Author: Art Spiegelman
Pages: 296 pgs.
Publish Date: October 2, 2003
Catalog ID: ISBN-10: 0141014083
I include the Complete Maus here for three reasons: firstly, it is generally held to be one of the benchmarks against which other graphic novels are judged, a work that has made people who don’t like comics read comics, and a pinnacle of achievement that Spiegelman has spent the last twenty years trying to either live up to, or get away from. If you only ever read one graphic novel….(Actually, Art Spiegelman doesn’t like the term “graphic novel”, even though he is credited as being one of the Godfathers of the medium. He prefers plain old “comics” or “comix”).
Secondly, it provides an excellent demonstration of one of the functions of comics; one of the services that comics can provide that other media cannot; it shows a way of talking about a very difficult and emotionally charged subject (in this case the Hollocaust) without resorting to cliche, sentimentality or preaching. Maus is able to do this through Spiegelman’s clever use of “funny animals” in stead of humans. The way he came to use this device is chronicled in his new book, “Breakdowns, Portrait of the Artist as a Young %*$&”. Jews are shown as mice, the nazis as cats, poles as pigs etc. It works, brilliantly. Joe Sacco, in his excellent repotage works such as “Safe Area Gorazde” and “Palestine” achieves a similar effect using “real people”. The main difference, I think, is that Sacco had first hand experience of war whereas Spiegelman is constructing a historical document of past events of which he did not have first hand experience.
The narrative works on several levels. it is a story of Spiegelman’s parents experiences in the war, their deprtation to Auschwitz, the death of their son, Richieu, whom the author, of course, never met. It also covers their liberation and journey to America, Spielgelman’s mother’s subsequent suicide and the later life of his father, Vladek, who is the main narrator. On top of this, Spiegelman’s difficult relationsip with his father is doccumented, both in the cantancaerous banter between them as Vladek is interviewed, and in flashbacks to Spiegelman’s younger days.
Thirdly, Maus contains material of direct relevance to healthcare studies: a powerful document of human suffering and death, and, in the little novella “prisoner from the Hell Planet” tucked into the work, a direct discussion of the after effects of the suicide of a close relative or friend.