||[Jan. 29th, 2008|01:11 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#95 MAUS – Art Spiegelman
"It would take many books, my life, and no one wants anyway to hear such stories."
Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek survived Auschwitz and, though the first book is subtitled “My Father Bleeds History”, Maus is as much about the author’s relationship with his father as it is about the Nazis. Seeing the everyday distance between father and son illustrated by their disagreements over how the story should be told and Art’s insecurity about including details of his argumentative father’s epic stinginess and closed-mindedness, enriches and grounds the more dramatic episodes like fighting for Poland, hiding in secret rooms and, finally, the struggle to survive a concentration camp.
This humanising element is especially necessary because of the conceit of the book, which depicts the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. Vermin and predators, it’s a perfect illustration of the way they perceived each other and of the foolish simplicity of dehumanising people. The metaphor is aware of its own ridiculousness – mice disguised in pig masks are hunted by cats holding dogs on leashes – and is one of the things Spiegelman agonises over in the second volume as he shows the media circus being attracted by the series after the success of his first volume.
Another way that metaphor that proves vital to Maus is by casting these events, over-familiar from books, movies and every second documentary on the history channel, in fresh light. These childlike depictions of atrocity and inhumanity are made shocking again because they’re rendered in a way we haven’t been desensitised to, combined with something we can’t help but associate with innocence. The cartoonish non-humanity of the characters ironically makes them easy to identify with, just like it was when we watched cartoons as children ourselves.