When Vladek Spiegelman took his son Arthur aside one day to teach him about the Holocaust, it was more than a history lesson; it was a survival lesson. He drew diagrams of the shelter in which he had hidden his family... [more]
When Vladek Spiegelman took his son Arthur aside one day to teach him about the Holocaust, it was more than a history lesson; it was a survival lesson. He drew diagrams of the shelter in which he had hidden his family -- not pictures, but simple, urgent drawings that mapped out, in the father's mind, what his surviving son should do if it ever happened again. Years later, Art Spiegelman would rely on the clarity and accessibility of the diagrams and drawings to animate his family's story in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Maus" books.
In "Maus" and "Maus II," Vladek narrates the story of his life through a series of simply rendered drawings. The comic-style works depict human characters as animals: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs. However, this is not a pessimistic comment on the nature of humanity; instead, it brilliantly allows Spiegelman to tell the most horrible of tales without realistically depicting human suffering. The animals provide the distance and depth of metaphor, while their flat visual renderings remind readers that these tales are the second-hand memory of a survivor's survivor. Spiegelman described his style: "Maus ...was...a transmission. I was transmitting further, and that required, all else aside, a greater degree of neutrality on the visual surface."
Holocaust art is held to strict standards of restraint and
responsibility. Because artistic virtuosity cannot eclipse the horror of the content, the technically perfect and the visually beautiful become suspect. Spiegelman's expressionistic drawings don't mimic Holocaust
iconography, but imitate the general media of the period: the animal characters were inspired by cartoon propaganda, and the black-and-white imagery simulates the grainy war photos and footage so familiar from wartime documentaries.
The narrative style is equally groundbreaking. Spiegelman fragments Vladek's story into three different time frames: pre-Holocaust, Holocaust, and post-Holocaust. This mixing of past, distant past, and present prevents the historical context from obliterating the personal narrative; we see Vladek as a free man, a prisoner, a survivor, and an irascible old man. This style is particularly interesting considering the fact that the Holocaust is cited as the breakdown point of traditional narrative. Spiegelman received a special Pulitzer prize for "Maus II" in 1992.
While "Maus" is his most famous project, it is not Spiegelman's only well-known endeavor. His cover illustrations and comic strips have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Playboy, Life, the Village Voice, and the Nation. Millions of children who have never read a whole comic book are familiar with Spiegelman's "Garbage Pail Kids" and "Wacky Packages" of the late '60s and early '70s. The card series featured unhygienic parodies of angelic children and off-kilter products based on popular household brands (like Moobelline, makeup for cows). Spiegelman is also the co-founder of Raw Books and Graphics. [show less]