Vancouver-based Jewish graphic novelist Miriam Libicki, author of two provocative books that explore Jewish-Israeli-American identity, was recently named the 2017 writer in residence by the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). It’s the first time the library has selected a graphic artist to fill the position, and Libicki, 36, said she is thrilled to be “creating opportunities for more people to discover the world of graphic novels.”
When she presented her portfolio to the VPL for consideration, Libicki said she was a bit afraid. “Everything I have has Jewish content. My graphic art is a central way for me to express my Jewishness and connect with Jews. But I felt that what I’ve learned from plumbing my own Jewish identity can help people with other identities,” said Libicki.
She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Columbus, Ohio, and served in the Israeli army before attending art school in Seattle and Vancouver. Her time in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) constitutes some of the subject matter of her first graphic novel, Jobnik!, which she self-published in 2008.
“When I joined the IDF, I was very idealistic and thought I could work in intelligence, or as a medic,” she said. “But the army psychologist said I wasn’t qualified for any special training, so I ended up in an unskilled job as a secretary on a tank training base a half hour from Eilat. It was a place in the middle of nowhere, where they didn’t even need a secretary, and it was a mind-numbing 21 months.”
After leaving the army, Libicki said it was difficult for her to articulate to others what it was like to serve in the IDF – until she created a comic from one of her diary entries. “Through the comic form, I could write and show readers how I was feeling,” she recalled. “It was a quick way for me to allow readers to immerse themselves and have a context for the feelings I was having.”
Jobnik! was a finalist for the Gene Day Award for Canadian self-publishing. Her second book, Toward a Hot Jew, which was published in 2016 by Fantagraphic Books, is a collection of 10 years of drawn essays. It was named one of the top 10 graphic novels of 2016 by Forbes and was just nominated for a Vine Award for Canadian Jewish literature.
Libicki is presently working on her third book, Glasnost Kids, which is about Jewish child refugees from the former Soviet Union (FSU). She hopes to find a publisher for that book in the new year. The subject is close to her heart, she said. “In Columbus, Ohio, a third of my Jewish day school consisted of Russian speakers by 1993, and it was a big shock and change in what had not previously been a very diverse community. In Glasnost Kids, I thought it would be interesting to do an oral history, comparing stories from the Russian communities in Columbus, Ohio, and those in Ashkelon, Israel.”
It was important to Libicki that she implicate herself in the story, so the author is a major character in the book. “As I’m asking these FSU immigrant children where they fitted in, I’m dealing with my own flashbacks about my Jewish identity,” she said.
Interestingly, she does all her writing in Vancouver. “Canada is the place where I’ve made every comic I ever wrote, and Canada is the place from which I can look at other places,” she said. “But my living in Canada hasn’t really been a theme in my writing yet.