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“These three innovators (Spiegelman, Pekar, Jackson) build, each in his own way on traditional approaches to comics in order to expand the possibilities of the comic-book medium, this is history with a difference” this quote by Witek is expanding on the idea that these artists are wanting to tell the truth behind the history of something monumental, but also expand comic- books in ways that they never have before. The beginning of this article starts with background information about Art Spiegelman and his work in the 1980s. Spiegelman was awarded an annual award in a biography by the National Book Critics Circle. This was a headstart for comic books as a sequential art medium in 1987. Art was publically known at the time for his work as an artist, writer, and editor of underground comix. “The Holocaust comic” (the name given by the public) or “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” was one of the first works by Spiegelman that changed the way comics were viewed. The article continues on to explain the way Maus was written, and what meaning it had to Spiegelman. Maus was a story of his father who was a Polish Jew, and his mother who were survivors of Auschwitz during World War II. Different “races” were depicted in different ways such as Jews were mice, cats were Nazi’s, and pics were gentile poles etc. Art changed everything about what the public thought a comic book could be and instilled that comics could be taken seriously as an art form.
Spiegelman took a lot of heat from his story, Maus. The subject of the Holocaust during this time period was pretty much taboo to the American people. Generally speaking, people thought Maus to be a “grotesque degradation of the Holocaust, mocking the catastrophic sufferings of millions of humans being as the squirming of cartoon rodents” (97 Witek). The argument here is that something so horrific shouldn’t be documented in literature at all, versus the people who think awareness needs to be brought to the public. Most people allowed Spiegelman to have authority to speak about the Holocaust because he had a personal connection to the story. It is stated in the article that Art had a bad relationship with his father, and to further understand his relationship with him he needed to see first hand how the Holocaust affected both of his parents physically and mentally. The father and son relationship changes between the two of them when he is creating Maus, however; they both worked collaboratively in creating his father’s experiences into art. Besides the stylization of humans into mice and cats, Spiegelman wanted to make all of the stories told in his novel true. Even if that means the struggling relationship he has with his father, his mother’s suicide, and him being in a hospital for his mental health. He sugar-coated nothing in this story, which made it so convincing and intriguing to an audience. Spiegelman had a very well thought out reason behind making his characters animals. He was able to tell the story without to referring to Jews Nazis at all. He bypasses the different deep meanings that human characters would come with. He drew the animals in a very simplistic way, mice with big round eyes eluding the reader’s sympathy, along with the cats being drawn with big fangs. The public was used to animal cartoons such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse, but also cartoons such as Tom and Jerry. This genre of animal comics was geared toward a younger audience and this was the first animal comic geared toward adults. Art states “ using animals becomes a much more direct way of dealing with the material” (112).
A strength of this novel is its truth. His father Valdek explains his stories to his son in specific details of how the Holocaust really was. Seemingly making a comic of a subject as controversial as the Holocaust is a bold choice, however making the characters animals makes this story have a funny overlay to create a story that seems to be a seamless story. To instill that this story is truthful, he has his father tell him stories that do not pertain to the subject as well, such as love. He wants to pass on his father’s story as it truly happened. However, at a certain point in the writing process, he told his son parts of the story not to tell. Art did not listen and published the stories anyway. This hurt their relationship, even more, he is more concerned about writing his comic than to obey his father’s wishes. His father then destroys a journal from Art’s mother that was meant to be given to him. The book ends with Art walking away from his father calling him a “Murderer”. So to conclude Maus pushed the envelope when it came to comic books. He told a very realistic story with an animal characteristic overlay allowing for a difficult and emotional subject to be told with simplicity. Maus is iconic in American comics because of the way Art tells his father Vladek’s story. He uses the metaphor of depicting the characters as mice and cats to cushion the living hell that was the Holocaust for his father. Art is out to prove that truth-telling can be possible in the comic-book medium and it is expressed by Witik to be very successful as a story.
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