14 July 2010

Maus: Serious, Innovative, Fuzzy Animals.

Before the introduction to Maus: A Survivors Tale, by Art Spiegelman, the following quote of Adolf Hitler appears “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.” How appropriate then that Spiegelman portrays all of his characters as separate species based on their race. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Americans are dogs, and the Poles are pigs. Its as if Spiegelman includes this quote to say “this is not necessarily the way I see it, but the way ‘they’ see it.” It also serves as an effective way of telling the story of his parents’ experience during the Holocaust.

Maus is the biography of Spiegelman's father Vladek Spiegelman. In Chapter 5, “Mouse Holes” the book portrays the author and his father discussing the father's experiences in German occupied Poland during the second world war. The experiences Vladek recounts to his son are illustrated in the book as flashbacks. Vladek tells his son about life in the ghettos. He describes sending his first son, Richieu, to live with his aunt in another ghetto that was supposed to be safer. Later Vladek and his wife Anja, Art's mother, find out that the aunt had poisoned herself, her child, and Richieu in order to spare them from going to the concentration camps. Vladek also describes hiding out in secret bunkers to avoid the Germans, and eventually leaving the ghettos in disguise.

Maus is a very powerful comic. The way the characters are portrayed, how they talk,is in some ways very realistic, apart from the fact that everyone is depicted as furry animals. In a way its kind of funny to think of a comic written about the Holocaust, especially one in which all of the characters are talking animals, but it works perfectly the way Spiegelman implements it. The use of animals adds to the story, and does not take away from it or make it seem any less serious.

Its great to read a comic that does something really different, and I can see why this particular comic won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. I think Spiegelman was very brave to write Maus. Not only for being a pioneer in the field of comics, and doing something creative and innovative with comics, but also for opening up his family's history for everyone to see.