“YVES – My Life as a Refugee”, a Graphic Narrative by Chalit & June (April 2016)


A graphic narrative (on the topic of ‘War Trauma’ and/or ‘War Refugees’) by Thai students Chalit Ratapana (Faculty of Communication Arts; adaptation/script) and June (Pareploy Maneerut; Faculty of Political Science; art) – based on the true story of Yves -a Congolese refugee who survived ethnic cleansing- (Sanctuary Australia Foundation) – as an assignment for my Imaginative Communication course (2800217), April 2016.

Update: The Sanctuary Australia Foundation, which offered a safe haven to Yves, has decided to publish the 4-page comics alongside Yves’ original testimony. I guess the Foundation saw -as I did- how Chalit and June were able to capture and to express -skillfully, with power and sensitivity- the plight of an individual and how, at the same time, they grasped and shared the tragic fate experienced by too many. Crossing the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Belgium and Thailand, crossing comics panel borders, so many boundaries were physically and symbolically overcome… I’m proud of you Chalit & June and I hope your graphic narrative will participate in “engaging audiences in conflicts and displacement crises that seem remote (…), especially when there appear to be no means of relating to the people in the stories” (to quote PositiveNegatives founder Benjamin Dix, see Comic as Art, Education and Advocacy). Thank you Chalit, June and Mark Hallam (from the Sanctuary Australia Foundation). And thank you, Yves, for your painful yet indispensable testimony. Best regards. Nicolas V.

Yves Sanctuary
Screenshot of the Sanctuary Australia Foundation webpage with Chalit & June’s graphic narrative alongside Yves’s original testimony.

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This year’s theme: “Crossing Borders”. Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

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“Life Beyond Limitation”, a Graphic Narrative by Titirat (April 2016)


A graphic narrative (on the topic of ‘Crossing Borders’) by Thai student Titirat Sengsakdi – based on the true story of Caroline Casey – for her final individual project in IMGT COMM (2800217), April 2016.

Description of the Imaginative Communication course: “Methods of conversing emotions, feelings, ideas, values, beliefs and meaning of life through the languages of the imaginative world in the form of poetry, music and songs, literature, drama, film or other creative works of Thai and foreign artists; relationship between science and art of communications; media design for imaginative works; analysis of images and narratives.” This year’s theme: “Crossing Borders”. Communication Management, International Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

Titirat A
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Titirat B
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Titirat C
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Titirat E
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Titirat F
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Titirat G
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Below: some preliminary layouts and final pages with interesting composition/aesthetic choices.

Titirat I
Preliminary layout and final version of page 7/8
Titirat J
Preliminary layout and final version of page 8/8
Titirat H
Detail of page 6/8

Reproduced with the author’s permission. All rights remain to the author.

“Greyshirt: How Things Work Out” by Alan Moore & Rick Veitch, UK/USA, 1999


Greyshirt: How Things Work Out, script by Alan Moore (UK) and art by Rick Veitch (USA), in: Tomorrow Stories #2, Wildstorm Productions, America’s Best Comics imprint, USA, November 1999. The Greyshirt character is a pastiche of Will Eisner‘s The Spirit.

“In one of the Greyshirt stories in Tomorrow Stories, we did something very peculiar with the panel layouts. We had an apartment building, the same building, upon ever page. There are four horizontal panels on each page. Then, to add another element, we made it so that the top panels are all taking place in 1999, the second panel down on each page is taking place in 1979, the panel beneath that takes place in 1959, and on the bottom panel of each page, you’re seeing the bottom of the building as it was in 1939, when it was a fairly new building. We’re able to tell, by some quite complicated story gymnastics, quite an interesting little story that is told over nearly sixty years of this building’s life, with characters getting older depending upon which panel and which time period they’re in. There’s something that you couldn’t do in any medium other than comics.Alan Moore (as cited on The Great Comic Book Heroes website), 2001.

Dear students, this story was later published in the collection Tomorrow Stories book 1 (soft cover) by DC Comics.

Copyright ©2004 DC Comics/Moore/Veitch

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“Barnyard Animals” by Craig Thompson, USA, 2002


Barnyard Animals by Craig Thompson (USA), in: Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings (anthology), Dark Horse, USA, September 2002.

Dear students, the anthology Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings is available @ Kinokuniya bookstores.

Copyright ©2002 Craig Thompson

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Barnyard Animals 7

More on the topic in my paper Muted and Mutated: Animal-headed characters in autobiographic trauma-related comic books in: Asylum, the magazine for democratic psychiatry: Comics & Mental Health Part 4, Winter 2015, Vol.22/4, Monmouth (UK).

Interview with DEBBIE DRECHSLER, USA, 2008

[Interview conducted through emails between March and July 2004, initially published in the fourth issue of the zine XeroXed, Multi BD bookstore (Brussels, Belgium). First English publication on du9.org. With some ‘extra  content’ at the end of this new publication.]

