– “Another holocaust story? Don’t we have enough of those?”
– “Making it about cats and mice? That seems trivializing…”
– “Why are so many literary graphic novels somewhat autobiographical? It’s self-indulgent.”
But what hasty assumptions to make without reading something first! I needed to see what this proclaimed “masterpiece” from the early 1990s was myself. Maus itself is not without some flaws and uncomfortable feelings, but it really exceeded my expectations, given the doubts seeded into my mind by some of the people around me. And yes, I’ll concede that maybe there are many tales of the holocaust out there, but aren’t there just as many (if not more) in every other genre? This graphic novel is clearly made for people who are interested in the subject. Without that interest, however, I could see why someone might just brush it aside, or read it at the most superficial and hasty levels (which I’m sure to get to).
The story of Maus itself is about a young author and artist, Art, asking his aging father, Vladek, about his life as a Jewish man during World War II, so that he can write a book about his parents’ experiences. Aha! The classic, “graphic novel memoir about the artist gaining acceptance by their parents for their work” story…I’ve seen this a few times before, and yes indeed, this is in fact about Art Spiegelman’s father himself. How Spiegelman chooses to represent his characters, however, is in the form of animals: Most notably, Jewish characters (even converted ones, like Art’s wife) are shown as mice, while Germans are represented by cats, native citizens of Poland as Pigs, and Americans as Dogs.
If you are interested, you can find out what I thought about it (in the most meandering of ways): HERE.