Sunday, August 11, 2013

Here He Comes To Save The Day

Metamaus is an odd project, when you think about it.  I just read the book, which is all about the  making of the comic book Maus, but Maus was already about the making of itself.

Let me back up a little.  Art Spiegelman was a cartoonist of some renown in underground circles when he came up with the idea of Maus.  He was born in the late 40s to two Holocaust survivors, and grew up in the U.S.  In 1972 he did a three-page cartoon about his father Vladek's experience in the war.  He thought the subject could be turned into a graphic book--I don't call it a graphic novel since it's not really fiction, even though it's often categorized as such.  What Spiegelman believed might take a couple years turned into a major project that wasn't published until 1986 (and that was part I--the second part came out in 1991).

Maus told the story of his father and the Nazis, but much more.  While much of the narrative takes up Vladek's tale, there's a concurrent story regarding Art's interviews and sometimes troubled relations with his father in the present.  We also learn about his mother, Anja, who committed suicide when Art was 20; Vladek's second wife--also a survivor--Mala; and Spiegelman's French wife Francoise.

So the book itself is told from a meta point of view, which means this new book might be called Metametamaus.

Most of the book is an interview with Spiegelman by Hillary Chute, a literature professor at the University of Chicago.  As you might expect, the book is lavishly illustrated, with much work from Spiegelman but also many drawings and photos from other sources.

Spiegelman has had years to think about Maus and is articulate and well-reasoned.  He explains why he chose the project, how he did it (lots of drawing and lots of research), why he chose to do it in comic form and why the animals. Oh yes, if you're not aware, in Maus the Jews are drawn as mice, the Germans are cats, the Poles are pigs and so on.

Maus was a major success, selling in the millions and winning many awards, including a Pulitzer.  It made Spiegelman famous and (I assume) rich, but when he started the project, there was no reason to believe it would be a life-changing event.  Spiegelman figured it'd maybe sell a few thousand copies and he'd move on to his next project.  He'd published chapters in his magazine, Raw, but had trouble selling the whole thing as one piece--it was turned down by almost every major publishing house. Only through connections he had at Pantheon was any publisher willing to take a chance.

Spiegelman's interview is the most compelling part of the book, but there's plenty more, including short interviews with his wife, son and daughter, a Spiegelman family tree, a transcript of interviews with Vladek and a timeline of Maus-related events.  There's even a DVD with more extras.

I recommend this book, though I'd more strongly recommend you read the original Maus--now readily available in one volume--before you check this out.


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