With Daddy’s Girl [Fantagraphics, 1996], Debbie Drechsler wrote an outstanding graphic novel. For Richard Sala, one of its many qualities is to be seen in the fact that Debbie, not being too well-versed in the history of comics, didn’t impose any limitations on herself or the form while she wrote about a topic as difficult as child abuse. She was able to see a potential that those who’ve worked a lifetime in the field didn’t.

Visitors in the Night, the inaugural short story of Daddy’s Girl, is available on this page.


NICOLAS VERSTAPPEN : How would you introduce yourself ? As an illustrator doing comics on the side, as a comic artist earning her living thanks to illustrations or as another category ?

DEBBIE DRECHSLER : Well, currently I’m an illustrator who used to do comics. I started out as an illustrator then began doing comics when I found myself feeling stifled creatively, in my illustration work. Then I got burned out working on comics — seemed like I had to work every free moment of every day to get them done, and still not on time.

NV : Did you ever thought about doing scripts only ? What about working as a writer ?

DD : I have thought about both — I don’t think I could ever write a script and hand it over to another artist ! Too much of a control freak am I for that ! I don’t know if I could write without drawing but do think about it. And now, I’ve found some kinder, gentler ways to satisfy my creative urges.

NV : What would be those ways ? Painting ?

DD : No, I work with fiber. I started knitting years ago and now spin my own yarns and am learning to weave. I’ve always loved fiber and fabric and find working with the fibers themselves to be meditative and fascinating. It never ceases to amaze me to start out with a pile of fluff and end up with an article of clothing or an object !

NV : As Richard Sala and Lynda Barry aren’t well known in Europe (except for some stories in RAW and BLAB !), could you explain their impact on your professional and artistic career ?

DD : Before I saw either of their work, I didn’t really think of comics in terms of art. Sad but true. I saw Lynda’s work first and she squashed that notion completely ! Also, the content of her work spoke to me more than anything in comics or any other art form. It was funny and personal. She told moving stories with great economy. That gave me a new respect for the idea of comics as an art form. Seeing Richard’s work, and talking with him about it added fuel to that fire. He had started out as a painter and moved to comics.

NV : You jumped between comics and illustrations back and forth as a relief. How would you explain that big distance that separates the style of your comics’drawings and the one of your illustrations drawings ?

DD : That’s easy ! The drawings for each serve entirely different functions.
In comics the artwork is part of the story and needs to be more literal as it’s more informative. Part of the story is told in the pictures so they have to be more explicit. The illustration art is meant to be more decorative — to attract the reader’s attention to the story but not give too much away. So I make them more symbolic and suggestive. Also, it’s function on the page is much different. It’s an oasis in a sea of type, so I use colour and simpler shape to attract attention.

NV : How come you changed your name into “Lily’s” for the Daddy’s Girl collection ? Was it getting from “autobiography” to “autofiction” ?

DD : I just changed it in one story, I think ; Visitors In the Night [short story first published in Drawn & Quarterly Vol.1, #10, 1992]. I’d realized that if I wrote straight autobiography the stories would suffer, so I began to take things that had actually happened and expand upon them, and mold them into stories that worked better than the “honest truth” could (in my opinion). I needed the characters to be fictional to feel comfortable doing that.

NV : Did you find a relief in the writing of Daddy’s Girl or is it an illusion to think that autobiography can ease the pain ?

DD : It worked for me.

NV : It seems important to have an external testimony of what happened during your childhood. The first and the last part of Daddy’s Girl introduce a witness. Do you feel like Craig Thompson saying to his brother in Blankets : “And that’s my comfort… that someone else was there and experienced the same thing. How else could I know it was REAL, and not merely a dream ?

DD : Yes, it is.

NV : Did you gather in the Daddy’s Girl collection all the short stories you wrote on the subject ? Was it a hard time to get all the pieces of that storyline together ?

DD : Not sure what you’re asking here, but those stories were written over the period of a year, and published in two alternative newspapers in the US, The New York Press and The Stranger, in Seattle. And when I wrote them I really was thinking of them as a long story but subjugating them to the weekly format they were being published in.

NV : Was it obvious for you and the publisher to keep a mixing of pages in colour and black & white ? It may seem a challenge for an alternative publisher…

DD : Well, again, the stories were pre-existing and we both wanted to publish them as they already existed (although we had to change some to fit the pages).

NV : Daddy’s Girl has an “organic” impact thanks to its mixing of techniques (b&w, colours, bichromy) and styles (going back and forth between 1992 and 1996). Daddy’s Girl was also written in a trance-like state. Were you apprehensive about starting Nowhere [5-issue series published by Drawn & Quarterly between 1996 and 1999, later collected as The Summer of Love, D&Q, 2002], knowing you would keep a straighter line ?

