Monday, December 19, 2011

For Tuesday: Speigelman's Maus I (we'll discuss II on Wednesday)

Art Spiegelman started experimenting with ideas for Maus in his comic Raw (which we will see in our documentary, Comic Book Confidential on Tuesday), an experimental work which broke the boundaries of traditional comic books.  Originally a short strip, Maus expanded into a novel-length work that spanned several years, and was based on actual taped interviews with his father, Vladek Speigelman (as documented in Maus I and II).  The first book came out to considerable acclaim and pushed him to finish the second work quickly, though not without taking an emotional toll--again, as documented in Maus II.  Today, the two parts of Maus are considered the high water mark of the graphic novel medium, and inspired/challenged every subsequent comic book artist, notably Marjane Satrapi, whose on work, Persepolis I and II owes a considerable debt to his technique.  Spiegelman continues to be very active in comics, and recently wrote a book confronting the 9/11 tragedy called In The Shadow of No Towers.  He has also published a retrospective about Maus entitled Meta Maus, available from Amazon here:

Here is an except from an interview with Spieglman about Maus and comic book form:

Spiegelman: "MAUS was done in comics form because I make comics and so it was the natural language for me to speak. Comics have to do with art like Yiddish has to do with language; it's a kind of vernacular. And so MAUS was essentially a natural means for me. The reason I mentioned these precedents before, by the time I was working on MAUS it seemed like a rather natural thing to do. It wasn't like ... do it in comics, that will get really a rise out of somebody. And I know that the responses to MAUS when it came out were first great suspicion. And then as they got closer, people who were serious about the issues that lie at the heart of MAUS weren't offended by its form; they just found that that could work. And that's essentially what's interesting to me. What's less interesting in this show is when you talk about these Legos: it's cute, it's about Legos. It's not about Auschwitz. So maybe that piece would have been better off in a different context than finding various ways of looking at events 50 years removed ... from the present through "inappropriate" media." 

You can find the entire interview here:


  1. Siegelman’s “Maus” has a very plain cartoonish style. There is a simple black and white color palate. I believe the use of this color scheme is to show the absolute feelings the world had and has about the atrocities of the Holocaust. He uses animals to represent the characters in the story, cats for Nazis or dogs for Americans. The faces of the characters do not change for one to the other; instead we have to rely on the clothing to differentiate the characters. I love the use of mice for Jews. Mice are a resilient resourceful animal that people have an uncanny willingness to kill…coincidence? I think not.
    The artwork is used to lighten the dark sinister mood of the subject material. In my opinion, it does the exact opposite. The simple drawings and color scheme seem to play a secondary role to the story. They seem to accentuate the story. We have seen the story of the Holocaust a hundred times or more in many different mediums, however, this was the first piece on the subject that rattled my emotional core. There is something primal about this exact combination of art and words that is not included in novels or films. When you try to translate this to the screen, it would feel cheesy or artsy. How do you translate the symbolism of the mice into an animated film since the genre as become associated in America with children?
    At first glance one would say that there are two narrators for this piece, Artie and Vladek. In actuality there is only one, Artie Spiegelman. This is simply his interpretation of his father’s recorded stories. The fact there are sections told in a first person point of view from Vladek’s mouth is deceiving. This can be seen in Maus II, when we see “outside” the comic a scene of Artie sitting at a drafting table wearing a maus mask.
    On page 48 of Maus I, Vladek has one of many life changing moments. He kills a Nazi soldier disguised as a tree. The thing that makes it so impactful to me is the chilling art mixed perfectly with the dialogue. You never see the soldier’s face in the scene, showing how in war all you truly see is the opposing uniform not the soldier. Then there is the realistic line of Vladek’s dialogue, “But I kept shooting and shooting. Until finally the tree stopped moving. Who knows; otherwise he could have shot me!” Just over all this is a chillingly affective scene.

