Saturday, 24 November 2007

Maus by Art Spiegleman

If people still believe that comic books were meant solely for children then this comic book surely disproves that theory.

Maus is neither an easy nor a pleasant read. Its subject matter is the holocaust and as such has been told many times over and is open to much scrutiny and criticism. The fact that it succeeds so well is a testament to its author and artists incredible achievement.

Written and drawn by long-time underground comic creator Art Spiegelman, Maus portrays the events surrounding the holocaust in an Orwellian or Aesop fable context presenting the characters in an anthropomorphic style with the Germans as cats, The Poles as Pigs and The French as frogs.

It is a harrowing and ugly tale of man's incredible talent for brutality and cruelty. It is a tale that we all know well but what gives Maus its edge is the fact that the events that are being told are the actual memory recall of Spiegelman's father Vladek.

Art Spiegelman, over a period of time, interviewed his father and recorded their conversations. Armed with these tapes that contained his father's often out of sync recollections Spiegelman then went about putting then into a semblance of order before committing the recollections to artwork. It was a long and slow process starting in 1972 and finishing in 1991 with the final publication of book two. The actual assimilation of detail took about thirteen years but the nineteen years that I have written of here includes both the interview process and the final book publication.

The artwork is deceptively simple and allows the reader to easily get to grips with what would otherwise be a dry tale. It is austere and bleak and so very fitting to the mood of the times it depicts.

There are two threads that run throughout the book and these are Vladek Spiegelman's horrific memories of the holocaust that include not only his own but his wife's, his first sons and his family's internment in Auschwitz and also tell of the death of his first son and many family members. We also learn of all the twisted cruelties that the Nazis employed to these people and also of all the many gambits and tricks of survival that Vladek employed to get through his ordeal.

The second thread is the modern day Vladek who is nothing short of obsessive about many things and who drives his second wife away with his irritating ways and character flaws. It also features the complicated and strained relationship between father and son and as Art Spiegelman comes to terms with his father's nature and begins to understand just what it is that has shaped his father's being.

Throughout this complex tale hang the ghosts of Vladek's first wife Anja who died whilst Art was young and also the long dead spectre of Arts older brother Richieu.

Maus is a gargantuan achievement and is the only comic book thus far to have won the Pulitzer prize.

If you still think that comics are just for kids then you must be British and, therefore, need to go and buy this book and realise how wrong you have been by setting such daft parameters. It is one of the best reads of literature let alone of the comic book medium.


all words and art are copyright © of cocaine Jesus.

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