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The Holocaust in Graphic Form

DD: We Are On Our Own and Letting It Go are so different in style and feel.  How did you approach creating each project?

MK: Before I did We Are On Our Own, I did a few short stories and my style developed. I thought this one year during the war when my mother saved us from the Germans was a good story and my publisher was very interested to have a book. I first thought I would make it a longer short story, and when they saw the subject, they said, “Miriam, this is a book. Just sit down and do it.” [laughs] And so I had to ask a few things from my mother chronology-wise, but otherwise I just put my head into her head and tried to feel what she felt. That was difficult, but it wasn’t that difficult because it was a story from A to Z.

The second book came when my son came with this news that he wanted to live in Berlin. It was extremely emotional, and I said, ‘What can I do? I can draw.”I started to collect my thoughts, jotting down everything and taking pictures, anything I found.

DD: When you’re writing autobiographical works, how do you decide what details to put in?

MK: Oh, I try to put in everything. As you can see, it isn’t always palatable. It must be an interesting story, so it must lead into action.

DD: What do you want readers to take away from your books?

MK: It’s very interesting, because with the first book I thought it was a very good story for a graphic novel. What happened, actually, was that so many people connected to it. Jewish circles and synagogues approached me to talk about it. At first I was taken aback. I said, “I don’t want to be the Holocaust lady going around telling the stories.” First of all, I didn’t consider myself a real survivor because I wasn’t in the camps. And then it turned out it’s not that way, really, because we all have our stories. Then, as people came to me, it seemed important and it seemed that I had to take responsibility for what I created.

With the second book, I had to do it for my own sake. The second book is very funny, and I’m very happy that people are laughing out loud when they look at the pages, because I meant it to be funny since everyday life can be very silly. If people like it, I’m very happy. It’s a very personal story.

DD: Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first museum exhibit about Jewish women using graphic novels to write memoirs. Can you tell us about being part of it?

MK: This was a wonderful story. When my first book came out, I was invited to participate in the exhibit of Jewish Comic Artists that was in the Jewish Museum in Paris. A young woman, Sarah Lightman, eventually one of the two curators of the exhibit, found me. She asked me if I would be interested in this exhibit she was dreaming about on Jewish women making comics. Lo and behold, she made it happen with Michael Kaminer, and it was fantastic. The energy that they had for it!

They wanted me to bring in things I’d done in the Israeli army. So I brought those things and they chose four pages they wanted to have in the exhibit. It was about the situation in Israel between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, which was at that time pretty volatile. Today it’s a whole different story.

It’s funny, because I’m 71 now, and when I go to parties people ask, “What are you doing?” I look like a grandmother and I say, “Oh, I do comics.” I love the look on their face. My son does comics, and his girlfriend, who’s in the book [Letting It Go], also does comics. She freelances for a Swedish comic publisher and my book landed on her desk. They asked her to do graphic work for the Swedish publication. The publisher had no idea we knew each other. You couldn’t make that up.