published in various places. Other interests include making and eating bread.

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