Toshiko

Toshiko

Michael Kluckner

Reviewed by Patricia Roy

I haven’t read a comic book since childhood, save for the Classics Comic version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which seemed a short-cut to studying that play in high school. Co-incidentally, Kluckner’s book, more properly described as a graphic novel, adapts that play’s theme in this story of Cowboy, a Caucasian farm boy who in the summer of 1944 falls in love with Toshiko, a Japanese-Canadian classmate whose family moved to Tappen, BC, after being forced to leave their Powell Street home in Vancouver in 1942. Through the connections of her grandfather, “a big wheel” on Mayne Island, Toshiko’s family “self-evacuated” first to Chase, where promised jobs in a sawmill did not work out, and then to nearby Tappen where they found work on a large vegetable farm.

In a brief Historical Note, Kluckner explains that the leading characters, Toshiko and her suitor, are purely the creations of his imagination. Yet, much of the story reflects actual facts. On Mayne Island, the Japanese had been well known for their tomato farms and other enterprises. The Tappen farm did exist and one of Kluckner’s friends, not Japanese, remembered the Japanese families who were there. The problems of prejudice experienced by the young couple are very real. Not only were the “Japs” unwelcome in many places, including Salmon Arm where the young lovers attended high school and went to the movies, but parents and others frowned on inter-racial liaisons, even to the extent of Cowboy’s father turning him out of the house. Cowboy’s problems were further complicated; once he turned eighteen, he was subject to call-up under the National Resources Mobilization Act. Without revealing the whole plot of the story, the kindness of an “Indian” woman to the pair as they travelled through the Fraser Canyon should be noted.

As one expects from Kluckner, the black and white drawings in the many panels are superb. A few larger ones, such as that of the Salmon Arm courthouse, can stand alone as works of art. This book is a fine introduction to both the themes of Romeo and Juliet and to the wartime story of Japanese Canadians. Its depiction of nudity (though chastely presented) and drawings of bedroom scenes make it quite different from the Classic Comics version of Shakespeare!

Toshiko
Michael Kluckner
Vancouver: Midtown Press, 2015 128 pp. $19.95 paper