Interview: Mia Kirshner

By SHAULA CLARK  |  December 9, 2008

That must have been a real organizational feat.
It is, that's why I didn't work. The L Word paid for it, and that's why I made a decision very quickly after I started the book I realized that it was — you know, these people were brave and kind enough to share their stories, so the best I could do was to use all of my time to do justice to the stories.

These stories are so affecting to read. What was it like to come back from these places?
It was a process. I think the beginning it was very hard. But I think that the last thing I want to be is this sort of hysterical person that comes back from these places, and lectures my community about overconsumption. I didn't really talk about it that much. It was something very personal. But I did realize over the years some very important things, and it all came together the way I hoped it would in Malawi — that nobody wants your pity, nobody wants you to be angry on behalf of their situation, nobody wants to be thought of as this poor person. They want to be respected, and to be thought of as dignified — I realized that the best thing I could do was to find the best in each situation and each person that I meet. So that was sort of the process. But you know, it was definitely quite lonely sometimes.

Did you hand-pick the artists you worked with?
Joe Sacco was the first person I wrote to, and this was before Mike and Paul became involved, and I wrote him a long letter, and the same thing with Kamel Khûlif, who did the Burma project. I actually called his French publisher, and I had a translator on the phone with me, because my French isn't proficient enough. And he agreed to do it. Mike and Paul found Julie Morstad. Phoebe I wrote a long letter to through a website; Ann-Marie MacDonald, the same thing, so it was really letter writing. J.B. MacKinnon — he only accidentally became involved — he was only supposed to do the Ingushetia story, but very quickly he started working and elevated the text to what it is.

Each chapter has a very distinct feel to it artistically. Did that come about organically, or did you have a clear idea of how you wanted them to look and feel?
Mike, Paul, and I would sit down after I had collected the material, and our office is in Vancouver, and we would literally break the stories. And they're so talented. They're two people, but they work as one. So we would sit in the room together and discuss what each story meant, and talk about all the elements that would go onto the page, as far as colors, what the story was about, what the theme of the chapter was. The Juárez chapter, it had to be hand-stitched. And then after doing these detailed notes on each page — like, "This page is going to be green. It has to look sticky and wet. It should look like it's in a jungle. We should try to use Polaroids on this page — they would go and they would do the actual handwork. But once a draft came back, it didn't mean it was done. Each page went through maybe 50, 60, 70 changes. So I would look at each page and say, "Why don't you move that to the right? Why don't you modify that color? Let's change the font on this. Let's think about getting another artist for this stitched heart."

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