Tuesday, December 17, 2013

For Wednesday: Spiegelman's Maus I: My Father Bleeds History


For Wednesday's class, be sure to read as much of Maus I as possible, and bring your Comics Template Response to class.  Post one of the questions as a comment below--this is part of your overall participation grade. 

Maus (parts I and II) is widely considered one of the greatest graphic novels/comics ever written, and indeed, one of the great works of late 20th century American literature--it even appears in some anthologies of American literature (as the lone example of a comic).  It is a complex, endlessly rewarding work that combines history, memoir, biography, politics, and satire in one convenient, accessible package.  The metaphor of cats and mice has been exhaustively discussed, and during its initial stages, was much derided or criticized.  Indeed, Spiegelman had tremendous difficulty finding a publisher for Maus since many editors found it offensive, objectionable, or too "frivolous" to deal with the horrors of the Holocaust.  Spiegelman had the last laugh, though other countries continue to weigh in on the debate, and Maus is actually banned in Poland (perhaps they don't appreciate the metaphor's satirical intent about racism in general?). 

As a bonus, here is a slide show documenting the history of Maus including narration by Spiegelman himself.  It might give you some insight on the ideas/concerns that led him to produce the work, not just as a testament to his father, but as a graphic novel instead of a traditional novel (and why he refuses to adapt it into a film or animated movie):

LINK: http://www.pbs.org/pov/inheritance/photo_gallery_special_maus.php#.UrCLmGzna71

16 comments:

  1. I have always found Maus to be an extremely personal work. Spiegelman reveals unflattering things about not only himself but his father, his mother, and his wife. Because Spiegelman is a comic book artist, I kind of feel that this was the only way his story should have told. Maus is not a story about the holocaust as part of some grandiose narrative that ties into the world’s greater history; instead, it is the extremely personal story about the relationship between a father and a son, and how the war affected their lives.

    Further, the anthropomorphism that takes place in the story illustrates the perceived dissimilarities between the Germans and the Jews. In reality, the difference between the two is minuscule at best, but by representing the two as different animals Spiegelman is able to create a stark contrast between them. This, I think, illustrates how the Germans saw themselves, and the rest of the world.

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  2. Significant Scene
    My favorite scene from Maus which is tough because most of the impactful scenes are dreadfully depressing is probably when Spiegelman puts in his old comic “Prisoner on the hell planet, a case history.” Although this scene is not directly related to the Nazi story it really adds a lot of detail about Anja who is Spiegelman’s mother. Most of the story is told from Art’s father’s point of view and his interpretations of the events that happened. Throughout the book you could tell Anja was not well mentally and all the events in her life took quiet a toll. The second reason it stuck out to me, was the change of pace presented. Here you are reading a traditional comic book style and all of a sudden the style of art changes so drastically it makes the story even more impactful and important. This part of the book is so alien and different that even the black border on all the pages bleeds out of the book when its closed. I felt that putting this comic segment in this story in particular made the short story about how Art handled the death of his mother even more impactful. It was a very dark and depressing comic, but so strong nonetheless. The transition from a simple comic style to this very artistic dark style was perfectly engineered to impact people and show how this event impacted Art.

    -Cody Soden

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    1. I agree, but I have to wonder what would have happened, what would the read have been like, if he wouldn't have implemented that into the work. Because, although I hadn't necessarily had a negative view of Artie, my view of him changed after reading this scene. I think the book still would have worked, and impacted, and flowed well without that scene, but it definitely gave it another feel.

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  3. 2. Thanks to making this a graphic novel, tons of symbolism could be much more easily employed. The Nazis become cats while the Jew become terrified mice. This symbolism allows for the reader to be better able to relate to the mice having to obey the Nazis whilst also fearing that at any moment the Nazis might decide to kill or even torture them just for fun. Also, with the imagery of the mice, it shows how hard it would be to hide one’s identity as a Jew since everyone else in the tale is either a cat or a pig. Also, the story is being recorded by the son of the Concentration Camp victim, while his father recreates the story. So, the illustrations given alongside the dialogue make it feel more like a retelling of a retelling, and the image of his family as mice comes from the son.

