Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History

Art Spiegelman. Maus. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

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Maus is the story about Art Spiegelman trying to get his father, Vladek, to tell him about his experiences during the Holocaust in Poland. This first book in the two-part series deals with Vladek's life immediately before the Nazi invasion into Poland and the very beginnings of the Holocaust, where Jews are just (at least in his area) beginning to be rounded up and shipped off to various concentration camps throughout the country. It chronicles Vladek's various near misses, tragedies, and the constant rise and fall of his station in life and his hope.
Written as a graphic novel in comic book, this story takes a very unique spin on the Holocaust and shows it from a very different perspective and in a different light than previous accounts have. While some people might be a little bit leery of how appropriate the comic genre is for portraying such a horrific event, this book can easily be said to be one of the most powerful, moving, and unique accounts of the Holocaust. The comic is entirely in black and white, which helps to portray the darkness, barrenness, desopation, and despair of those on the bad end of the Holocaust. The Jews are portrayed as Mice, the Non-Jewish Poles as Pigs, and the Nazis as Cats. This offers an interesting commentary on the people involved in this tragic moment in human history. The allegorical weight these animal forms lend to their bearers is reminiscent of Orwell's Animal Farm, without limiting the scope or depth of each individual to the range appropriate of his or her species. Rather, these characterizations subtlety reinforce the narrative's careful consideration of various dimensions of humanity.
One thing that this book does particularly well is that it really captures the idea that this is the story of Art's father, as told told in his own words. The transitioning from the present story sessions to the actual events of the story gives an amazing storytelling quality to the book. Vladek's tale acts as a sort of canvas, or a background, to another story that is being told; the relationship between Art and his father is also at the heart of Maus. Indeed, their sometimes strained and uncertain relationship highlights the discontinuity that exists between two mice of very different generations. Art's questions about his father's propensity for acting out certain Jewish stereotypes, and Vladek's inability to understand his son, offer readers of Maus a sincere and complex dynamic that draws them further into each character. Here is a narrative that is at once a powerfully drawn comic, and a deeply profound novel suitable for a multitude of readers.

Recommendations for Teachers:

One thing that would be really interesting to do with this book would be to read it alongside another Holocaust story such as Night by Elie Wiesel, or maybe Number the Stars by Lois Lowry—though this might be for a younger audience than Maus—and compare how each genre tells the story of the Holocaust. You could look at the strengths and weaknesses of each medium, and discuss specifics things that each book does particularly well, or not so well. It would be a good way to get students to realize that just like skinning cats, there is more than one way to tell a story. I think this particular exercise could do a lot to encourage and stimulate students' imagination and perhaps motivate them to look at texts and reading in different ways. If you wanted to take this a little further, a good exercise would be to have students take a small section from each book and rewrite in the style of the other and then see how the change in format affects the overall effect and impact of the story. Again, this could stimulate students' imagination and allow them to showcase some abilities/talents that might otherwise go unknown by looking purely at more tradition texts and genres.
It is important to note that this book was created as a graphic novel for a reason, or for many different reasons. Some examples being that the humans are substituted for animals, and that this type of story is best related to a reader with the graphic novel style, or one could say a meta-narrative style. Another activity that could be used with this book is to have the students interpret the symbols and meanings of the many different animals used throughout the novel and compare their interpretations within a small group or with a partner. Also, have the students write down questions regarding the novel that deal with their opinions on using animals instead of humans for characters, and what they think Spiegelman was trying to get across or achieve with this tactic.

About Name of Author
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Art Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden on February 15, 1948 to the proud parents of Vladek and Anja. Shortly into his childhood, the Spiegelman family immigrated to the United States to establish residence in Rego Park, New York. Once in his teen years, Spiegelman rejected his parents' direction toward dentistry and instead started studying the concept of cartooning. He graduated from the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan where he went on to go to Harpur College to study art and philosophy. However, he did not graduate from Harpur College, but recieved honorary doctorate 30 years later.
Spiegelman's big break happened when he obtained a job as a creative consultant for Topps Bubble Gum Co. During his time (1965'-87') with Topps, he designed great novelity items such as Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids. Toward the end of his career with Topps (1986), he published the graphic novel Maus, which five years later, brought Maus II.

MAUS I: A Survivor's Tale
MAUS II: And Here My Troubles Begin
In the Shadow of No Towers

As of now, Art Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly are working on a project called //Little Lit//. Little Lit is a series of graphic books that are directed more toward younger children. In this collection there are four books that contain stories and art from various contributors. One in general that most people might know is Martin Handford, known for his //Where's Waldo// series.

Big Fat Little Lit
Dark and Silly Night
Strange Stories
Fokelore and Fairy Tales

Another interesting thing about Art and Françoise is that they co-edited a magazine called //RAW//. RAW was a comic anthology of 11 issues that contained work from many different contributors. If this is something that is interesting, please continue to look into it, because details were kind of sketchy on it.

Video Interview with author Art Spiegelman

In this video, interviewer Stanley Crouch talks with Art Spiegelman about his story Maus. Spiegelman talks about how many people and many book stores simply do not know where to put this story on the shelf--whether it should be fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc. They also discuss the character of Vladek, Art's real-life father and main character of Maus. This is a very interesting watch for those interested in gaining a bit more insight behind the beautiful art that is Maus.

Additional Resources:
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - The museum's website, which contains a wealth of information, resources, and links.
  • Teaching Maus - Has some links and tips about ways to teach Maus in the classroom. Part of larger site by Laguardia Community College dedicated to the graphic novel with various links and resources.
  • OzComics - A discussion forum on the benefits of teaching graphic novels in the classroom, includes links.
  • A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust - A site that looks at many different texts and ways to teach holocaust literature.
  • Comic Creator: Art Spiegelman - A website that goes into a bit more detail of Spiegelman's life and also some of his other works.
  • Innovative Teaching - Comic Books in the Classroom - This site goes into the validity of using comic books and graphic novels in the classroom and highlight some of their benefits.
  • Read Yourself RAW - This is a site that might be the a loose continuation of RAW Magazine. This site contains profiles of graphic artists and reviews of comics and graphic novels.
  • Interveiw - This is an interview of Françoise Mouly conducted by Christian Hill about Little Lit.
  • Maus--Everything you need to know about Maus
  • Great Graphic Novels - A great resource for highly awarded and most read graphic novels for teens.
    --Eli Barsy
    --Brad Hendershot
    --Mike Wise
    --Eric Owen
    --Griffin Cobean
    Check out our reviews of Hatchet by Gary Paulson & Monster by Walter Dean Myers