A new role for Kamala Harris: Comic book hero

Hindustan Times, Toronto | By
Nov 09, 2020 11:42 AM IST

The comic, in English and French, is called Kamala in Canada, and is based on the years she spent in Montreal.

She will be the next vice-president of the United States but Kamala Harris has chalked up yet another achievement: Heroine of a new comic book published in Canada.

Cover of the comic Kamala in Canada(Image courtesy: Kaj Hasselriis)
Cover of the comic Kamala in Canada(Image courtesy: Kaj Hasselriis)

The comic, in English and French, is called Kamala in Canada, and is based on the years she spent in Montreal.

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In a way, the volume by Winnipeg-based Kaj Hasselriis portrays what may be her very first foray into politics.

“I did some research and discovered that, when Harris was a kid in Montreal, the landlord of her apartment complex ordered children to stop playing soccer. Harris objected to the soccer ban and, in response, organised her first protest! I felt it would be an inspiring story for kids, so Kamala in Canada was born,” Hasselriis told the Hindustan Times.

Kamala in Canada was published just last month and has received plenty of attention and orders, with the Montreal Gazette calling it “an inspiring tale of perhaps her first political battle.”

Harris was 12 when her mother Shyamala Gopalan, along with Kamala’s younger sister Maya, went to Montreal to work at the Jewish General Hospital in the city.

The author based his comic version on Harris’s own account of that experience in her memoir The Truths We Hold, as well as media articles.

Hasselriis started a series called Polikids last October as Canada had its Federal elections. In that instalment, Canada’s Leaders Tell Their True Childhood Tales, he looked at the lives of those like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Given the popularity of that comic, Hasselriis was asked when he would produce a sequel.

“When Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris to be his running mate, I knew I had the answer. I was reminded that Harris lived in Montreal for five years as a kid, from the ages of 12 to 17. Those are extremely formative years for anyone, so I knew that her time in Canada must have been influential.”

The book also riffs on how like her mother Kamala Harris had to “adapt to a new country, a new language and a new culture”, including the freezing weather and learning French.

As it became apparent that Harris would be the next VP, sales of Hasselriis’s comic tripled. The book is targeted at children just as the series is as the attempt behind the project is “to help get kids engaged in politics.”

A former journalist, Hasselriis said as a freelance reporter he was in Kolkata in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President and saw “how excited people were that a person of colour was finally going to the White House” and can just imagine the excitement with the Indian-origin Harris assuming the second highest office in the US.

Harris may well be unaware of this tribute to five years of her childhood since she was busy with the 2020 campaign , but Hasselris mailed a copy to her Senate office in Washington. “I hope she enjoys it!” he said.

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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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