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This article was published 2/11/2020 (609 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kaj Hasselriis has been interested in politics since he was a kid. When he was nine years old, the Winnipeg writer and cartoonist recalls then-city council candidate Bill Clement canvassing his family’s Charleswood home in 1983 — the year he successfully won a seat on council over incumbent James Moore.
"I can remember practically the whole conversation," the 46-year-old Hasselriis says. "I remember him saying he was going street by street, starting early because he was running against an incumbent and he needed to get out there as early as he could. And I remember asking, ‘Who was that man?’"
That interest in politics has manifested itself in many ways for Hasselriis, including a run for mayor in 2006 where he placed third behind incumbent Sam Katz and former MLA Marianne Cerilli.
Most recently, it has spurred Hasselriis, who has also worked as a journalist at CBC, to write and illustrate comic books for children about political figures as kids.
Last year Hasselriis self-published Politikids, a 24-page comic book detailing how the leaders of Canada’s four national parties came to be interested in politics. He wound up selling 1,000 copies of the book, hand-delivered a copy to each of the party leaders and had numerous emails from fans across Canada asking when he’d be penning a followup.
When Joe Biden selected California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate at the top of the Democratic Party ticket for the 2020 U.S. election, Hasselriis saw his chance. In addition to being the first Black woman to land on a major U.S. party ticket, Harris also has a Canadian connection — she spent some of her childhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s living with her mother in Montreal at a time when the political climate was heated.
Inspired by this history, Hasselriis penned his latest book, Kamala in Canada, which chronicles Harris’s younger years in Montreal, through to her high school graduation and eventual return to the U.S.
After recalling a story done by now-CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale for the Toronto Star about the senator’s time in Canada, Hasselriis began researching and developing his comic book when Harris was chosen as Biden’s running mate in August. "When I looked at the years she was in Quebec, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, that was the time when there was the huge debate about separatism, and the referendum."
In addition to the looming threat of whether Quebec would achieve sovereignty, Hasselriis details how Harris became engaged in her own form of protest after a landlord told her and her friends they couldn’t play soccer in the courtyard anymore. They held a protest, and eventually won the chance to play again.
"What I was really into in Politikids was zeroing in on those moments as kids when future leaders first became involved in politics," says Hasselriis. "That, for her, sounded like a good origin story."
Hasselriis hopes both Politikids and Kamala in Canada, which take inspiration from Tintin comics by Belgian artist Georges Remi, as well as graphic novels by writers such as Raina Telgemeier, provide young readers with insight into these public figures and the ways they first became engaged in politics.
"I do think kids are paying attention to the same things we’re paying attention to," Hasselriis says.
"If we’re reading the news, watching the news, listening to the news, they’re also getting interested in it. When they see people on the news or in the newspaper they’re asking, ‘Who are those people?’"
And while self-publishing has its challenges, Hasselriis has come to appreciate putting out his own comics.
"I know exactly who all of my customers are… I really like that feeling of knowing how many are going out the door, who’s getting it, getting fan mail, getting pictures from readers," he says.
"I’ve also been involved in politics, and I know the value of a good list to political organizing. The same thing goes for self-publishing."
Like many of us, Hasselriis has been watching the current U.S. election with a great deal of anticipation and nervousness.
Despite the fact that most polls have the Biden-Harris ticket solidly leading President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, he’s hesitant to make any kind of prediction about the outcome of tonight’s race.
"The stakes are too high and I’m way too nervous. I’m watching this unfold with clenched teeth… I don’t think it will all be over on election night," he says.
"I’m hopeful for a Biden-Harris outcome. I’m encouraged by the polls, but having said that, we’ve all seen this movie before."
Copies of Kamala in Canada are available for $10 plus shipping by visiting kamalaincanada.com.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.