Miriam Katin served as a graphic artist in the Israel Defense Forces in the 1960s, and later she did artwork for MTV and Disney. Her first graphic memoir, We Are On Our Own, was published in 2006 by Drawn and Quarterly and recounts how she and her mother survived the Holocaust in Hungary. Her second graphic memoir, Letting It Go [reviewed in Lilith here], came out last spring and shows Katin releasing the past.
Danica Davidson, whose journalism on graphic novels has been published by Lilith, MTV and CNN, spoke to Katin about her work.
Danica Davidson: Why is it you decided to use the graphic novel format to talk about your experiences in the Holocaust?
Miriam Katin: The stories of my background and what happened to us were always there, continuing in my mind. I don’t write, but I draw, and when I discovered comics for myself in about 2000, I thought I could tell the stories I have. As far as Art Spiegelman’s Maus is concerned, it gave me “permission” to do the stories in drawings.
DD: Why do you think graphic novels work so well as an outlet for memoirs?
MK: It works for a certain audience. These would be mostly young people and not-so-young people who grew up on superhero comics. You can still see them at bookstores reading the manga or graphic novels. Those are most of the readers, and for them to discover history, it’s probably working very well. As far as my work is concerned, for example, my publisher was hoping it would be a crossover with old people discovering comics. It didn’t work so well. I know so many people who are really serious readers and they’d look at this and get really confused and say, “I can’t deal with it. I have no idea what this is.” The old people who bought my book were people who know me and were interested in stories about the war.
I saw a real difference between when my first book came out in 2006 and my second book this past year. This time I saw many more old people buying it, so they are connecting to read pictures.
I was really lucky to be picked up by such a marvelous publisher. My first work that I did was in 2000 and it was only four pages. It got released to fantastic reviews, and one reviewer said it would stand up even in Drawn and Quarterly. I had no idea who was
Drawn and Quarterly, so I ran to the bookstore and got their stuff. I sent my first work to Drawn and Quarterly with my review and they called me up on the telephone to say they loved my work and, oh, I must have something around I could send them. I did this twelve page story about the Hungarian uprising and I received a nomination for an Eisner Award. That was my second work in comics, and I received a number of commissions.