  2. Maus, book 1

    1 The actual art in this book is simple. It uses techniques that are usually found in the Sunday comics, yet, even still, it feels heavy. Just looking at a random page without reading it feels like the weight of the world is pressing the pen to the paper. It is actually a refreshing experience in comparison to, say, Tamara Drewe or Batman: Year One. The fact that there is no color helps keep the reader on track.

    2 There is no way that this story could be told effectively in any other venue. It is able to switch rapidly from scene to scene, narrator to narrator. Also, the illustrations themselves are what really make this story come to light. Even making all the characters into cute animals does not take away from the severity of what happened. It could be told in bright pictures, and it would still feel sinister, merely due to the content. However, just the fact that Art Spiegelman only does the simplistic drawings, staying away from colors and doing only what hatching he needs in order to make it look understandable, makes it very approachable. We get a feel for what it may have felt like had he gone with human faces when the comic of his mother's death is shown. It is decidedly darker, yet I couldn't feel as connected to that story as I did the rest of the book because of how dark it was. I don't know, but maybe the idea behind it was if you dilute something enough, it will be easier to take.

    3 There is an interesting switch between father and son. The son is ultimately telling the story, but his father tells it to him first. Art is not only, however, giving the story of his father's experiences before, during, and slightly after the war, but of what is going on in their lives each time he visits, or when he is at home with his wife. This really cannot be recreated through another way of storytelling merely because Art Spiegelman's interpretation of his father's stories would not be retold the same way. This is slightly redundant, but it is true. It is like how Plato told about his teacher Socrates: he couldn't very well put it into any other way than he did in the Phaedo, with a dialogue. Certain things only work certain ways, and this is a perfect example. Honestly, this book should be required reading in public schools.

    4 At the end of book one, Arty and his father are finishing up, when they get back on the topic of Anja's diaries. When it is revealed that Vladek destroyed them, Art becomes irate and yells at his father. There are many things to consider at this point. Art is writing this story, and normally one doesn't like to admit that they did something that could be thought of as wrong. The fact that he included this scene speaks of an immense amount of character on his part. Also, it is likely he felt justified in including this in the book. He flat out calls his father a murderer for destroying the last remains of his mother. Another thing is that this is the very last thing that happens in book one, ending with him walking home muttering “murderer” after smiling at his father and saying he'll keep in touch. It doesn't give the reader the closure that they need. In that way, it leads well into the next book, but it also leaves us hanging high and dry for a little while. It is a shock. But then, so was the loss of everything that was left of his mother. In that way, I guess that there is a sort of closure.

  3. 1. It has a sketchy feel to it, like as if a child drew this graphic novel. In a way, I feel this gives the reader a sense that this is an older piece of literature. Because it’s an illustration of a memory, there are grays, blacks, and whites to the images. Even if the pictures were filled in with color like on the cover, you’d still get this feeling like there are holes being filled. I also think this art contributes to the characters. They are depicted as mice, and mice scurry everywhere and are very quick. I feel that this sketchiness also contributes to the thought that a mouse might have drawn this.

    2. If this graphic novel were a book or a film, I believe you would miss the emotion that the story has in the art. The art seems very intimate because it doesn’t look like it was really touched up. If this were a film, I think you would lose the feeling of intimacy this novel brings to the reader. As a novel, I believe you would miss the fact that there are grays, whites, and blacks. To the Jews, the Germans were like this. At first they didn’t seem like a threat, then they quickly became a very frightening (and obviously evil force). Their actions were very shady to the Jews, much like how things are shaded in this novel. I also think that the impact that some images have on the reader wouldn’t have the same emotional feel if they were in a film or novel. For example, the first time we see a swastika in the novel, it is in the center of the page (page 34). In a novel, we would lose the impact of that image.

    3. Artie is narrating what his father is telling us. It is a story within a story. The images we see on the paper are what Artie is imagining in his mind as his father tells it. Artie sees himself and everyone else as an animal. Most images of the Nazis are pigs or cats. Pigs are omnivores, they consume EVERYTHING. Much like how the Nazis consumed the lives of millions of Jews in WWII. They are also cats, which are one of the many predators of mice (and the main one someone may usually think of). I think that the pictures are not just us seeing the story, it’s also the writer seeing his father’s story.

