‘Graphic Details’ Q&A: Ilana Zeffren
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by the Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women’s Archive — whose Jewesses With Attitude blog partners regularly with The Sisterhood — is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. This week’s interview is with Ilana Zeffren, an acclaimed Israeli cartoonist. Zeffren’s Sipur Varod, her graphic autobiography as an Israeli lesbian, is widely regarded as a breakthrough comic. Much of her work is available on her Flickr photostream.
Leah Berkenwald: How did you get into cartooning?
Ilana Zeffren: I got into comics after a dramatic break-up with my first girlfriend. After I stopped sobbing, I realized that what happened was actually kind of funny and ridiculous, so I made a comics strip about it. When I did it, I realized how much this medium that combines words and illustrations suits me. A short while after this comics was published, I got an offer to draw and write a graphic novel and I’ve been doing comics ever since.
How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
I live in Israel so my Jewish identity influences my work on a daily basis, but more as a national identity than as a religious one. Life as an Israeli, with its conflicts and uniqness, is reflected in my comics much more than the fact that I’m Jewish. And the fact that I’m a lesbian in this crazy place is reflected there even more.
Do you think the experience of being a cartoon artist is different for men and women?
I guess it’s different, in the same way that the experience of being a woman is different than being a man. Your point of view is feminine, you are sometimes exposed to chauvinism and sexual harassment in comments that you get for your work and you usually get paid less.
Tell me about one of your pieces in the “Graphic Details” exhibit. What’s its story?
One of my pieces in the show is about my grandparents. Through an old plate left by my grandmother and now used to serve tuna to my cats, I get into my childhood memories of my grandparents and their story.
What’s next? or What are you working on now?
I have a weekly column, in comics, that is published in a local newspaper and since it’s about my family’s (my girlfriend, our two talking cats and me) daily life in Tel Aviv, it completely took over my life for the past 4 years and I work on it all the time. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s real and what’s just a comics frame. I intend to publish all the columns in a book and hope to start working on a new graphic novel in the near future.
Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.