DD : I wasn’t apprehensive, but it was a different experience. I had to work harder to find the story and to keep the pace of it. And it was my sophomore work. I was thinking more, in general, about what I was doing and who would be reading it and what they would think of it, than I had with the work in Daddy’s Girl.

NV : What led you to change the title Nowhere into The Summer of Love ? Was it going from a (no) place to a duration, going more “atmospheric” ?

DD : Originally, I was thinking of Nowhere as the name of a comic book series and Summer of Love as one of the stories in that series. But the series never continued.

NV : Why did you change the colours of Nowhere for its collection in The Summer of Love ? Will you keep those colours for the French version ?

DD : Sigh. Those darn colors ! Simply because they never really worked. I came from a graphic design background where pantone colors were what you used all the time. Unfortunately, the comic printers and publishers weren’t familiar with using them and we had difficulty communicating about them. I changed the colors in an effort to make them easier to look at but it didn’t work. I’m hoping to go back to the original comic book colors for the French version [L’Association, 2004].

NV : That way of colouring is quite unusual. Is it linked to your interest in fine arts and printmaking ? Some European expressionists from 1910-1920 did use that kind of effect (especially through wood engravings like Wassily Kandinsky for Der Blaue Reiter or Erich Heckel for his Autoportrait). Woodprints can really give that nice effect.

DD : As I said above, it really came from my graphic arts background. Prior to the use of computers for all things graphic, it was customary to save money by using two or three colors rather than 4 color printing. Often, a client would want something in color but only have money for 2 colors instead of 4. If you were an illustrator or designer you knew those pantone numbers by heart !

NV : Are there other painters that have an influence on your work, that are an inspiration ?

DD : Yes, many ! Raoul Dufy, Milton Avery, Maxfield Parrish, Gustav Klimt, Ben Shahn, Antonio Frasconi (a printmaker), Käthe Kollwitz (also printmaker), Wanda Gág, Adolf Dehn, Georgia O’Keefe, and Charlotte Salomon, a young woman who did an amazing series of paintings of her life before she was killed by Nazis in France [complete series here: (Leben? oder Theater?)]. Those are the ones I can think of without making my brain work too hard !

NV : There’s an interesting way in The Summer of Love to work on the third dimension (and I’m not talking about those 3-D jokes !!!). You’re working like Henri Matisse during the period he wanted to make the second and the third dimension fit together. He used a real good sense of perspective but that he would deny in an abusive use of 2-D surfaces (through wallpapers and printed-patterned material). What’s your relationship to those motives you apply on textiles and walls you seem to enjoy ?

DD : As an artist I have a tendency to get too caught up in “making it realistic”. As a result I’ve spent most of my artistic career trying to fight that urge ! Because if I don’t my work gets fussy and boring to look at (and boring to do !). So I like to play with how much I can rearrange
The laws of physics in my pictures and still make them feel “real” or right. And those patterns that I put all over the place — -when I was a kid I used to love going to paint stores and looking through the wallpaper books. I loved the patterns and I loved how they’d show them in different colorways. Also, I’ve always worked with fiber. I learned to sew when I was very young and over time have learned knitting and crochet. I now make my own yarns and threads, and am learning to weave. I love that stuff !

NV : I have the feeling that The Summer of Love is working as a classical play in five acts. Did its prepublication in five parts influence your writing ?

DD : Well, sure. I wanted each “chapter” to work on it’s own but also make the reader anxious to go on to the next one. And I wrote it one chapter at a time, without planning it all ahead. I’ll never do that again, though ! I wrote myself into some serious plot holes as I went along. If I do another story like that I’ll plot it all out from the beginning !

NV : Did you ever see that as an unconscious way of putting yourself in a creative urge ? Wasn’t it some kind of need to have a relationship of conflict with your comics ?

DD : Nah,got enough of that relationship of conflict with the story already. It was inexperience and bad planning. I’ve never been the kind of person who has to make things uncomfortable in order to do them !

NV : Why did you keep the Meier family in The Summer of Love ? Was it to start directly with more depth (like the glance and silence of Lily when her father comes in the kitchen – page 7) ? Is it to play with a mirror effect (in Daddy’s Girl, Pearl discovers the incest secret of her sister in her diary and help her, in The Summer of Love, Lily discovers the homosexuality secret of her sister and defends her) ?

DD : Really, it was because I found it worked better for me to have familiar characters to work with, and because I wasn’t done with them yet.

NV : Another feeling I have is the strong “fable” subtext in The Summer of Love. We find the classical young female character discovering a new place as Dorothy in Oz, Alice in Wonderland or Wendy in Neverland. Lily could be a (less eroticized) “Lost Girl” as Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore envision them in their Kitchen Sink comics. Can we see her as Lily in “Woodland” (or in “Nowhere”) discovering her desire through a travel in the woods (even accompanied by the Pied Piper on page 41) ?

DD : The nice thing about stories is that the reader can see whatever they want in them ! The woods were an important place for me as a child. They gave me another world to escape to and that’s what’s important to me and what I consciously put in the story.