    4. On page 34, when we see the swastika for the first time. AT the top of the page, you see the train (with a gray, sketchy, dark background) passing over a bridge. But the archways of the bridge also sort of resemble tombstones. Then the next frames are the mice sitting in the train and looking out the window. The fourth frame (which also takes up most of the page itself) shows a view from inside the cart with the mice. The flag seems to be in its own space, in its own frame, by being surrounded by the train’s window frame. Inside the cart, the light is coming in so it is dark inside. The image of the mice looking out of the cart looks like an image one might have seen in a children’s cartoon. The mice looking out of their dark hole out into the light where the danger lurks.

  4. 4. Describe one scene in the novel, either a single frame or a series of frames, which you feel is particularly significant. Why is this sequence so important? Do you admire this passage more for its narrative (the words) or its art (the images)—or both? Make sure we can not only see what’s going on here, but we see how it relates to the story at large.

    To me, the most significant part of book 1 comes on page 66, when Vladek tricks the Polish train man into helping him get back home. This part does several things at once. First, it shows the difference between the words and images. Vladek doesn’t say, “I was wearing a mask so the train man would know I wasn’t a pig”. Vladek simply says that he didn’t let the train man know he was a Jew. Second, it shows that how someone looks doesn’t reveal anything about who the person is. All that Vladek has to do is not mention he’s a Jew and say that he’s a fellow Pole and the train man helps him out. The last thing, and the most significant, is that it shows the absurdity of racism in the story. The train man, in a very Loony Tunes moment, can’t tell that Vladek is wearing a pig mask. Who Vladek is underneath the mask is never called into question—he looks like a pig, talks like a pig, therefore he must be a pig. The whole scene would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  5. 1. MAUS has very cartoony illustrations. It seems very sketchy like the author just wanted to throw in on the page. There is not a lot of detail and facial expressions are a little rough. I do like that the characters are drawn as animals. I found it interesting that the Jews were portrayed as mice while the Germans were cats. However, they are not very detailed. Most of the characters look the same making it a little confusing at times to see who was who. All of the frames were done without color. I found this kind of cool because it made me think of the old days like the old films. It was able to grab me because I felt I was there. It creates an old timey tone. Also, is really brings out the darkness out in some of the frames because there is not other colors to distract it. It was dark times so I can kind of see why the author illustrated it the way he did. I do feel like some color could have been added during the important scenes so that I could tell what the author really wanted his readers to see. Overall, I feel like this story could not have been illustrated any other way. It needed to be black and white to show the emotion of the Holocaust. Also, placing them as animals was a great way of depicting the events. In the end, the illustrations are perfect for the story being told.

    2. I think MAUS was written as a graphic novel to fully reveal the events of the Holocaust. This story could have been written as a novel or short story; however, the reader would not get the full experience of what took place. In a novel, we would not see how the characters interact with each other. Also, by keeping this story within novels and short stories it almost becomes just another history book. By adding pictures, it brings MAUS to life. The reader is brought into the action and experiences the horror, suspense, etc. the Jewish people faced. It became more emotional for me seeing the Holocaust than just reading about it.
    This story would lose a lot if it was translated into a movie. This graphic novel consists of mice running from cats. This is not realistic. In order to place the story into a movie, the movie would have to be a cartoon. No one would admire it if it was done live action with mice and cats. Also, it was not possible to create realistic, talking mice in movies during the 70 and 80s. by making it a cartoon movie people would look down on it as childish and the point of the story would be lost (a serious message). Overall, the story had to be written as a graphic novel or the audience would miss the story’s significance.

