Young Winnipeg author Jamie Michaels is in some ways a throwback to the novelists of old, such as Ernest Hemingway and Jack London.
Like them, Michaels is a man of action and adventure – an individual who enjoys the rough and tumble.
His resume includes a challenging canoe trip with a couple of friends eight years ago from Winnipeg, down the Red River, to the Mississippi and then on to the Gulf of Mexico. This was the subject of his first graphic novel, Canoe Boys, which he released last March under his own publishing company, Dirty Water Comics.
In the years since that first adventure, Michaels has explored Ghana, as well as bartended and worked other odd jobs in London, England, while attending university there. He has a master’s degree in fiction from the University of London.
Michaels has worked over the past couple of summers fighting forest fires in Alberta and Montana. He also competes as a mixed martial arts fighter.
Now working on his second graphic novel, Michaels has looked again to the rough and tumble.
Christie Pits is the story of perhaps the most dramatic moment in the history of Toronto’s Jewish community.
On the night of Aug. 16, 1933, after a softball game at Toronto’s Christie Pits park (then known as Willowvale Park), a group of young men unfurled a banner with a swastika, a provocation directed at the team of mostly Jewish teens.
This sparked a six-hour brawl, involving youth from the Italian and Ukrainian communities, who rallied to defend the Jewish players. For many, this marked a turning point in Canadian-Jewish history and the fight against anti-Semitism.
“To me, the Christie Pits riot is such an important event in Canadian history.… It is especially relevant now that we see the return of right-wing extremism, as shown by the events in Charlottesville,” he says, referring to the white supremacist rally that took place in Virginia in August.
“There is still a lot of work to do today to make Canada a welcoming home for everybody. It was also important in that it brought young Toronto Jews into the streets to fight for their place at the Canadian table.”
Michaels says that he has chosen to write in graphic novel form because “it is such a giving medium. Being able to combine words and images allows for so much more play.”
While the characters in his new 120-page novel are fictional, Michaels notes that they are based on the types of people one would have found in 1930s society.
As part of his research, he interviewed some Torontonians who were around in 1933 and studied historical archives. The illustrations include real newspaper clippings from the time and such realistic images as Jewish peddlers and the Brunswick Avenue Talmud Torah.
Each chapter, he reports, is based on one specific character representing a certain aspect of the neighbourhood – with all the characters coming together for the confrontation.
To illustrate the novel, Michaels has called on graphic artist Doug Fedrau, “a talented illustrator who has really brought the history to life,” the author says.
While Michaels has received a grant from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba to produce Christie Pits, he has also launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise an additional $7,500. As of late November, Michaels had raised nearly $5,500.
The goal is to have the novel in print by March and on the shelves in April.
“I hope that Christie Pits gets the attention that I believe it deserves,” he says.