Normal History Vol. 711: The Art Of David Lester

Every week, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 39-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Due to the rapid pace of David’s output, I can’t always keep track of which project is where in terms of creation and publication. I compiled a brief history of his recent graphic novels with an eye for how they form a body of political art.

The Listener, A Graphic Novel (Arbeiter Ring, 2011)
Set in both present day and during the rise of Hitler, the story pivots around an artist taking a trip to Germany to grapple with ethical and political concerns related to her work. After the book was published, David Lester and Jean Smith (a.k.a. the rock duo Mecca Normal) created a classroom event based on the book, which they presented in both Canada and the US.

The Battle Of Ballantyne Pier (Between The Lines, 2016)
Included in the compendium Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories Of Working-Class Struggle. The intensity of the illustrative work energizes the story of a union’s run-in with police on Vancouver’s waterfront in 1935. Created in an astoundingly short amount of time, David’s account is based on his grandfather’s experiences as a longshoreman.
“Lester’s account of the battle is also important because he humanizes the activists involved, and reminds us that people just like us overcame these challenges in the past.” —Dale McCartney, The Tyee, 2016

1919: A Graphic History Of The Winnipeg Strike (Between The Lines, 2019)
The speed, content and beauty of Ballantyne lead to an offer for David to illustrate a book written by The Graphic History Collective, which produces alternative histories—people’s histories—in an accessible format to help people understand the historical roots of contemporary social issues. Nominated for the George Ryga Award For Social Awareness In Literature in 2020 and co-winner of the CAWLS Book Award for best book on labour history in 2020.

Emma Goldman (in progress)
The story of the revolutionary’s final year in Toronto.

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, A Graphic Novel
(Beacon Press, 2021)
The story of abolitionist Benjamin Lay, whose life as a radical was important to anti-slavery and activist movements that followed. This is the first of three projects to date with author/historian Marcus Rediker and editor Paul Buhle.

Under The Banner Of King Death: Pirates Of The Atlantic, A Graphic Novel (Beacon Press, 2023)
A tale of the social revolution that erupts when an itinerant community of outsiders is sold into servitude/slavery in New York in 1741. The second of three projects to date with author/historian Marcus Rediker and editor Paul Buhle.

OK Here We Go” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):