    4. The scene in MAUS I found most significant is on page 127. One frame shows Vladek and his wife, Anja, walking aimlessly. They have nowhere to go. The reason I found it so significant is because of the Swastika-shaped road. This insinuates that they are trapped and every path leads to capture and possibly death. Many Jews had this same feeling of hopelessness and confusion. It almost foreshadows the capture of Vladek and Anja.
    I really appreciated this frame for both its art and the narration. I find the sign in the road as well as the dead trees menacing. It evokes the emotions fear and loss within me. Everything leads to death and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I can only imagine how I would have felt walking that endless road. I like the dialogue because Vladek states that they have nowhere to go. They lost everything and are on the run. I like this frame more for the art, but the words still have some value. The last thing I liked in how human the characters looked in this frame. We can’t tell that they’re mice. I only see these scare, Jewish people trying to find light in this flood of endless darkness.

  6. Maus book one

    1. All the characters are pretty cartoony. The backgrounds have the most detail, the clothes are somewhat detailed, but the faces are very plain. You have to use clothing or other details to determine which character you are looking at. When he's older, you can tell it is Vladek when you see his glasses or hat. The use of animals are very important, using mice for Jews, pigs for Poles, cats for Nazis. Mice being creatures that we look down upon and kill, cats being hunters, etc.

    2. Although I've read novels and seen films about the Holocaust before, there is something about this as a graphic novel that evokes lots of feeling as I read. Films are so hard to watch because of the oppression, horrible conditions, and seeing it with real people. Novels are hard to read because of the excessive detail that they need to use. I feel like this makes it somewhat more bearable to read because it is "acted out" by animals and because of the pictures, there is no need to go into graphic detail about what is happening in each scene.

    3. Artie is the sole narrator of Maus I. It seems to be from a first-person perspective. Some might argue that Vladek is also narrating, but I don't think he is, considering when he talks, he is always talking and describing his past TO Artie.

    4. Personally, I found the last scene of Maus I to be the most significant to me. Artie finds out that Vladek has burnt Anja's diaries and calls him a murderer. They ALMOST seem to reconcile and part ways almost cordially, but as Artie is walking away alone, he repeats the term murderer to himself. I think that this is super significant because since his father has been telling him about his past, Artie knows how hurtful the term of "murderer" would be to Vladek. It really shows how their relationship has been damaged and how you are unsure if it will heal.

  7. With all the characters being animals, one could say that this was drawn in a more cartoony way. Most of the illustrations were sketchy, but (this could've just been me who saw this) it seemed like the frames portraying past events were always darker and sketchier than what was in the present. It helped me to differentiate between the time periods. I also believe that with the story that is being told, it almost needed to have the characters as animals. It helped to take away a tiny bit from the intensity of the story as well as showing where in the "food chain" these characters ranked, with the Germans being cats, Americans being dogs, the Polish being pigs, and the Jewish being mice. There were so many terrible things going on that it would have been even more difficult to read this if the author had decided to use humans instead. It would have made it seem even gorier and too realistic for some (though it is based on a true story). The use of only black and white seems to set this story in a more serious tone than those who use color. Like in Chunky Rice, both of these stories used animals in place of real characters as well as used no colors in the frames. Using color seems to add more of a laid back feel to the novel, regardless of how much action is involved. Tamara Drewe and Batman were both good reads, but I didn't take them as seriously as Chunky Rice and Maus. I believe that is partially due to the lack of color in the illustrations.

  8. Maus I&II (Note, Some of the responses will be the same for both volumes. I will specify when this happens.)

    1) (For Maus I&II) One might begin by saying the artistry is cartoony. The reason is the depiction of animals as people. Now obviously this work is not cartoonish. It deals with one of the toughest subject materials. The art helps you deal with what is going on in the story. I'm not sure how Spiegelman accomplished this, but from the first moment, I was emotionally connected with the story, in a deeper level than what Chunky-Rice accomplished. The feel is sometimes harsh due to the the hard lines and use of black and white. However, this story becomes less serious and believable if color is added. The sometimes harshness of the black and white adds intensity to the story. It would be hard to take the story as serious if there was color. Imagine for a moment that throughout most of the story, you saw pink pigs, green frogs, brown, orange, white, and black cats, and grey-blue mice. It would be hard to take the story as seriously. You honestly wouldn't be as connected, and it would constantly remind you that the characters are animals and not humans, which, throughout the work, the people are very much not simple people, but are fully human.

