Certain things never change, published by Einaudi Ragazzi Comics, has just arrived in Italy, a graphic novel written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Benjamin Philips, set in a New York that, thanks to the American cinema that loves and pampers it, we recognize perfectly , tells us about the day of a grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, and her grandson Benji, while shopping for Friday dinner. Through the often surreal dialogues between grandmother and granddaughter, we see emerge memories, wonders and values that constitute the strength of an identity that is transmitted from one generation to another, despite their diversity!
Can you describe the book to us in three words?
Funny, touching, thought-provoking
When someone writes they have a story in their head that is not necessarily what people find when they read: what do you really tell us? What was it born from?
I wanted to look at how cities change, and how our relationships to them shift. I wanted to look at the city from two different but equally valid perspectives – one young and fresh and accepting and the other alienated and a little bit lost. I opted to tell a Jewish story based in New York, because this is a story I know well and because the narratives surrounding New York are easily accessible. The legends of New York are almost as real as the city itself.
How much does the world you describe belong to you? Is there an autobiographical part? Do you have, or did you have a bubbe as your leading lady?
My father’s family is German Jewish, and my grandmother certainly had a bit of Bubbe Rosa in her, although even more so was my best friend’s granny, who was a Polish Holocaust survivor whose trauma was very evident in all her daily interactions.
Bubbe for me, who love him a lot, looks like certain characters that woody allen portrays in his films: now she is old, but with the irreverent and energetic attitude of many women who populate his imaginary family. Do you recognize her in my description? What is the characteristic of her that you think is the most important?
I think Bubbe has a lot of pretty classic characteristics of elderly Eastern European Jewish women (which is a cultural milieu that Woody Allen draws heavily upon); Confrontational, direct, hard to please. But that cantankerous exterior is hiding a vulnerability and tenderness that somehow is always visible.
I had a grandfather who had his part of pains, so, often “reinvented” life and facts. Bubbe here does it in a different way, trying to survive her past that she loved. What is the role of grandchildren, and therefore of young people in your opinion, with respect to the great Memory that still passes through grandparents?
Well I think the joy of a grandmother is that she’s not your mother, and so it’s easier to see her with clear eyes, and to accept her story without muddling it with your own. Benji lives in a world that is so different to the one that Bubbe remembers. Although he will never really understand her references and the memories that she carries with her, he listens to her with an open heart, and maybe that’s enough.
You describe perfectly, without filters, but with great sweetness, bubbe’s confusion. Which is that of an old woman, but it’s also the one we all feel when the world changes too fast. Is there anything for you that is the source of such confusion?
As you say, the world is moving very fast indeed, and it takes a lot of energy to keep with it. As we age and slow down, we fall further and further behind, until it seems impossible to catch up. That’s where Bubbe is at. The world around her is so fast and so different that it’s easier for her to live in her memories.
And, now, to conclude, there are two questions that need to be asked: readers always like to know something about the making of a book, mostly when there is an author and an illustrator. Tell us: what meeting was it? What relationship has been created?
Oh it’s a gorgeous relationship! I love working with illustrators generally, but they tend to be visual people rather than words/story people. Benjamin is very unique in his understanding of narrative. He brought an emotional depth to the story that makes the book what it is.
Neither of us had done a graphic novel before, and it was a much bigger undertaking than either of us expected (especially for him, as the illustration is definitely the more time-consuming part of the creative process). He never lost patience and was so committed to the project all the way through.
Are you working on something else? Can we hope that something new will arrive in Italy?
I’m working with Benjamin on another graphic novel – this time it’s more adult-oriented – it’s about a young mother with a daughter who won’t give up her pacifier and a difficult mother-in-law who is staying in the family home. It’s about motherhood and female identity – so quite different – but I’m really enjoying working on it. Hopefully we’ll find a home for it in Italy!