Art Spiegelman (1986), a creator, author, illustrator, interviewer, and narrator uses the medium of comics to narrate the experiences of his parents, Vladek and Anja Spiegelman, Jews who’d survived the Holocaust.
Jumping back and forth between the past and the present, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale tells two different stories; Vladek’s testimony as a Polish Jew during World War II, and Spiegelman’s (1986) interactions with his father during the interview process. Hillary Chute (2016), in her article, “The Shadow of a Past Time: History and Graphic Representation in Maus, ” justifies comics’ ability to represent history, through an analyzes of Spiegelmans (1986) graphic narrative. Chute (2016) emphasizes how the form of Maus, using language, ideas, and concepts can narrate the past through the comics page. How a story is told, from a visual perspective, has a significant impact on how the audience understands the content. Comics defined by Scott McCloud (1993) in Understanding Comics are “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”. The message behind a comic isn’t just in the content but in the design of the page.
Art Spiegelman (1986) successfully intertwines the past and present in Maus through the visual narrative and formal features using the comics medium. Nothing is simply inked on paper; every style of literature attempts to make invisible the visible. The medium of comics is able to do this remarkably well. Authors are able to juxtapose images from various time narratives; presenting different moments in time across the space of a page. Time is separated by individual frames; dividing panel by panel. The explanation of what is happening between the panels is described by McCloud (1993) as closure. Spiegelman (1986) uses closure on every single page of Maus, the majority of transitions happening scene-to-scene (different characters and different scenes). A clear example of closure in subject-to-subject transition can be found on page twelve of Maus: Vladek brings Artie into his old room so he can pedal, Artie asks his father about his time in Poland and the war, Vladek begins telling his story. Initially just static images, unified into a continued reality. In her article, Chute (2016) analyzes this same page, noting the mid-horizontal, elongated panel, the eliminated gutter (space between panels), and its implication of stillness. Furthermore, noticing the relationship between this panel, where Vladek first mentions his story, and the literal overlap it has to the iris diaphragm panel below that first presents the past.
Spiegelman (1986) is deliberate in his use of panel shapes and page layout, attempting to influence our interpretation of the progression of time. I personally notice the lettering on this page as significant in Maus’ visual narrative; the top of the first panel contrasts black from the room and white, and a bordered text of Artie’s narrator commentary is presenting in lower case lettering. Spiegelman (1986) could’ve bordered the text at the top of the panel, wrote it in the gutter or in the consistent uppercase lettering. I think he chooses to illustrate his narration as concurrent with the story, wanting to be in time, a part of that moment, moving along-side with the story; the small letters as symbolism not only to a different time but to the theme of smallness. Maus was written for people like me. People who hadn’t faced the actuality of the Holocaust in their own home, but are curious about how this event affected survivors, and their families.
Through Spiegelman’s (1968) Maus: A Survivors Tale, I understand how deep the scars from the Holocaust flow, and how children to survivors’ struggle with guilt and trauma. I’d learned about World War II in school, and my understanding came from my experience; Canadian history class, dates and facts, no emotion. Not only has my knowledge of events, such as the Polish response in World War II expanded, but as has my emotional comprehension to what the war psychological did to everyone involved. Chute (2016) discusses in her article, the first volumes subtitle, My Father Bleeds History, “Vladek’s bleeding is in Artie’s textual, visual and emotional rebuilding”, his son’s ability to not only get closure but perspective from Vladek’s narration. Similarly, as we the audience grow in awareness through Spiegelmans (1968) narration. The greatest feature of Maus to me is its ability to time travel, and take its readers along; comics as a medium have not only surpassed my expectation but have earned my respect and appreciation. Neither an essay, picture, book or film could tell Spiegelmans (1968) story so completely.
Maus: A Survivors Tale illustrates a horrible, national, historic genocide simply, with cats and mice. To consider the terror Jews faced during World War II takes courage, it’s not a light topic. Maus isn’t the whole story, it’s one story of the suffering of a survivor and his son. There’s a reason why Maus by Art Spiegelman (1986) is studied so intensely. Why academics like Hillary Chute (2016) have published articles such as, “The Shadow of a Past Time: History and Graphic Representation in Maus” analyzing Spiegelmans (1986) work. The medium of comics is powerful in its ability to narrate stories; to visually and textually present information. Spiegelmans (1986) visual narrative and formal structure takes his readers on a journey through time using panels and the space of a page; mingling Vladek’s past, and the present interview process. Maus is an important piece of history.
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