Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For Thursday: Spiegelman's Maus I

 For Thursday, read Maus I, "My Father Bleeds History" and answer the template questions.  Feel free to read the entire work if you like, but we'll break it up into two 'chapters' for convenience's sake.  He wrote and published Maus I years before Maus II came out, so depending on critical perception (which we'll discuss in class) it might have been the only volume. 

For context, here is a PBS slideshow interview taking pieces from numerous Spiegelman interviews over the years and juxtaposing them with images from his life, the comic, and other mediums.  This will give you some ideas to consider as you read and answer the questions for Maus I:


  1. 1) I would describe “Maus”, by Spiegelman, as having very cartoony and symbolic illustrations. The Jews in this novel are all depicted as mice. The Poles are pigs, and the Nazis are cats. Having the characters expressed this way really helps to depict the Jews as being preyed on by the Nazis. Soon after the war starts the Jews are very much in a cat and mouse game with the Nazis. These depictions clearly show how the Jews were preyed upon.
    2) This story was written as a graphic novel because this style of writing allows the author to transition smoothly between the present day, and the past events his family lived through. The novel often shows the authors father in the present as he is telling his story, and then transitions to the past to when the events took place. I think this would be very confusing if this were written as anything other than a graphic novel.
    3) This novel is primarily narrated by the author’s father as he tells his story of the holocaust. This narration is told from a first person point of view. Although the novel switches quickly between the present and the past, the narrations from the author’s father make the story very easy to follow.
    4) I think one significantly important series of frames is the frames on page 88-91. These frames show the Jews being gathered in Dienst Stadium. The story says that one in three of these Jews were taken away, never to be seen again. Through this series of frames I believe it becomes apparent to the reader that this is when the Spiegelman family really knew things were getting very serious.

  2. 1. Art style I would describe as cartoony, relatively simplistic, but with dark, dark lines in parts. The anthropomorphic change of jews to mice, germans to cats, and poles to pigs works in a very particular way to help tell the story. It kind of removes the horror that comes with human characters in these situations, portraying it in a cartoon style to make it more... palatable. The Holocaust has so much horror and dread associated with it, taking this sort of art style might be the only way this sort of story can be told, and not immediately disgust or repulse the reader.

    2. While many movies, novels, and documentaries exist following the persecution of the Jews, I don't think they can ever achieve the tone and feel Maus has. A cartoon movie of animated mice and cats would seem ridiculous, I think, unbefitting for this dark subject matter. In addition, the alternating of the narration panels between past and current time, sometimes several times a page, makes it clear it is a story being recounted, and gives certain properties and liberties I'm not sure a fil audience would be as keen to forgive. It really feels like a series of retellings, directly from his father, as unfiltered and unbiased as possible.

    3. Who narrates the story? In a way, the dialog between father and son is the narration. While the events shown are from the father's narration, the son asking more questions interrupts parts of the story or ask for moe detail on certain aspects. This dialog between them is really what fuels the story far more than past events.

    4. Whoa... Just noticed page 127 road is swastika. Anyway.
    Pages 110 and 111 I think strike me especially important. For the first time the level of brutality and desperation really comes to light. At the bottom of 110, you have the horrific actions of Gustopo, while on the opposing page around the same area, you have Tosha's desperate, terrible realization when she finds out that they are being rounded up. It's the first time I think you really get a close up of a character's face with that level of detail and conviction. I don't really know how to adequately describe all that comes with those extra few lines around the eyes... Suddenly, her hollow expression looks more harried than ever, more grim and fatalistic. It is easy to believe what the narrator tells us happens next, though it makes it no easier to take.

  3. 1) The graphics in “Maus” are cartoony. Cats are Nazis and mice are Jewish people in this book, but yet even while looking at the pictures as I read the story, at some point the characters stopped looking like cats and mice and began to look like real people in my mind. The pictures are mostly abstract, impressionistic sketches. The only real clue to whether a character is male or female is the clothing it has on.
    2) The author is an actual character in the story. He is a graphic novelist and that is the way he chose to write his father’s biography. Because it is cartoony, the author can be a character in the story and the reader gets an insider’s view into the relationship between father and son and the father’s life after the Holocaust. Also, many people have gotten so used to seeing pictures of and reading about the Holocaust that they have become immune to the actual horrors of what they are seeing and reading. Spiegelman’s graphic novel is more horrifying using cartoon characters because it opens the reader’s eyes to atrocities that they have glossed over without paying close attention to before. The picture of the mice hanging is more grotesque than if it had been a photo of actual people because it causes the reader to stop, look, and realize those were actually people who were hung.
    3) Vladek Spiegelman is the narrator in this story. He is telling his son about his life before World War II, what happened to him and his family after the war began and as it progressed, and what life was like after the war.
    4) On page 83 the characters are talking about sending their children away to keep them safe. The sixth frame shows Anja holding her son closely. The shadows around her eyes are dark and fierce. “I’ll NEVER give up my baby! NEVER!” she says. The word never is capitalized both times and in bold print. Together the picture and words depict the protective, maternal love she has for her child and her naïve determination to keep him safe all by herself if she has to.

