It’s not every day that a graphic novel wins a Pulitzer Prize, but that’s exactly what Art Spiegelman did with Maus back in 1991. It was the first time that a graphic novel or a comic book had ever won the coveted award.
Maus is Spiegelman’s masterpiece – in fact, it took him thirteen years to finish it. In it, he deals with the suicide of his mother, the eventual death of his father and the evils that they struggled with during the holocaust.
The Complete Maus is split in to two halves – ‘My Father Bleeds History’, which deals largely with his father’s experiences in Auschwitz, and ‘And Here the Troubles Began’, which continues the journey through history and also covers his father’s death and Spiegelman’s subsequent discussions with his therapist.
Maus shouldn’t be dismissed as ‘just another holocaust book’, though. It’s a chronicle of real people and the tragedies that befell them, dealing with Vladek Spiegelman’s disapproval of his son’s career choice and the troubled relationship between the two men.
Maus is rendered all the more poignant by Spiegelman’s minimalist drawing technique and his decision to represent different nationalities as different animals. Jews are represented as mice, while the Germans are shown as cats and the Polish are pigs.
The storyline is gripping and easy to follow, despite the fact that it jumps from the past to the present as Spiegelman illustrates his struggle to draw information from his elderly father, who is often unwilling to talk about his past and who went so far as to destroy all of his wife’s written records of their time in Auschwitz.
Despite being what can only be described as a stereotypical miserly jew (I’m not a racist, honest), the character of Vladek Spiegelman is loveably infuriating, and his broken English is faithfully reproduced in such classic lines as: ‘Friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!’
But it’s the little details that make Maus a masterpiece, like the way that the path to Sosnowiec on the page above is twisted in to the shape of a Swastika. It’s a credit to Spiegelman’s skills as a writer and illustrator that he can create a piece of minimalist art that still surprises you with the details.
And the best thing? Maus is for readers of all ages, from teenagers to adults and OAPs. It has a universal appeal that’s absent from most graphic novels, and has introduced the medium to a whole new audience.
Maus successfully made the leap from underground comic book to mainstream graphic novel, often featuring as a set text on English Literature courses at secondary school, sixth form and university level. In fact, that’s exactly where I discovered it – it was required reading for a Graphic Narratives module.
It taught me a lot.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman was first published in 2003.
At the time of writing, it was ranked 5/5 on Amazon and was available for £11.09.