Art Spiegelman's Maus – A Survivors Tale – Part 01
Winner of the Pulitzer prize for literature, Art Spiegelman's "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" is a unique and unforgettable work. This two-volume set of book-length comics (or "graphic novels," if you prefer) tells the story of the narrator, Artie, and his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor. "Maus" is thus an important example of both Holocaust literature and of the graphic novel. The two volumes of "Maus" are subtitled "My Father Bleeds History" and "And Here My Troubles Began"; they should be read together to get the biggest impact.Artie is a comic book artist who is trying to create art that is meaningful, not just commercial. As the two volumes of "Maus" unfold, he gradually learns the full story of his father's history as a Jewish survivor of the World War II Holocaust. There is a complex "book within the book" motif, since the main character is actually writing the book that we are reading. This self-referentiality also allows Spiegelman to get in some satiric material.
The distinguishing conceit of "Maus" involves depicting the books' humanoid characters as having animal heads. All the Jews have mice heads, the Germans are cats, the Americans dogs, etc. It is a visually provocative device, although not without problematic aspects. To his credit, Spiegelman addresses some of the ambiguities of this visual device in the course of the 2 volumes. For example, Artie's wife, a Frenchwoman who converted to Judaism, wonders what kind of animal head she should have in the comic.
"Maus" contains some stunning visual touches, as well as some truly painful and thought-provoking dialogue. Vladek is one of the most extraordinary characters in 20th century literature. As grim as the two books' subject matter is, there are some moments of humor and warmth. Overall, "Maus" is a profound reflection on family ties, history, memory, and the role of the artist in society.A fantastic and erudite essay on Art Spiegelman's Maus by Robert S.Leventhal can be found here:
part 1 - "My Father Bleeds History"