NV : How did you work on the characters of The Summer of Love ? Did they come by themselves as uninvited ? Did they come with a well defined personality or as archetypes ? (Personal note : Steve Farley looks like an embodiment of the woods : he first appears in the woods, among the trees, being mysterious and secretive as the forest behind his impenetrable glasses. The cover emphasizes that).

DD : The characters all started out resembling someone in my real life and then took on lives of their own as the story progressed. To Lily, boys were mysterious, unfathomable creatures. Attractive, but they seemed entirely out of her reach. Steve Farley was the embodiment of that.

NV : Do you think those characters will keep haunting you in a third story or will you try to work on new ones ?

DD : One of the reasons I haven’t found a new story is that I believe I’ve finished that one. That burning desire to get them on paper has burned out. If I do another it will be with other characters. But, so far, no characters have reached out to grab me and say, “Me ! I’m next !”


Extra Content

A tribute – published here in its original English version for the first time – by American cartoonist Richard Sala. The text, as a French translation, was originally (written for and) published in the zine XeroXed #4: Debbie DrechslerMulti BD bookstore, 2004.

DEBBIE AND DADDY’S GIRL

I met Debbie sometime in the mid 1980s at the San Francisco Chronicle. I was dropping off an illustration assignment and she was working there as a staff artist. We were already aware of (and liked) each other’s work. We began going out to lunch sometimes when I’d drive into San Francisco from Berkeley to drop off artwork. We shared a similar aesthetic, we both had backgrounds in the fine arts (not common for illustrators) and although we were always grateful for whatever illustration work we could get, there was a feeling I think we shared – a frustration that were weren’t working up to our potential. It can be very aggravating – the life of an illustrator.
The art directors (most of whom have no actual art experience whatever) always think they know better than you and the editors (who are often extremely unimaginative visually)) always think that they know better than the art directors.

I had begun doing comics a couple of years earlier as an outlet for my more creative impulses. I was a lifelong comics fan and a frustrated writer, so for me, comics were the perfect solution to creative atrophy. By the time I met Debbie, my comics had been printed in Art Spiegelman’s RAW and other anthologies. Debbie was interested in comics, but seemed apprehensive about the form. Storytelling wasn’t her forte, she seemed to feel, and she knew very little about the field. However, she was intrigued, so I encouraged her. And after seeing a little promotional booklet she did called “InkSpots” it was crystal clear to me that she was a natural cartoonist. We had discussed our mutual unhappy childhoods/lives, although without too much detail, and I told her that my comics were a bit like an exorcism for me. I did dark, metaphorical fables, influenced by horror stories and Kafka. These were what would rise to the surface whenever I sat down to write.
It turned out that not only WAS Debbie a natural cartoonist, the story she chose to tell, a true story of her childhood, was more disturbing than any fictional fever dream I ever came up with.

“Visitors in the Night” – or “Daddy’s Girl” as the book was eventually called – is a masterpiece of horror. And it’s all the more horrifying because it is true, and because the actions depicted, the innocence-killing, soul-destroying actions, are happening right now, everyday, all around the world. Now, the story itself is certainly nothing new. In fact, during the 1990s in the US there was so much attention to the awful facts of child abuse that it almost reached a level of hysteria.

However, what makes Debbie’s story so original and so chilling are two things: First, the structure is completely different from the way stories of child abuse are usually told. In those stories, the abuse is usually the “shocking” climax, or the “reveal” (as Hollywood types are fond of calling it these days), the buried secret, the motivation for a character’s actions or whatever. In Debbie’s story, the initial scene of abuse happens near the beginning and is depicted in an almost matter-of-fact manner. It’s an unexpected and horrifying scene, but then we follow the little protagonist through the rest of the night and into the next day. There is no sermonizing, no hysteria, no false self-righteousness. It is simply this little girl’s life — and that is dark, dark, dark.

The second factor is Debbie’s art for the story: The drawings of the characters with their big, hopeful (yet somehow doomed) eyes, and the topsy-turvy space they inhabit – floors rising to hit the reader in the eye, rooms which seem alive, not so much expressionistic as sea sick. Her drawings depict the feeling of innocence stolen, of a pure vision corrupted, of a sweetness that turns to nausea. They are heart-breaking.

I think it can safely be said that there had never been a comic strip like this before “Daddy’s Girl”. Possibly it’s because Debbie, not being too well-versed in the history of comics, didn’t impose any limitations on herself or the form. Perhaps she was able to see a potential that those who’ve worked a lifetime in the field don’t.

In one powerful scene in the story, the little protagontist unexpectedly vomits after eating a cookie. It’s shocking, yet oddly cathartic. In a way I think it’s a very personal, even metaphorical, moment. After all there are some things that just can’t be held in, that just have to come out. And it is the rare artist who can bring something to light in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Debbie is one of those rare artists.