    2) (Maus I&II) I approve of Spiegelman's choice of making this tale a graphic novel. If told any other way, it would be blown off as just another Holocaust story. I'm thankful that Spiegelman never signed over the rights to these books. Movies couldn't capture it because mice and cats running around, no one would take it serious, but simply shrug it off as a kids film. Same with a novel - "Oh look. Another story by Beverly Cleary."

  9. 3) Maus I, it seems that Art is doing the narrating for Vladek. Vladek is telling the story to Art, who is telling us the story. Many novels can do, and have done this. Wuthering Heights accomplishes this beautifully. But so does Maus I. Most of the time, I have a problem with Art in Maus I because I feel he is more worried about the information that he can gain from his father than his father's story.

    Maus II, I feel I get more of Vladek than Art. Throughout the work, Art continues to relay the information to us from Vladek. This time, I almost feel as Art took the interviews that he had with his father, and simply placed them on the page with some artwork. That is in no way slighting Spiegelman. This works very well. I enjoy both volumes, but this is why I think I enjoy II a but more.

    4) Maus I, one of the last scenes where the prisoners arrive to Aushwitz. This scene lasted in my mind for AWHILE. The sky is overcast, and the arrival to Aushwitz is, where his trouble begins. This scene shows that to them Nazi's, the prisoners are simply like cattle. And, in this scene Spiegelman makes the conscious decision to reinforce that these are not humans by having a dog getting ready to chase down the mice - in essence, the cats are using the dogs to chase the mice....

    Maus II, The scene on page 95 stuck in my mind. I can't get this image out of my head. The scene shows Vladek walking across the bodies of many people, all of which have different faces. This shows us many, many things. One of the first things it shows is the brutality of the Nazi's. Vladek is walking over a cat, a mouse, and a pig - a german, a jew, and a pole. The Nazi's obviously didn't care what you were, to them if you opposed them, you were dead. Hence, the german that is there. Also, this shows what the prisoners HAD to endure. Daily, they had to look at ones of their kind that were dead, and daily they had to sit and realize that at any moment, this could be them. Because of this scene, I now understand the brutality of the Nazi's more than what I ever had. This scene sickens me and is my favorite, but I can't help but feel the importance of it. W/o this scene, we couldn't understand why it was so detrimental that Vladek was so close to dying due to Typhus. As he's infected with this, he's looking at the bodies realizing that possibly in the next few seconds, he might join the bodies.

  10. 1. Both Maus I and II have very sketchy illustrations made with thick dark lines. The lines seem tighter and more crowded in Maus II but both share the same style. The drawings are not very detailed and almost every scene seems crowded to me.

    2. I think presenting this story as a graphic novel and using various animals as the human characters they represent is very clever and creative. Mice fit some of the stereotypes that Jews have been labeled with such as having large noses and being dirty or greedy and cats often seem proud and prey upon mice. The story itself would make an excellent movie or text novel but this use of the graphic novel for telling the story adds interest. This could be an animated movie for adults which is becoming more common but it might lose some of its seriousness.

    3. The son narrates the story minimally as he talks about listening to his father’s story which is part of why I could see this story being produced as a film.

    4. I particularly like the series of frames on page 25 of Maus I. The frames follow another series of frames in which the father tells his son details of his early love life and about meeting his wife. On page 14 we see the father tell his son not to include these personal accounts in the book he wants to write to which the son eventually replies with a promise to do as the father asks, yet here we are reading it. As the father demands these relationships and details be left out the son tries to reason with him by telling him “it makes everything more real-more human”. The father seems to think these details have nothing to do with the holocaust but the way I see it they have everything to do with the holocaust. The fact that the holocaust happened to real people with stories and lives full of love, sorrow and detail is what makes it so horrifying. When you’re forced to focus on just one person who experienced the holocaust and see them as an individual rather than just an overwhelming number quoted it causes you to listen and relate. Listening to the very personal details of just one victim causes you to experience what they did through the storytelling experience.