Welcome to another stop on the blog tour for the Sydney Taylor Book Awards, presented annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Pull up a chair and let’s hear from author Loïc Dauvallier, illustrator Marc Lizano, and colorist Greg Salsedo about Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust, the gold medal winner in the Older Readers category. Originally published in 2012 by Le Lombard in French as L’Enfant Cachée, the book was translated by Alexis Siegel and published in the U.S. in 2014 by First Second. Hidden is a graphic novel about a grandmother who shares her memories of 1942 Paris in a story she’s hidden for decades. It’s a recent collaboration between Loïc and Marc, whose previous projects include La Petite Famille, a story about grief and the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, and Hugo et Cagoule, a humorous comic without words. This is their first collaboration with Greg.
This “interview” melds emails, some in French, others in English, with Loïc, Marc, and Greg. I’ve shortened, clarified, and tried to bring to you the essence of our conversation. Thanks to hyperlinks and Google Translate, there’s a whole lot out more there for you to read. Enjoy.
Ruth: Félicitations! Congratulations to all three of you. In this short book, you say so much so well. First, I want to find out the story behind the story. How did L’Enfant Cachée (now Hidden) come to be?
Marc: As I worked on illustrations for the last pages of the La Petite Famille, my four-year-old daughter (she is now almost 16) asked me what a “gas chamber” was, because she had heard something on the radio about the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. I told Loïc about the impossibility of an answer to that question for so young a child, and he answered me that this could be an important and delicate subject for a possible book.
Loïc: It happens that I also have a daughter, a little older than Marc’s. I quickly realized that I had a responsibility as a father and as an author. So the project was born of our responsibility “lest we forget.”
Ruth: Dounia Cohen, the little girl in your book, seems so real. Yet, when I searched the names of nearly 9,000 French Jews who were saved or hidden during World War II, I could not find her. Is Dounia’s story true?
Loïc: Dounia Cohen does not exist in real life. Hidden is not a biopic; it is a fiction that I built from testimonies and writings I accumulated. Everything is false and unfortunately it’s all true.
Marc: Loïc put in a lot of work with the historical documentation. He met with witnesses, holocaust survivors, and especially hidden children to provide a more realistic and emotional part of their stories. Writing a story for children through the eyes of a child is something very tricky. And Loïc has done it with great accuracy I think.
Ruth: All three of you are skilled graphic artists. How did you work together to create this book?
Loïc: I’m not a graphic artist. It is Mark who has the talent of drawing and Greg the magic of color. I did a lot of historical research. I wrote the story and, for each cell of the layout, I gave stage directions and dialogue.
Greg: Marc, Loïc, and I don’t live in the same city, so we used a lot of phone and email communication during the work.
Marc: I sketched the page, and then did my drawing with black ink. As I worked on my drawings, I made it a point not to miss Loïc’s intentions. I tried to follow his instructions as closely as possible. I scanned and sent every page to Loïc, to Antoine (our editor), and to Greg for the last step with colors.
Greg: The great thing is that I was totally free to make the colors as I wanted. Loïc and Mark didn’t give me guidance, because they believed that I’d work better if I felt free. I tried to make colors mainly depending on what inspired me in the script and drawing. My goal was to strengthen the atmosphere of each scene and the feelings of the readers. Marc sent me scans of the pages, and I worked directly on my computer with Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool for comics coloring even if the software wasn’t originally made for this.
Marc: I still remember very clearly the day when I finished the last drawing of the last page. It was a very complicated time in my life, and work on this book faced considerable delay because of me. Today I am quite pleased with this book and also very proud of the final result of our work.
Ruth: Why were the cover art and title for the American book changed from the original French publication?
Loïc: The book cover is primarily the commercial showcase of the book, so it’s logical that the design editor would adapt the cover to work best in his or her territory. I think it’s the same for the title. This is a question that should be asked of the American publisher.
Marc: The Czech Republic, German, and Italian editions have kept the same book cover as the French one. It was very different in Korea, Israel, and the U.S. We’re not in charge of that part at all.
Loïc: I was very surprised by the Korean cover.
Ruth: So was I. Thanks for providing the book covers, which are shown at the end of this post. Whom do you see as your readers?
Loïc: When I write a book such as this, I’m not trying to target an age group. I try to seek a universal form. This book is intended not only for children or adults but for the whole family. I leave [age categories] to my publishers.
Marc: To tell history to very young readers is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s not simple, because children are very demanding and they deserve appropriate writing. I simply love and enjoy making drawings for them.
Ruth: Your book forms the basis of an exhibit in France under the auspices of AJPN (Anonymes, Justes et Persécutés durant la période Nazie), an association that is a repository for information about those who helped to hide or save French citizens during Nazi occupation. Are there plans for showing the exhibit elsewhere?
Loïc: I found out about AJPN in the newspaper one day and met with Hellen Kaufmann (president of AJPN) and others. It was a wonderful meeting. They helped me to write and design the exhibit. I believe that there are six copies in continuous circulation in French.
Marc: The exhibit is so well done. There is already a German translation and adaptation. One of the places it was shown was at the International Comic Salon in Erlangen and it will be shown again this June in Speyer, where I am supposed to meet German students. I hope the exhibit will be available in English one day.
Ruth: Me, too. Thanks again for your emails. Merci.
Marc: De rien.
Voilà! The Other Book Covers