Bill Williamson was born in Winnipeg in 1907 and over the next thirty years participated in some of the most inspiring radical events in Canadian and global history. He was a hobo, a Wobbly, a relief camp worker, a communist, a photographer and the first Canadian to join the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. While travelling around the world as a merchant seaman, he saw a clandestine screening of the film Battleship Potemkin in Sydney, Australia. Inspired by the film’s politics and cinematography, he decided to become a photographer and to try to work with the Russian director, Sergei Eisenstein. While he never made it to the USSR, he did take part in many of the important political movements of his time including the On to Ottawa Trek, the Regina Riot, and the Spanish Civil War.
This comic is based on two letters Bill Williamson wrote in the early 1980s and two interviews he did in 1991. I have transcribed and edited Bill’s words to create this story. It is part of the Graphic History Project which aims to collect a number of short graphic histories of resistance that illustrate the various ways peoples from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences have fought for economic and social justice around the world.
This comic is now going to be compiled into an anthology called Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle to be published by Between the Lines in 2016. The Graphic History Collective, along with historian Paul Buhle, will edit the anthology which will also feature the amazing work of Graphic History Project contributors Althea Balmes, Sam Bradd, Nicole Marie Burton, Sean Carleton, Robin Folvik, Ethan Heitner, Orion Keresztesi, David Lester, Doug Nesbitt, Jo SiMalaya Alcampo, Julia Smith, and Tania Willard.