Sunday, November 20, 2016

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale

Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” the most unconventional great book yet written about the Holocaust, the one that turned Nazis into cats and Jews into mice and Poles into pigs. It was the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize, and it changed the way comics — the term seems wrong for “Maus” — are viewed in America. It proved they could be serious art.

Art Spiegelman doesn't draw comics. It might be clever to say he draws tragics, but that would be inaccurate too. Like its predecessor, "Maus: A Survivor's Tale II. And Here My Troubles Began" is a serious form of pictorial literature, sustaining and even intensifying the power of the first volume. 

The author and artist Art Spiegelman continues the story of the character Artie Spiegelman, who is trying to reconstruct in cartoon form the lives of his father, Vladek, and his mother, Anja, both survivors of Auschwitz. In 1968 Anja committed suicide, and the first part of "Maus" ends with the young Artie calling his father a "murderer" for having destroyed Anja's wartime memoirs without even having read them. 

With a distinctly post-modern flourish, Mr. Spiegelman reminds us throughout his text that "Maus II" is a narrative about incidents that, in many of their details, may be incommunicable. One might conclude that a "comic strip" portraying the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, the Poles as pigs, the French as frogs, the Americans as dogs and the Swedes as reindeer would divert the reader from a meaningful pursuit of Artie's troubled questions -- but this is not at all the case.

The "meaning" is in the effort, not the results, and the animal characters create a distancing effect that allows us to follow the fable without being drowned in its grim, inhuman horrors. Tensions abound: Vladek has forgotten little of his ordeal, but he doesn't like to think about it and he only speaks of it at Artie's prodding. 

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale (Sep 1992)

But Maus is not about rounding off the edges of the past. It’s an attempt to understand a man and his place in history through small, evocative drawings. Spiegelman’s mice are no Disney concoctions — their blocky solemnity defies cuteness. They’re intentional abstractions, meant to put off pathos until we can take in the details of what happened. Then, and only then, are we allowed to get closer. At the very end of this brilliant memoir, Spiegelman prints a photo of his father in 1945 — and with one devastatingly simple step leads us back into the world of man. 

Read here the powerful, pantheon graphic novel by Spiegelman about the Holocaust, which revolves around his survivor father's experiences, and won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

   >> MAUS II (Size: 13.7 MB)