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  4. The frame that stands out the most for me is where the father in the story and his brother are put on a diet in order to keep them from being healthy for war. I know this was a real way for families to keep the boys at home. It gives the reader a real sense of what it might have been like to get drafted for war even if you did not want to go. The illustrations support the text by providing a visual description as well as words.
    Karnesa McGaha

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  5. 4. The second half of page 81 seems particularly significant to me. At this point there is still hope that the situation will improve for the Jews in Poland. In the first frame we see Vladek being verbally attacked by all of Anja’s family for daring to suggest that they give up their son to hide him somewhere. The second frame is just Anja, she is clutching Richieu to her with both hands and her eyes are heavily shaded and deranged looking. One even has a strange right angle drawn around it and the shadowing around her eyes is so dark that one of her eyebrows has disappeared completely. In the frames below Vladek is shown wearing a white shirt with a white background behind him, while Anja is wearing black and the background is almost completely shaded in. Richieu is wearing a black and white striped shirt which makes him seem as if he is caught between them. The last frame is Vladek pedaling while narrating the story. When he is talking about his friend dying he is sitting upright and then when he talks about his friend’s son living while his didn’t he is leaning forward, making it seem as if he is determined to pedal away from this information. In the third, he has stopped pedaling all together, resigned to the fact that even though he gave his son up a year later he still died.

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  6. 4. The most significant scene for me was the hanging of the black market sellers on pages 83 and 84. Not only do we read about the event, but the frames in which the people are hanging brings another level of depth to the scene. On page 83, we see the four bodies hanging: one body with his head tilted back and his mouth open. The following two frames bring the reality of the event as we see a crowd of Jews in the background, shaded out, as the feet hang from the top of the frames. Vladek speaks of the men in each frame, although their feet are all we see signifying that they are no more. On page 84, we see Vladek sitting at a writing table as he says he did not go outside for a few days because he did not want to see the bodies. In this frame, three bodies hover above in while he is in his room, showing that these images truly haunted him. This brings character to Vladek, as he is depicted as a hard man by Art, but we see him in a very vulnerable state.

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  7. 4. Probably the most significant scene for me is the scene where Spiegleman shows you his other comic Prisoner of the Hell Planet. This comic strip really gives you a glimpse into the relationship the son had with both his mother and father. It shows how upset he is with his mom that she killed himself, and how upset he is with his dad, a person who felt like he need comfort more so than the son. The artwork itself brings the reader into the realization that this is a crucial scene because it goes from a story with mice for people to a story where the characters are human again. This makes a reader stop and really question this scene and focus on how the suicide of the son’s mother really affected him and how he really felt toward his parents. Furthermore, after realizing how he feels about his parents, one starts to question the validity of how he portrays his father. Maybe his father wasn’t as harsh as we are led to believe.

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  8. This story was written as a graphic novel to change the way these kinds of stories have been told. It evokes strong emotions while keeping the reader very much engaged. Writing it as a graphic novel allows for Spiegelman to have more flexibility in keeping the story as a present flashback. He can go from the present to his father narration of the past very easily. And he’s able to do this without interrupting the flow of the reader. This work would definitely never work as a short story; there is too much going on, and way too much time cover, to place in a short story. Although it could possible work as a novel and film, it would lose some of its essence. The Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, and everyone else as pigs, could not be properly, or at all, portrayed in a novel or film. This work begs to be created with words and images. The fathers accent, half details, cut off stories, and emotional chokes don’t allow for words to tell the entire story, it requires the accompaniment of images to complete the thought, scene, and story. The entire work requires a juxtaposition of words and images.

