Posted by: Brian Hibbs on March 2, 2008
Our second book is one that I hadn’t read in nearly 20 years before opening it back up yesterday. The book is extremely well known, but, at a guess, the vast majority of Comix Experience regulars have never read it. It is one of the oldest continually-in-print comics on the American market, too.
More after the jump!
art speigelman’s MAUS is a very important book. I mean I know, “duh” and all, but it really is the best known comic in the “real world”, having won the Pulitzer; but it’s also entirely important as a piece of work, both as a piece of reportage and history, as well as a completely honest piece of autobiography.
Some people complain about the anthropomorphics, but I think the distance they create from the subject is a good and necessary one, because the book is as least as much of a story of Vladek Speigelman of the “now” (although he passes in the middle of the book) as it is of the atrocities of “then”.
I had totally forgotten, in the 20 years since I last read MAUS, how much of the book is set in “now” — it’s a comic about the Holocaust, after all, and that’s what it is “best known for”; but on this read, it was all the “current” auto-bio that struck me more.
art spiegelman is brutally honest in his relationship with his father and how he perceives him, and what his faults are — modern Vladek is not portrayed as a wonderful human being in the slightest. He’s racist, grasping, penny-pinching, inflexible.
And yet he’s a hero. Everyone who survived the concentration camps is, but Vladek is portrayed as nearly super-human in his cleverness, thrift, trust of his fellows, and inventiveness — he does things and survives situations which are mind-boggling to me, and is portrayed doing it nearly with panache.
Its the dichotomy of those two portrayals, and speigelman’s honesty in his conflict about them that makes this one of the most powerful comics of the twentieth century. Had it “just” been about the Holocaust it would still be an important book, because it’s important that we never forget the types of atrocity that man can rain on his fellow man, but it’s the acknowledgment that even a heroic survivor like Vladek is just as human (good and ill) as the rest of us that’s the real heart of the book.
MAUS is an essential book for any store to stock, and for any comics reader to read.