Richard Sala, July 2004

Interview with MIRIAM KATIN, USA/ISR, 2009

[Interview conducted in January 2009 through emails, initially published in the fifteenth issue of the zine XeroXed, Multi BD bookstore (Brussels, Belgium). First English publication on du9.org. With some ‘extra  content’ at the end of this new publication.]

In 2006, Miriam Katin (then aged 63) set on her 120-page graphic novel, We are on our own. This piece of information regarding her late debut in the comics medium is far from anecdotal — as it implies she was three years old during the Second World War, and the occupation of Hungary by German (and afterwards Russian) troops. The young Jewish child then experienced clandestinity during a voyage full of violence, death, betrayals and, for sole hope, a few rare selfless acts. The opportunity to explore the atypical carrier of an artist who, not unlike Debbie Dreschsler, feels the need to purge herself from the weight of her past.


NICOLAS VERSTAPPEN : You started working in the comics medium late (in 2000). What led you to this mean of expression ? Were you familiar with it ?

MIRIAM KATIN : My children (the boys are now 36 and 40) “raised me” on Tintin and Asterix, as we lived in Israel at the time. In the US these are not that popular and my kids were never into super heroes. I worked in animation in Israel and I was asked to create a comic series based on some commercials we had produced. That was in 1986 — I just did it and was hooked from then on.
However, I did my very first personal story only in 2000. I worked with some young people in MTV and Disney and they published an anthology of their own, Monkey Suit [The Bride of Monkeysuit, Vol.2, 2000], in which they included a short work of mine. The stories of my family and my childhood were like a constant running narrative in my mind. I am not a writer but I could draw and through comics I finally found a modest way to tell them.

NV : What led you to leave Israel for the USA in 1963 ?

MK : I finished my two years of conscription in the service and then, same as it is now, after the service you want to get the hell out of there and roam the world a bit.

NV : I guess your service in the Army was imposed ? What kind of job were you working on as a “graphic artist” in the Israel Defense Force ?

MK : Imposed yes, but I loved it all the way. A sheltered girl from well-mannered Budapest with over-protective parents, at eighteen I welcomed the freedom of Army life, in what I call the “terrible romance” of the military. (The odor of gun-oil is still sending me into a swoon. Youth, memories.)
What we mainly did, you can see on page 1, lower left panel of Live Broadcast [“En direct in: Qu’est-ce que la Bande Dessinée Aujourd’hui ?, Beaux Arts Éditions, France, 2008] which is the title of the work. We drew and wrote, on large black vinyl sheets with white oil paint, field instructions for using weapons and such. Sometimes it drove us nuts as we were not a very normal bunch anyway.

NV : You’ve worked mainly in animation. Do you feel that the art of storyboarding helped you in comics or that were there animation ‘habits’ you should get rid of for your graphic novel ?

MK : Most of my animation work was for background design but as I always sketched, mainly people in action from life, I think my comics have the dynamic of real movement. At least it was pointed out to me in various reviews.

NV : I feel some Raymond Briggs influence in your art. I’m maybe wrong but I had to ask…

MK : Raymond Briggs came up in many reviews of my work and I had to look up who he was. I did not know about him and other great comic artists as I actually I was really new to the comic world.

NV : You’re working with pencils (I think) and not ink. Why did you make this choice ?

MK : It just happened so naturally. Roughing out my first four-page comic I fell in love with the quality of the pencil line, the melancholy of the darkness and the grays seemed to express well what I wanted to say. When Chris [Oliveros, Drawn and Quarterly founder and publisher] came asking  “What about color ?”, I told him that I had always imagined that world and those times in black and white. Perhaps because I was most influenced by the photographs of those years. Most dramatically the few pictures taken of my father during the war.

NV : Your How the Irish defeated the Hebrews story in Rosetta Vol.2 [Alternative Comics, 2003]  is a great story. Different from the other stories I’ve read from you. The technique is different also. Was it to be more contemporary as the events were set in the ’80s and not the ’40s ?

MK : I always loved working with brush and ink. Somehow I got away from it, which is a real problem because it is so difficult to reproduce pencil work. So I just wanted to make that story look lighter and see if I still could do this kind of work. I loved it. Those years (1981-1990) by the Dead Sea I often worked in the kibbutz (Ein Gedi) which owned the Guest house and the Spa. Many decrepit veterans came and my coworkers used to point out to me how these old men still carried on among themselves. So near the ancient city of Sodom the air was thick with salt, sulfur, passion and intrigue.
By the way I am so glad that you noticed that piece How The Irish defeated The Hebrews in Rosetta. Nobody else did. I guess for the average comic reader it is difficult to get into.
On the subject of who reads comics, Drawn and Quarterly were hoping that my book could be a sort of crossover to older readers. It worked in a small way. Many of my parent’s generation bought it because of the subject. Some young people bought it as a gift for old relatives and friends who survived the war. On the other hand, it met disappointing sales for the Jewish institutions. That is probably because they are selling God and I am not.

