25 May 2009

"Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began" by Art Spiegelman

Maus: A Survivor's Tale II - And Here My Troubles Began
Written and Illustrated by Art Spiegelman
Date of Publication: 1 September 1992
Cover Price: $14.00
144 pages

For those unfamiliar with this project, Maus tells two stories.  Predominantly, it is the story of how Vladek Spiegelman survived the Nazi regime and Hitler's concentration camps.  Interspersed throughout, though, is a present day depiction of the interaction between Vladek and his son, Art.  Art expresses both admiration for, and exasperation with, Vladek.  This is, for me, the most meaningful part of Spiegelman's story.  We have a habit of reducing history to a one-dimensional existence in our minds.  The Jews who were targeted by the Nazis were all pitiable victims, the Nazis were all inhuman monsters, etc.  What Spiegelman has done with Maus is show that the survivors were admirable...and that they were much more than that, as well.  It turns out, they were also human and got on their children's nerves the same as nearly every other parental generation.  Rather than undermining the dignity and resilience of Vladek, Maus makes him more relevant because he's a whole person and not a cardboard cutout.

Spiegelman took an awful chance bringing his father's story to the medium of graphic storytelling in the 1980s.  Even in 2009, the same year that a movie adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen (long considered unfilmable), the notion of telling of a holocaust survivor's story in comic book form seems destined to offend.  The fact that Spiegelman presents ethnicities as animals (i.e., Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, etc.) would seemingly further remove from the story its proper sense of weight.  Remarkably, Vladek's story is perhaps even more striking told through Art's presentation.  There is, strangely, a heightened sense of humanity throughout Maus that I often find absent even in History Channel programs drawing on actual video footage of the described events.

Simply put, I cannot offer a higher recommendation than the one I give to Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale.  Originally, Maus was serialized in Spiegelman's comic anthology series Raw; I read the two volume collected edition.  Since then, the entire work has been collected in a singular volume.  Whichever incarnation you find available, I urge you to take the time to read the tale of Vladek Spiegelman.

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