Overtime, I’ve come to be very appreciative of being able to utilise comics as medium to express and communicate my ideas, regardless of how blunt and under appreciated these ideas might seem. The interest for such was born from daily political cartoons within the pages of daily newspapers I’d have the opportunity to observe growing up in Nigeria, which constantly tackled issues that centred on the many plights faced by those categorised within society as ”middle-working class”. The consistent turmoil within the country, as well as the issue of inconsistent or the lack of the basic amenities within a majority of parts of the country under the regime of the military were common subjects that were consistently highlighted.
While stumbling upon marvel comic classics like Spider-Man, and dc favourites would generate the much needed interest to keep me wide-eyed and transfixed on every page and pane (while I worked towards copying every panel into ripped-up photographic albums), it wasn’t until a chance encounter with Art Spiegelman’s Maus in my later years that I grew to be extremely appreciative of the medium from a much more political stand-point.
ART SPIEGELMAN- MAUS
Maus is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, serialized from 1980 to 1991. Spiegelman depicts himself interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. Employing a postmodern approach, Maus shows Germans and Poles as cats and pigs, while resenting jews as mice. The body of work has often being categorised by critics as a memoir, biography, history, fiction amongst many other categories, and it became the first graphic novel to attain the feat of clinching the Pulitzer prize.
Maus tackles the problem of representing the historical catastrophe, that is the holocaust, and does justice to what happened within such a period, without falling short of the horrific atrocities via the literary form: the comic. Spiegelman was a key figure in the underground comic scene, which emerged in the 1960s. Unlike mainstream comics with their superheroes, underground comics challenged all forms of authority and took a darkly ironic view of society.
Beginning in 1978 in New York City, Spiegelman talks with his father Vladek about his Holocaust experiences, gathering material for the Maus project he is preparing. In the narrative past, Spiegelman depicts these experiences, from the years leading up to World War II to his parents’ liberation from the Nazi concentration camps. Much of the story revolves around Spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father, and the absence of his mother who committed suicide when he was 20. Her grief-stricken husband destroyed her written accounts of Auschwitz. The book uses a minimalist drawing style and displays innovation in its pacing, and structure, and page layouts.
A three-page strip also called “Maus” that he made in 1972 gave Spiegelman an opportunity to interview his father about his life during World War II. The recorded interviews became the basis for the graphic novel, which Spiegelman began in 1978. He serialized Maus from 1980 until 1991 as an insert in Raw, an avant-garde comics and graphics magazine published by Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly, who also appears in Maus. A collected volume of the first six chapters that appeared in 1986 brought the book mainstream attention; a second volume collected the remaining chapters in 1991. Maus was one of the first graphic novels to receive significant academic attention in the English-speaking world.
Spiegelman’s distortion of the characters, giving them heads and various other characteristics of other animals, was done in light of reality being too much for comics. It was done in light and reference to Nazi propaganda films which depicted jews as vermin. Spiegelman derived the mouse as symbol for the Jew from Nazi propaganda, emphasized in a quote from a German newspaper in the 1930s that prefaces the second volume: “Mickey Mouse is the most miserable idea ever revealed … Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal … Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!”