In We Are On Our Own (Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95), comics artist Miriam Katin illustrated her family’s story of hiding in the Holocaust. Her mother encouraged her to create this work—but on one condition. The author illustrator talks to fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the unique relationship of words to images.
YZM: What made this the right time to tell your story? How did your mother feel about your doing it?
MK: The stories my mother told me about life in hiding and surviving during the war were like a constant presence in my mind—an unwanted, uninvited presence. They begged to be told. But I am not a writer and also, I felt, who needs another Holocaust story? But when I discovered comics for myself, I decided that I could draw our story.
My mother agreed and said (when I showed her the roughs) that I did something very beautiful. Only, she asked that I not divulge any real names and places. The publishers of the book were not happy about this, but that was the deal.
My mother’s fear that somebody will see this, take offense, and come and get us never really left her. And my heroic mother recently died at age 101.
YZM: How would you describe the relationship between text and illustration?
MK: Well, as an artist, my mind “draws” first. Then comes the writing with less certainty. English is my third language, so I worked hard to make the writing sound right.
YZM: Some sections are in black and white and others in color; can you talk about how and why you made those choices?
MK: Simply, the colored pages are the present time. When I first started to work on the stories, Chris Oliveros from Drawn & Quarterly asked me, “what about color?” I answered that the past for me is always black and white. Maybe because of the old photographs we have. They mean the world of the past for me. That’s all I have now.
YZM: You’ve said that everyone is talking more about the war these days; any thoughts about why?
MK: Well, the world was always curious about war stories, but perhaps there is an awareness of the fact that the survivors are old and dying so there is a rush to record. But just as I wrote/drew it in my book, it is the same story…over and over.