The Complete Maus
Author: Art Spiegelman
Pages: 296 pgs.
Publish Date: October 2, 2003
Catalog ID: ISBN-10: 0141014083
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/a/1457/9780679406419
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 The main difference, I think, is that Sacco had first hand experience of war whereas Spiegelman is constructing a historical document of past events of which he did not have first hand experience.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.
An excellent review and a well deserved five stars. This is the book that along with Palestine and Safe area Gorazde made me realise that the graphic novel can tackle extremely sensitive or emotive subject matter in an accessible and thought provoking way. This is why, for me the graphic novel provides an ideal medium as a thought provoking teaching aid or a means of tackling difficult subjects in an accessible formatf or readers who may otherwise feel threatened by the subject matter. The medium can also articulate thoughts and emotions at completely different emotional level to a conventional written novel. Since reading Maus and Joe Saccos’ work I’ve embraced the medium as not only a credible art form but as tremendously entertaining and challenging material.
Reg Side says
Back when the first part of Maus was published in book form, Spiegelman promoted it in the UK. At one talk, Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil) had objected to the use of the term ‘graphic novel’, saying it made him want to puke. This seemed to disturb Spiegelman more than it should have – it was largely a book trade term used to tell where shops to put these comic collections on their shelves so that readers could find, not an act of cultural gentrification. He defended the term then as marketing – ie it doesn’t change the content – but it looks like the rebuke stuck.