NV : Was it some kind of a “trigger” that led you from the idea of drawing We are on our own to the moment you started drawing it ?

MK : After various smaller stories about my childhood the question still hung in the air : So, you were born in 1942 in Hungary. A Jew. How did you survive ? There must be a story. Yes, there was but also, my mother is alive (and well) and it seemed impossible to work on it. But after a while and with my publisher pressing for it… and saying to myself what am I waiting for here anyway ?… I roughed up a 35 page story. Chris Oliveros then suggested that I should expand it for a book.

NV : Do you share the idea that comic art is a medium that fits intrinsically to translate traumatic experiences ? With the amazing opportunity to have the choice between words, drawings (when words are too painful or for expressionist purposes), ellipses (separation between the panels) and intimacy (between the artist and the reader), comic art looks like a perfect form to translate the experience you’ve been through ?

MK : I believe you are right about that, but initially I did not realize this. Now I am certain about it. My third comic story Parfait (published in Viva la Monkeysuit [Monkey Suit Vol.3], 2001) was about a pedophile incident in Budapest, but I thought I was just looking for a strong story. Maybe it was true that time. The book, however was a very different story and when people started asking questions about catharsis I came to realize that they were right.

NV : On your website, you wrote : “In pictures and few words I am trying to find the line connecting events, people, causes and results”. I believe more and more (like Dylan Horrocks in his essay) that comic books are “maps” with pictures and few words. We travel into them to find out our way.
Your story Oh, To Celebrate ! in Drawn & Quarterly Vol.4 [Drawn and Quarterly, Canada, 2001] is a masterpiece in that sense. We travel back and forth in time to discover the weight of History. Was alcohol a shortcut to forgetting ?

MK : I just know that alcohol was always present in my life and in Europe during my childhood it was never a “no no” kind of thing like in the US. It became more of a habit during the army service. I don’t know if it is for “forgetting” or “helping to live with”. My husband thinks it might be.
One thing is sure. Whenever my my mother and I get together, and it can be any time of the day (except breakfast), first we have a drink. Nowadays it is Scotch. She is 90 years old. We have a very good time. Only after I completed the book did I come to the wonderful conclusion that this might be for us a ritual and a celebration.

NV : [French comics editor] Vincent Bernière  told me that your first meeting with Art Spiegelman was quite cold. Did you feel it that way ?

MK : First, second, third… yes. I was so excited and honored to meet him and I don’t know what I expected. What did I expect ? Maybe in comparison to the friendliness of others, he is very different. Perhaps it really bothers him that people constantly — no, not compare, they all know that nothing will ever stand to comparison with his work — bring up his name when they interview me. I am also very new in the field and people may see me as a dilettante or an interloper.

NV : Could you tell me more about your relationship to Maus, as it seems you have a complex relationship to that book ?

MK : Well, you know, the Holocaust (a rather new expression) was such a rarely talked-about subject. My family, the schools, no one talked about it, even in Israel.
And at the same time it was very personal for me. The loss, the pain.
Every production connected to the war, even if I would not read it or watch it, was expected to be very tragic and dark.
When I spotted Maus in the window display of a bookstore in Tel Aviv, I only noticed the fact that it seemed to be a cartoon sort of book with a Svastika on the cover. I was so repelled by it that I did not even want to touch it. Perhaps the store owners felt the same way because it was stuck in the very corner of the window on the floor.
It was about a year later in New York when I found myself working next to Simon Deitch. He and [his brother] Kim [Deitch] had a work published in RAW and I bought the book. One part of Maus was published in it and so I gave it a chance. Soon I bought books 1 & 2 and I must say it was for me as strong an expression of the Holocaust as any I had ever seen. So I finally “got it”. Animals and all.
RAW was also the very first example of serious comic works I came across.
They inspired me to do my first comic but Maus itself specifically gave me the “license” to deal with the my own memories and some of the stories I knew about our family.

NV : You’ve been working (mostly) on autobiographical stories. Never thought about fiction ?

MK : One work I did for Rosetta Vol.2, was based on a story by Suat Ng Tong, the publisher. This was not autobiography. In the same Rosetta issue, there also was the story with the old fighters still in “heat”, which is also not autobiographical. The Obama story [“Petite Cousine et Grande Histoire“] (in Le Tour du Monde en Bande Dessinée from Delcourt [France, 2008]), well, you could argue…
But yes, I do have an idea or two… but first there is just one more story… one that is very hard to write. My husband says I will never make it. My father… The love for him.

NV : So it would be a new book about your father ?

MK : Yes. I was really close to my father (he died in 1996) The parts in the book in which he appeared were the most difficult to work on, emotionally. My husband says I seem to be avoiding the next book in which he would have a big part. Maybe he is right.

