Maus: Art Spiegelman and the serious graphic novel

I have been overdosing on graphic novels. It started with a train journey home when I needed something quick to read and finish and before I knew it, I was shooting an email to Leaping Windows and asking them for recommendations about the absolutely must reads in the genre they are experts in. I have read/ bought several of them: Blankets, Maus I &II, Adi Parva, Sauptik, Burma Chronicles, Palestine, Watchmen – all in the last 2 months. Which also means I have a slightly lighter wallet.

Let’s start with Maus.
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This two-book collection by Art Spiegelman traces his father- Vladek’s journey in the World War II era. We all know the stories of holocaust – of people being forcefully taken to concentration camps, made to work beyond capacity, given very little or none to eat, children and older people killed in gas chambers – all of that.

Spiegelman’s story is beautifully written, or drawn. Here, the jews are mice (thus the name, MAUS) while the Germans are cats. There are also Polish soldiers – represented as pigs. Animal allegory has never been used better (okay, it has… in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but that’s a classic. And this is a modern day classic). It isn’t a comic book at all – it deals with loss (both at the concentration camps and later in life when Spiegelman loses his mother), with expectations, with hope and with the idea that some people find a way out of things. Vladek uses his talent to win the confidence of one Polish officer at the camp who gives him more food, more comfortable clothing etc. And yet, his friends suffer and many of them never do come out of the camp alive.

Maus underlines a lot of guilt – both in Spiegelman over the death of his mother, and then leaving his father behind alone; and in his father for having survived the camps while his friends did not. Then there is the underlying nature of Vladek to have nothing but the best for Spiegelman. This is seen clearly when he makes sure a young Spiegelman finishes all the food in his plate (having never had enough to survive when he was in Auschwitz) and his refusal to spend money and yet wishing to leave behind a hefty amount of money for his son.

With so many themes running in the graphic novels, and yet the drawings leading a light hearted touch to it – the books never become something you cannot read at one go. However, it does leave you thinking – which is what I believe is the best way to judge any book/ movie/ any good article in a magazine etc.

Take a look at some of the pages below.

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Maus is available on Amazon India (Rs 719) and Rediffbooks (Rs 680) as well as online versions (under 300 pages). It is likely to get included in the central board’s syllabus soon.

 

(extra: I had read an interesting article about Maus and postmodernism sometime back.  You can give it a read here http://www.popmatters.com/feature/189646-of-maus-and-men-postwar-identity-through-a-postmodern-lens-in-art-sp/ )

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