  4. 1. This comic is the first one that I think is really “cartoony”. I would say that it’s sketchy—the fact that it’s entirely in black and white adds a lot to that. There isn’t a lot of detail in character. Every mouse looks the same and every cat looks the same. They wear clothes that are a little different, but not really enough to be discernable. You really have to focus on the words in order to see who is in each frame or who they are talking to. I think that the lack of color works well for this comic, since all of it is told from the past. It adds an old-timey feeling. I also think that the lack of color adds to the severity of the story. There are no bright colors or vibrant scenes to take away from the tragedy of the words.
    2. So many stories have been written about the holocaust. There are even tons of movies. No one wants to read a sad book or watch a movie where a bunch of good people die. I think Maus is great as a graphic novel because it’s a new way to look at something that no one really wants to hear about. While this story is in no way “light”, it does approach the story in a less depressing way. The story is very word specific, but the pictures make it less intense. It’s a lot less sad to see a pile of dead mice than it is to see a pile of dead men.
    3. The narration is complicated in this story. Overall, it is narrated in the first person by Art Spiegelman. He then interviews his father, who narrates his story within Spiegelman’s story. Sometimes Art interrupts his father’s story and you have to make sure you’re looking at the illustrations to keep the story straight. It’s very different because the time frame changes very suddenly and typically at inopportune moments.
    4. The most powerful scene in this book is the death of Vladek’s son. Before and his wife had begun to truly suffer, his son is murdered by their own family. Not maliciously, but does that really matter? Almost every scene in this book is sad to me (except the “present” scenes). Even in the scenes where Vladek “wins”, he doesn’t really win. Richieu’s death is just a slap in the face to his family. The narrative isn’t especially beautiful, but that isn’t what this story is about. It’s about the life and experiences of Vladek.


  5. The art style was cartoony in characters but the backgrounds are often a little more realistic. For example all the houses. They are not mouse holes, but rather real houses. There is also a lot of tight little details, like patters on chairs or in the wall paper and he uses hatching/line shading everywhere! It is not as extreme as with road to perdition but he still used a lot. This could have been done differently but it would have changed the reader approachability. This art allows just about anyone to read it, even a child.
    I don't think this would come across well as a film... Most people would see the animal people and turn away from a film. His accounts could have been written as a novel but you would lose some of the scenes from the present day or it wold flow oddly. The back and forth jump between the story of the fathers journey and their present day was one of my favorite parts. Another thing that would be lost in another media would be the way the father spoke, he sounds exactly like an old Jewish man with very broken English. For example pg 6 he says "hold better on the wood" where today we would say hold on to the wood better. It is an iconic form a speech to me an he captured it well. It just would come off odd to some in film or in a novel.
    The narration is the father talking through the scenes of the war. In the present day, I did I not think there was a narrator. The book is written by the son who is simply making a comic of the story his father told. I thought it was interesting, in part one the son did not take over any narration despite the fact it appears he is the main character of the present day scenes. I liked the jumps in present to past as I said above. it made it very interesting. I love that we even get the father sayings"this is not important don't write it down!" and yet the son felt it was important.
    An important, yet tragic, scene is on on page 111, the whole time for me there was the question , what happened to the other son, Richieu. It was a moment Tosha who was trusted with their child, felt she needed to decide what the best action was for her and the children. It is really sad to stop and think about because I'm sure it happened more then we realize. It is hard to think any mother could do that. No mother could stand to see children suffer but it was have them suffer less and die there of poison or have them dies painfully in the gas chambers. They were young children and as we know some stories of the treatment of children was worse then the gas chambers. I'm still not sure how I feel about the action she took... Brave? crazy? Heroic? Desperate? I don't know...

    The book was just really sad. The cartoon aspect took a little edge off, but it still holds a lot of emotion.

  6. Maus I
    How was the Work Illustrated?
    Maus is drawn in a cartoony way, but even though the characters are drawn as Jewish mice, Nazi cats, and Polish pigs, it is not drawn in an over exaggerated cartoony fashion. Although it definitely has a cartoony feel, it's drawn in such a way that we still understand and see the humanity of the characters. I think this is a very appropriate style for this story, as Maus is a story about a Holocaust survivor and the cartoon aspect helps make the dark detail of this tragic time in history easier to read.

    Maus as a Graphic Novel:
    Maus works very well as a graphic novel. The cartoon aspect allows the horrible details of the Holocaust to be described to the audience in a way that isn't over whelming heavy and emotionally taxing. The characters are very easy to sympathize with as we feel for them and hope they continue to escape the Gestapo raids.

    Narration of Maus:
    In Maus, Artie, the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, is visiting with his father to hear his story so he can write it into a comic. The story we read is of the dialogue between Artie and his father. It's nearly a Third Person perspective, but also in First Person. The parts about Artie’s father’s life as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland are told in the narrative the father. It reads in the traditional, panel-to-panel style, though often flashing back to WWII for the survival story, and then to the present where Artie is discussing the story with his father (or where we learn about his father’s arguments with his wife and everything else in the present). The transition between the past and the present is done very well and is not confusing. At one point we see another comic that Artie wrote in the past, which is brought to the attention of the character’s in Maus, and that brief comic is introduced into our story. However, it’s done in a way that we see our character’s holding that comic, so this is also easy to understand the transition.

    A specific scene:
    On page 134-135 (combined Maus I & II edition), we see Artie and his father with his wife discussing a scene from this book, Maus, which Artie is visiting his father to hear so he can write it into this comic. His father, who isn't much at all into comics, is interested in the scene Artie shows him and tells Artie he'll become "famous, like what's-his-face"..."Walt Disney". This scene illustrates the way in which the author has written himself into the story and is telling it as he learned it, literally.

    Another scene from Maus that illustrates a good point is on page 110, where Artie's father describes Nazi's who swing a boy into a wall by his leg to kill him for crying. This is a terrible scene, which has its horrifying effect lessened by the cartoon style in which it's drawn. Not that it makes the dark details of that time in history any less significant, but that it is an effective way to tell a story that can otherwise be difficult to hear.