NV : You wrote me : “A year ago my son Ilan decided to settle in Berlin, which was a shock to my Holocaust-related self system and I had to get through it and I will probably work it into a future story”. Do you see your stories as a cathartic way to get through issues you’re facing ? Or as an epilogue to those issues ?

MK : The book We are on our own was of course an epilogue but Berlin is different. It is happening now and Ilan just took up residence in that city. I am doing work on it, what else can I do ? Yes, in my mind I keep working on the story.
When Ilan decided to settle in Berlin the need for residency came up and the legality of him working in Germany. He found out that he can actually apply for Hungarian citizenship through my Hungarian birth. I am no longer a Hungarian citizen but it still works. Rules change. Well, the irony did not escape him. Here I just published a book about the horror of those countries during WWII and my son is applying for Hungarian passport in order to be able to live and work in Germany. [Update: Miriam Katin devoted a book to this event in her 2013 graphic novel Letting It Go published by Drawn and Quarterly]

NV : What about your citizenship ? Do feel yourself as an American citizen, Israeli ? Citizen of the World ?

MK : Both American and Israeli. One never loses the Israeli citizenship. But I would never give up the American citizenship. This country was the most welcoming of all.


Extra Content

Illustration for the collective zine XeroXed #XX: Avant la Catastrophe (2011) published by Multi BD bookstore (Brussels, Belgium). Cover of the zine XeroXed #15: Miriam Katin (January 2009) published by Multi BD bookstore. Various sketches (most never published before) used as illustrations for the zine XeroXed #15.

Interview with KAN TAKAHAMA, JP, 2010

[Interview conducted through e-mail between February 2009 and April 2010, initially published in the third issue of the zine L’œuf ou la plume?, Multi BD bookstore (Brussels, Belgium). First English publication on du9.org. With some exclusive ‘extra  content’ at the end of this new publication.]

After having published her first stories in the Kinderbook (English edition) collection and having collaborated with Frédéric Boilet on Mariko Parade (English edition), the talentuous Takahama Kan seems to have reached her full maturity in L’eau amère, in which she unveils the complexity of human relationships through difficult but also oddly endearing break-ups. With 2 expressos (French edition), she follows up with her first longer story, published in Casterman’s Écritures collection.


NICOLAS VERSTAPPEN : You are considered, along with Taniguchi Jirô, as one of the most “European” among Japanese artists. You are also connected to the French comic scene through your collaborations with Frédéric Boilet. And still, I think that there is something deeply Japanese in your work, a very special atmosphere that reminds me of Ozu Yasujirô’s movies, which can be summed up in the mono no aware. Your stories are at the same time funny and sad, contemplative and passionate, and sometimes displaying something I can only describe as a “deliberate resignation”.

TAKAHAMA KAN : I’m not sure I have this feeling of mono no aware, because I am a person of the 21st century (laugh). But my sensibility developped in my native country island of Amakusa. Amakusa is the one of the first sites where the catholics landed and settled in Japan. This lead to several religional conflicts between the buddhist government and the people there, most of them being poor farmers. There were many casualties, leading to the creation of several myths not unlike that of Bernadette in France. Of course now this island is really a calm and peaceful place, with beautiful nature. It is not poor any more, but my island is still habitated bya sad atmosphere. I think my melancolic mood comes from there.

And, in addition to this history, I have Attention Deficit Disorder and as well as strong Seasonal Affective Disorder (I think you call this “winter blues” in Europe). So my emotions frequently change from upper to downer, happy to sad, or the reverse. The succession of the four seasons in Japan can be hard on mental conditions — even the light-hearted Brazilians get depression here !! I think this is what evoked the mono no aware for you…

NV : In the introduction to your story in Casterman‘s Bang ! #2, the term “anti-osharé”(“anti-poseur”) is linked with your work. How do you feel about that ?

TK : When I wrote that story for Bang !, Japan was emulating European culture in very unsubtle ways. For instance, videogames like Final Fantasy only featured characters with occidental faces and hair. It was the same with fashion magazines, with only foreign and mixed models. No short feet, no slanted eyes… Everything was “respect for Europe”. Come to Japan, come to Shibuya, and you’ll find many many bleached girls with blue contacts. This movement was “fashionable” (“oshare” means “fashion”), and it spread to comics too. I thought it was wrong. Of course disguise can be funny, it’s true. But…

Time has passed. Now we are starting treating our culture in a better way. People are getting to understand we have to create our own originality. Even if our complex towards Europe is still very present…

NV : Where do the roots of that complex lie, in your opinion ?

TK : Mm, the roots… Well, one reason goes back to losing World War II, and the opening of the country to the West in the 19th century as well. This is old history, but people still remember that. We tend to beautify episodes during the war, even though we know that waging war is bad. I think it’s our way of not wanting to think of World War II as only a period of wasted time with Japan as the “enemy of the world”. This kind of problematic relationship between winner and loser is always difficult to solve.

