Comics Herstory: Miriam Katin

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Miriam Katin was born during World War II to Hungarian parents. With her father fighting for the Hungarian army, Katin and her mother fled the Nazi invasion of Budapest. She immigrated to Israel in 1957 and then as a graphic artist in the Israel Defense Forces for three years. She has also worked as a background designer for Ein Gedi Films, Jumbo Pictures, MTV Animation, and Disney.

Katin released her first graphic novel, We Are On Our Own, in 2006, when she was sixty-three. It was published in the midst of the rise of graphic memoirs, and detailed her and her mother’s harrowing escape from Hungary. We Are On Our Own was followed by Letting It Go in 2013. A memoir about her later life, Letting It Go jumped ahead some years to Katin’s son’s move to Berlin and her reluctance to help him move to a city that, for her, is tainted by its history.

We Are On Our Own is a tale of survival, told with the incomprehension of a child. Because she was a child when she left Budapest, Katin doesn’t fully understand why they must get rid of the family dog or the reasons for her mother’s crying. The pages are split between black and white and color panels, with memories depicted in black and white and Katin’s adult life drawn in full color. Katin’s unique style consists largely of beautifully drawn people rendered with pencil. The sketchy pencil lines give the characters expression and movement on the page, which complements Katin’s honest, direct writing.

41u1vd2bzlil-_sx258_bo1204203200_Letting It Go is, as the title suggests, about letting go of the past. In this story, a middle-aged Katin grapples with the idea that her son has decided to move to Berlin, a city that, for her, is burdened by the sins of its past. While she recognizes that she cannot keep him from moving, she has difficulty approving of his decision. After he moves, she and her husband visit twice; the first time is ruined by a sudden illness, but both Katin and her husband enjoy the second visit, which is brought about when a museum in Berlin opens a gallery featuring some of her work. Like We Are On Our Own, Letting It Go is illustrated in lively colored pencil and narrated with an honest voice.

Katin’s work is important in the memoir genre. Both of these works are a way for Katin to work through the traumas of her early life, but some of the themes are universally applicable, and force the reader to think through difficult questions of life, survival, and when it is appropriate to let go of the past.