The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

Written By Jake Garner

“We passed the market where always we bought to eat, and passed even the street where we used to live, and we came ‘til the prison, and there they put us”

First of all, one thing needs to be established.  Under no circumstances should a comic, or to be more punctual, ‘graphic novel’, be snubbed upon face value. Comics have been a personal favourite of mine for a number of years, and a sense annoyance, and quite frankly impatience, surges through my veins when people say, ‘But are comics not for nerds and kids?’ Ok, well sure, both nerds and kids alike adore comics, that is true of course, but I would say to those who often rebuke comics, ‘You have clearly never read Maus have you?’

Billions of light years away from Stan Lee’s Earth 616, with its costumed heroes and technologically advanced villains, is Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The American cartoonist has completely defied all the heroic and honorary valour contained within your typical comic strip. Spiegelman uses his talent for illustration to contribute to the ever growing recollections of life as a Jew during World War II. Though he does it in an exceedingly unique way. Unlike your average body of text, the images that accompany the text move you to the point of no return; a sort of literary event horizon. It is true that the content of the text is not as graphic as, let’s say Miklos Nyiszli’s Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness account, but gets dam close as the illustration breathes life into the text.

 “All around was a smell so terrible, can’t explain… sweetish… so like rubber burning. And fat”

The Complete Maus is actually the arrangement of two volumes. My Father Bleeds History, written in 1986, was followed by the long awaited And Here My Troubles Began in 1991. Shortly following the execution of the second volume, Maus received the well-deserved Pulitzer prize in 1992, shelving it amongst the realms of the modern classics.

The comic focuses on the tragedy that was the Holocaust. Vladek, the tales chief character, is a Polish Jew caught up in the foul sweep of Nazi brush hairs. Initially, he finds himself joining the Polish forces, and in turn finds himself dragged into that familiar stream of individuals, whose torrent directed them directly towards the prison camp of Auschwitz. The story is a sort of chronicling of Vladek’s memories as he relays them to his son, Art Spiegelman. In this particular version of accounts, race is not just a political issue, but seems to be an extension of general persona and attitude. The Jewish characters are portrayed as frail mice. The Nazi enforcers are portrayed as cats, the mouse’s arch enemy. The Polish are shown to as pigs. The American personalities are depicted as dogs.

 “No. I remember only marching, not any orchestras…”

There is no shortage of themes to be taken away from Spiegelman’s work of literary art. Despite the obvious differentiation between animals, we get a sense of both virtuosity and malevolence in each and every race contained within the chronicle. The archetypal traits found in general morality are completely shattered, allowing room for a loss of values and a heightened sense of self preservation. Power is a treacherous mechanism, especially in the hands of power crazed Nazi felines.

Ultimately there is such a sheer amount of substance found in this book, that it is not necessary to outline the events that take place on its pages. Maus is a journey, and for that reason should be taken with (A), an open mind, and (B), no plans of sleep. Once you start turning the pages it becomes both demanding of your eyes, and problematical to stop reading. Maus is without a doubt one of those special books, in the sense that you never once pause to observe the page number you are on. It sucks you in harder than a Dyson hoover that only the Incredible Hulk can manoeuvre. There is just simply no time for a summary of happenings here, just pick up the book already.

“No. I remember only marching, not any orchestras…’


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