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Graphic novel illustrated by VCU professor tells the story of ‘The Day the Klan Came to Town’

The comic is a fictionalized retelling of a community’s resistance to a violent march of thousands of Ku Klux Klan members in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
A page from a new graphic novel titled “The Day the Klan Came to Town,”

Anew graphic novel with art by Virginia Commonwealth University advertising professor Bizhan Khodabandeh tells the story of a community’s resistance to a violent march of 10,000 to 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members in 1923.

The Day the Klan Came to Town,” is written by Bill Campbell and published by PM Press. Khodabandeh, an assistant professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is a designer, illustrator, artist and activist who has collaborated with Campbell and Campbell’s Rosarium Publishing on several past projects.

“Bill came up with this idea for the story because he’s actually from the town where it happened,” Khodabandeh said. “He had a conversation with his brother about all these little-known historical facts about their hometown and one of them that came up was this Klan march. He’d never heard of it, so he started researching it.”

The comic, which is being published this month, is a fictionalized retelling of the riot in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, told through the eyes of a Sicilian immigrant protagonist, Primo Salerno.

From the publisher’s description of “The Day the Klan Came to Town”:

The year is 1923. The Ku Klux Klan is at the height of its power in the U.S. as membership swells into the millions and they expand beyond their original southern borders. As they continue their campaigns of terror against African Americans, their targets now also include Catholics and Jews, southern and eastern Europeans, all in the name of “white supremacy.” Incorporating messages of moral decency, family values and temperance, the Klan has slapped on a thin veneer of respectability and become a “civic organization,” attracting new members, law enforcement and politicians to their particular brand of white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant “Americanism.”

Pennsylvania enthusiastically joined that wave. That was when the Grand Dragon of Pennsylvania decided to display the Klan’s newfound power in a show of force. He chose a small town outside of Pittsburgh named after Andrew Carnegie, a small, unassuming borough full of Catholics and Jews, the perfect place to teach immigrants a “lesson.” Some 30,000 members of the Klan gathered from as far as Kentucky for “Karnegie Day.” After initiating new members, they armed themselves with torches and guns to descend upon the town to show them exactly what Americanism was all about.

the cover of
The Day the Klan Came to Town” publishes this month. (Courtesy of Bizhan Khodabandeh)

“I’d like for the book to maybe help dismantle white supremacy to some degree,” Khodabandeh said. “But, I mean, that’s a pretty lofty goal. In reality, it’s a comic book, it’s not going to change the world, but maybe it’ll chip at it a little bit.”

Khodabandeh, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in graphic design from the VCU School of the Arts, freelances under the name Mended Arrow. His first comic, “The Little Black Fish,” published by Campbell’s Rosarium Publishing, was an adaptation of a classic Persian children’s story by Samad Behrangi about a fish that questions authority.

Khodabandeh followed that with an original comic co-created with writer James Moffitt, “The Little Red Fish,” that is an allegory for Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khodabandeh has also contributed to several comics anthologies, including Magic Bullet, a Washington, D.C., free comics newspaper for which he also leads production duties.

For “The Day the Klan Came to Town,” Khodabandeh’s approach to the art was driven in part by time constraints, as he had to juggle the project with full-time teaching at VCU.

“I decided to go black and white and a little bit more simple,” he said. “And I had to get these pages done a little bit faster because I’m a full-time university professor. I’m not a full-time cartoonist. Full-time cartoonists, they’re doing like 23 pages a month. This was a hundred pages over the course of nine or 10 months. I started right before fall semester began and ended sort of in the middle of the summer [2020]. So I was done with this actually last year, and now it’s finally seeing print.”

“The Day the Klan Came to Town” can be ordered directly from the publisher and will soon be found in Richmond comics shops and bookstores.

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