Art Spiegelman's Maus and the Literary Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2242 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 13  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology

Spiegelman's Maus And The Literary Canon

Spiegelman's Maus

Spiegelman's Maus and the Literary Canon

Upon examination of the evolution of the Graphic Novel, one discovers that amusing drawings have been around forever. But the rise of the newspaper industry in the late nineteenth century was the force that brought comics into everyday American households. From newspaper funny pages rose magazines devoted entirely to comics and superhero stories. From these magazines, rose book-length collections of previously published comics. However, most comics historians agree that the first real Graphic Novel was Will Eisner's a Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories published in 1978. Decidedly adult in its images, themes, and language, Eisner's book spoke to the generation that had first grown up with superhero comics in the 1940's and 1950's. Underground comix artists like Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb inspired the early graphic novelists. The label "comix" deliberately separated these artists from the respectable, Comics Code-obeying mainstream comic books (Graphicnovels.org/history and basics).

Siegelman began his extraordinary work as a cartoonist for this unorthodox "comix trade." He was named "the Ultimate Cartoonist" by Alernate Media.com for his precise and very creative renditions. In his own self-assessment, Siegelman had this to say:

One can become very cynical about the future of underground comix since my own experience as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City attests to this. Members of this unique comix breed have a much narrower readership in New York than in San Francisco. Most students taking Comic Studio Courses,

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For example, "Language of Comics," an aesthetics and history course which I was offering, consisted of nineteen-and-twenty-

year olds who had never heard of underground comix. Underlying prescriptions were alien to them (Art Spiegelman Conversations, 4).

This is reminiscent of Dr. Kurt Spellmeyer of Rutgers University when, in his outstanding text, the New Humanities Reader, written with colleague Richard E. Miller, he shares his discovery that most college students do not know how to "connect" and that this is the designated work of any one attempting to teach literary values today (Spellmeyer, Miller, p. ii).

Spiegelman contends, that to the true cartoonist, each strip has its own requirements. A corollary would be that artists acquire a penchant for detail, for close observation as well as a certain ability to absorb the correct ambience to fit the situation depicted.

His own work certainly reveals this accomplishment as well as the artist's ability to 'take a risk' with his own creativity. In Maus, Spiegelman has taken a most serious subject, the Holocaust and depicted the several levels of dramatic art present in that event as a comic risk-taker extraordinaire! And he succeeds.

Maus's work consists of two primary narratives. The first major narrative is directed by Art's father, Vladek Spiegelman, who offers the story of his experiences in the Holocaust, as told to his son through a series of interviews. The second major narrative focuses on Art's complex and conflicted relationship with his father between 1978 and 1982, while he

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interviews the old man. In addition to these primary narratives, there are also two "minor" narratives that appear only briefly within the story. The first, a short comic which Art Spiegelman originally published in 1972, which details the story of Art's mother's suicide in 1968. The second occurs at the beginnina of Maus II, takes place in 1987 shortly after the publication of Maus I, and this is a deeply personal, self-reflective narrative revealing the conflicting emotions of the author with regard to the father and to the publication of Maus (unc.com/Maus).

Although Maus is a comic book, its impact and complexity are far greater than most works of this medium. The story explores the nature of guilt, and the narrative serves as a meditation on the effects of a major historical event (Holocaust) on the lives of people who were born after the event. Equal parts fiction, biography, autobiography, and history, it is in many ways a book that rises above genre to become something completely unique -- an amazing and lasting history that is destined to become a classic.

Its future in the archives of literary criticism may take the same route as science fiction and become an integrated genre all its own, much to the chagrin of literary critics who considered it a non-literary fluke. Major shifts in the interpretation of literature brought about by theoretical discourses might, in fact, be thought of as the result of the widening or redescription of context. For example, Toni Morrison argues that American literature has been deeply marked by the often unacknowledged historical reference of slavery, and that this literaure's engagement with freedom -- the freedom of the frontier, of the open road, of the unfettered imagination -- should be read in the context of enslavement, from which they take

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significance. And Edward Said has suggested that Jane Austen's novels should be interpreted against a background which is excluded from them: the exploitation of the colonies of the empire which provides the wealth to support a decorous life at home in Britain. Meaning is context bound, but the context is boundless, always open to mutations under the pressure of theoretical discussions (Culler 92). Who is to say that Spiegelman's work is any different?

The Graphic Novel genre is one of the most fascinating in literature. While some critics censure the form, citing a lack of printed text and the presence of comic-book style drawings, its positive qualities are impressive, especially when the topic is as difficult as the Holocaust. Maus shines due to its impressive ability to "speak the unspeakable" by using popular maxim, "a picture is worth a thousand words," to perfection (Georgetown.edu).

The most important distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is man's ability to understand, to reason, and to think. Conscience and intelligence are perhaps the human race's greatest gifts. Since humans possess such qualities, it is often hard to try to understand the Holocaust without having been there. Quite possibly, as a method to deal with his own inability to comprehend the events of the Holocaust, Spiegelman uses animal characters instead of humans. The most important, Germans and Jews, are represented by cats and mice, respectively. Natural sworn enemies, both cats and mice lack reason and conscience. As a result, the Nazi cats find no fault in the systematic killing of Jewish mice. The image is also based on historical quotes, since Jews were called "the vermin of society" by the Nazis. The graphical novel format, in conjunction with the depiction of Nazis as cats and Jews as mice,

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permits Spielgelman to force the reader to abandon any preconceived notion of human nature, in keeping with Coleridge's "…suspension of disbelief" (Coleridge ).

Such an effect would have been quite hard to create if he had written a standard text, attesting to the incredible value of the novel's format. Attesting to the present growing popularity of Graphic Novels, one only needs to browse any Barnes & Noble store to note the increasing shelf space allotted them. In addition to this, the popularity of this genre is growing among young college students who find in it an outlet for story plots and emotions which would be hampered by the constriction of the accepted textual format. Indeed some universities have lauded MA candidates who have not only favored the Graphic Novel as material for theses but who have actually had these novels published (Outlook 2009).

Maus earned Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and became a commercial, literary, and critical success, drawing attention to Graphic Novels as a viable medium for serious literature. In addition to Maus, Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore's Watchman (1987) are two critically acclaimed stories which deconstructed the major themes and expectations of the traditional comic book superhero fantasy. Dark Knight Returns takes Batman, a classic comic book hero, and recontextualizes his purpose within a gritty, neo-fascist future, while Watchmen presents a realistic world where the introduction of a god-like superhero creates lasting socio-political effects. The sophistication and popularity of these Graphic Novels, among others, have opened the doors for artists and writers to use the medium to create more complete and non-traditional narratives (enotes 2011).

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To further enhance that argument, Scott Marshall contends "…that it is [at the same time easier and most] compelling for a visual age to break down comics structurally and textually since the very components contribute to the story" (4).

Responding to the same premise, Paul Aleixo and Murray Buillon conceived of a way of making the often difficult subject of psychology appealing to students by creating Biological Psychology: an illustrated survival guide. The comic-book style was conceived as the "…best way to demystify what is perceived as a difficult subject" (33).

Observing the audience response to the recently popular Iron Man films, as well as the disputes over Cameron's ambitious Spider Man,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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