NV : Getting back to your work, in Bang ! #2, you mention many artists. How did you discover the works of François Schuiten, Joann Sfar or Frédéric Coché (and his angels) ?

TK : I visited the Angoulême Festival in 2003 and met many artists there. I got the idea to write a story about Angoulême at that time. Frédéric [Boilet] was in favor of this idea and gave me advice. He also found me a magazine to publish in (that was Bang !).
My first impression seeing Frédéric Coché’s book was amazement. I still remember that.

NV : You also seem to have been attracted by the “Nouvelle Manga” manifesto by Frédéric Boilet.

TK : Amnnn… yes, I think it is appealing. The “Nouvelle Manga” is like this. When I met Frédéric, I was having problem with some major publishers in Japan. So I was touched when I read his manifesto.

NV : What kind of problem were you facing ?

TK : Well, the major Japanese publishers often intervene too much. On story, on drawing… because they want to get big sales. But this process sometimes impact the author’s motivation. I didn’t want to write the usual touching story, I wasn’t drawing big-chested lolitas, so I couldn’t carry on working with them.

NV : L’eau amère and Kinderbook were first published in magazines. Was it a good or a bad experience ? ?

TK : The stories in Kinderbook were published in the magazine Garo. Some of the short stories in L’eau amère appeared in the magazine Erotics F.
Writing stories for a magazine is an interesting experience, more than a straightforward publication I think. Because in a magazine, a whole range of readers (and not only my fans) are exposed to my work. And of course you get paied twice (laugh). But at the same time, you have to respect each magazine’s own set of rules.

NV : Garo is considered as the greatest alternative Japanese magazine in Europe, having published artists like Tsuge Yoshiharu, Tatsumi Yoshihiro, Maruo Suehiro and so many others. Was is something important for you to be published in this magazine for your first stories ?

TK : Garo was great, but they faced many problems during several years before they stopped completely. They didn’t pay me. So it was not so much of a good memory. But I am still grateful for them for picking me up.

NV : Were you influenced by artists published in Garo ? What about others ?

TK : My influences lie with Milan Kundera, hard-boiled novelists like Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski, Yamada FutarôGabriel Garcia Marquez, Ôe Kenzaburô. Especially Bukowski, whom I cannot read without crying (laugh). It’s sad, emotional. I don’t think I have been influenced by any comic artist except for Frédéric Boilet.

NV : In L’eau amère, sensuality is more present than in Kindebook. Did your work with Frédéric Boilet on Mariko Parade influence your way to see and approach erotism ?

TK : Mm, in fact, the publisher actually asked me to write “erotic and sentimental stuff” (laugh). Personnally, I don’t care much for that. 2 Expressos is like a comedy. I’m planning to write a tragedy next. But it is true that Frédéric influenced my way of dealing with erotism. Before I met him, I had no experience in drawing erotic scenes. He’s my teacher there (laugh). After all, readers in Japan now think about me as an erotic comic book artist.

NV : 2 Expressos is a comedy and you’re planning to do a tragedy next. Do you like playing with genres ? Are you afraid to get stuck or bored doing only one type of book ?

TK : Mm, actually I don’t care about genre so much. But certainly I would be bored doing only one genre. I am bit afraid it may be a kind of routine — at least for me in 2010. I don’t know if it may be change in future, I have no idea. But I want to always keep a fresh outlook on my work.

NV : Is it exact that Casterman is your first publisher for 2 Expressos ? Is there a Japanese version being published first ?

TK : Casterman is my first publisher. They offered me directly.

NV : Does working on 2 Expressos for a French publisher change your way of approaching your work ? Did you envision a different pace of story as your first audience would be European and not Japanese ?

TK : I didn’t change anything for European readers. Because human emotion are the same in every country. I realized it when I wrote the short story for Bang ! in France. For making 2 Expressos, I was thinking of all my readers, European and others (including Japanese).

NV : 2 Expressos is a 200-page story. Is it difficult to start a long book after having done short stories ? Any pressure about it ?

TK : Mm, I thought that I couldn’t draw well under pressure. But now I know that such negative thinking was caused by depression. After recovering, I began drawing without any problem regardless of the situation. I plan to start my new project soon, but first I’ll grant myself a small vacation before (laugh).
Now I’m feeling really well ! I want to try anything, like exploring the Amazon, or touring the Silk road on a camel… having no depression is wooonderful !


Extra Content

Illustration for the collective zine XeroXed #XX: Avant la Catastrophe (2011) published by Multi BD bookstore (Brussels, Belgium). Layouts (in English) for the two-page story Influence artistique (in French, “The Artistic Influences”) published in Jade #166U: le Jeu des Influences,  6 Pieds sous terre, 2013. Variant 2 expressos illustration used on the cover of the zine L’œuf ou la plume ? #3, Multi BD bookstore, April 2010.