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  9. Maus only works as a graphic novel because it holds the perfect balance between comic and drama. If translated into a novel, the anthromorphic characters would not transfer, and the story would be an incredible heavy-handed account of a Holocaust survivor. Such a novel would be important and interesting, but not at all what Spiegel man was trying to accomplish. As a film, the characters would be silly and probably come off as disrespectful. Because it is in the format of a comic, animal characters are acceptable and still effectively convey intense human emotion. For example, on page 81, the author shows the emotional decision whether or not to hide away the children during the war and is able to immediately refer back to the present day emotions of his father while he tells the story upon his exercise bike. A film or novel would not be able to fluidly convey the intensity the situation caused over the years as the graphic novel does.

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  10. Frames 4-6 on page 83 are significant because of the emotion that runs through the reader when this is shown. This moment in the story shows some real parts of WWII but without being extremely nasty. I still felt like I understood but at the same time it was not completely real because of the mice stand ins. I admire these frames because of their art. Without the words I could get what was going on and still be sad because I knew from the stars on their jackets that they were a result of WWII.

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  11. This story worked well with being a comic. The son was interviewing and going back between his story and present life. If you tried to do this in a novel without illustration it would be very confusing. If you tried to make this comic into a film it would be very hard to flash back and forth but it’s been done before.

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  12. A significant panel to me is the bottom left panel on page 125. In this panel Vladek and Anja are walking and they don’t know where to go now. Maybe it’s just because it is at a distance, but Vladek and Anja don’t look like mice in this image. The scenery, the trees are dead and the road they are walking on is shaped like a swastika. The road takes up a majority of the image. I think this shows that this area or world they are in is now controlled by the Nazis. This gives a feeling of danger, dread, and horror. It’s as if there is no place to go to escape.

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  13. I think it was written as a graphic novel, because if you write a novel about animals it’s harder for the audience to see it that way. Or it is for me, I actually have tried to read a couple of novels with animals as characters but I couldn’t imagine it in my head and I had to stop reading one of them. Since this is illustrated I think it helps and it’s also the cat and mouse “chase” that has been around for years. It also shows the exact emotion the characters were facing, I feel like that is important in a piece like this, since no one now can really relate to what went on during that time I believe it just helped us relate and sympathize for the characters. People can talk about experiences all the time, but until someone can actually see it in expressions or actions, sometimes we don’t understand exactly how they felt.

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  14. Lisa Edge 4. Describe one scene in the novel; either a single frame or a single of frames that you feel is particularly significant. Why is this moment 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. Page 100-103 (with these few pages of realism pg 100-103 you can see he takes it much more personal as well)I think that these pages brings to life that not only did those people who were old enough to remember all these atrocities of German decent but the damage caused and inflicted upon others (people who were related to survivors, to those who perished, and to those who aided the Jews whether they were caught or not). It is more real due to the graphics I could not imaging the whole works drawn in this nature some scenes would be too horrific to draw much less visualize (page 108-the children who cried and would not shut up having soldiers bash their brains out against brick walls). I think that is why the Author chose to use the cat and mouse drawings with less detail anything more would be too real…too much.

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  15. Question 1: The art in Maus is very cartoonish. I think this is preferable over extremely detailed mice or even realistic people given that we're talking about the Holocaust. A lot of people do not like to look at or think about things that disturb them and the Holocaust would definitely disturb anyone who hears about it, but reading it in a cartoon manner kind of takes the edge off. It doesn't necessarily cheapen the events described by Vladeck throughout the novel but it makes it easier for people to process. If the events had been described the same way but using images of realistic people the novel would likely have been too grim and many people wouldn't have wanted to read it just because people don't like to look at things that will upset them too much. That seems ridiculous, but I think that is kind of the way that the human mind operates and is a big part of why people refuse to believe that the Holocaust ever happened. Not only is the art a commentary on how Jews were viewed by Germans and the Nazi party but it also helps put readers at ease and placate them in a way so that the events are more manageable to deal with.

    - Mello

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