The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale - Art Spiegelman, Fred Jordon This evening, I'm hoping to attend a free public "lecture with images" giving by Mr. Spiegelman entitled "What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?". I was excited as soon as I heard about it two weeks ago, as I find comic book history and theory -- at least what I know of it -- to be of immense help with storytelling of any kind. It was also at that point that I realized I knew Spiegelman's work only by reputation. I put in a hold request for Maus (arguably his most famous work and the story for which has was awarded the Pulitzer Prize) and hoped for the best. It was finally able to pick it up on Tuesday. I do regret having to read it as fast as I did. It's one of the interesting things about comics in that you can read them almost as fast or as slow as you like, from simply skimming the words and getting the general sense of the pictures, to dwelling in the details of how the author has juxtaposed four frames to indicate a character's despair. A blurb on the jacket cover by Jules Feiffer describes Maus as "...at one and the same time, a novel, a documentary, a memoir and a comic book". This described the book perfectly, but as I'm sure Feiffer would admit, also fails to describe it at all. Maus is a memoir that knows it's a memoir. The main thrust of the story is that of Art Spiegelman's father Vladek, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. Vladek tells his story to Art over a series of interviews (taking several years). We also see Art's struggles in sustaining his relationship with his tenacious and brusque father. No only do Art's doubts about the appropriateness of telling the story appear on the page, but because of the way most comics are still published (ie: serially) Art even illustrates his reaction to the reception of the first sections. Maus is often referred to as "that Holocaust comic where Jews are mice and Germans are cats". (Other nationalities are also depicted as various animals.) This is both a minor and a transformative part of the story. Because of the way Art draws the characters, there are very few features by which to differentiate first the various members of Vladek's family and later the many inmates of the camps where he was imprisoned. This de-personification serves two purposes in my mind: first, to illustrate the stereotyping that contributes to the persecution of races, and second, through the comic book technique of "masking", allow the reader to self-identify with Vladek (and others by turns). Maus is a truly powerful book and its impact on the history of comics cannot be overstated.