Showing the invisible: A review of Maus

Last week, we discussed in class the differences between text and images. As we were describing each of these two mediums, someone brought up this really interesting definition from one of the articles we read that stuck with me for the rest of that day. They quoted, “Images are powerful because they intervene against a culture of invisibility.” As I connect this concept with the graphic novel Maus written by Art Spiegelman, I can say without a doubt this book wouldn’t be the same and it wouldn’t have the same impact on people if it was just simply written. Although text forces us to use our imagination and, according to Kress, it also compels us “to fill the words with meaning”, when you read a graphic novel like Maus you can’t deny the power and emotion that permeates every single image. Images are powerful and they add a whole new meaning to a text. For me, it feels like they bring life to the story and the invisible becomes reality.

Another aspect that grabbed my attention in Maus is how Spiegelman depicted all these themes about humanity in such a honest, beautiful, and even funny way. There was no such a thing as perfect characters in his narrative. Everyone was dealing with some type of dysfunction and I believe this added much more value to the book. Through the pages there were moments filled with hatred, racism, violence, genocide, pain, despair, anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, love, hope, resignation, forgiveness, faith, joy, and all of their complexities involved. The way Spiegelman presented his relationship with his father was so real and open. I really admire him for showing so much vulnerability.

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Image via: http://www.nycgraphicnovelists.com/2010/11/art-spiegelman-still-movin-with-comix.html

I’ve read books about the Holocaust, watched several movies, and I even visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. last year. All these experiences moved me tremendously, but I never thought a comic book would speak to me in such a purposeful way like Maus did. The impeccable narrative combined with the powerful images and Spiegelman’s transparency changed my view on comics and opened my eyes to this whole new world.

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Images Toned Down the Violence?

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When I heard in class that we would be reading Maus by Art Spiegelman. At first I thought man just another boring book that we have to read for english class and pretend that we enjoyed it. To my surprise instead of a boring book we got to read a graphic novel now, I personally have never read a graphic novel before so I didn’t really know what to expect. Then as I opened the book I saw that the book was about the author’s fathers experience in the Holocaust this really caught my attention because the Holocaust was such a huge tragedy in history. Then as I continued to read i noticed that although the story is accurately  told the images that Spiegelman created showed the world in almost a cartoony way. With the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Pols as pigs. I found this so interesting that while the subject is very gritty and traumatizing that Spiegelman would choose to create his world with animals. Although the idea of the German cats chasing the Jew mice creates a metaphor for how the Jews were hunted and felt like. Crafting his world in this cartoon like sense almost downplays the violence and hatred that his father and millions of Jews experienced, instead of wanting us to feel the emotions of the characters Spiegelman almost turns his fathers story of survival into a book that just wants you to understand the facts. At points in the book the images do almost make you feel how depressing life was for example the image of the Nazis smashing kids into the wall and blood is splattered all over the wall this shows the gritty and evil violence that is unfathomable to this day. I enjoyed reading the book overall and enjoyed reading a different genre of book and although the images may have toned down the violence and detached the audience the horror that many faced will never be forgotten of how in the face of evil they survived.

The Depth of a Graphic Narrative: An Overview of Maus II

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In Art Speigelman’s Maus II, he re-establishes the various animals that represent the certain groups of human characters. This may seem like yet again, a symbolic interpretation of his narrative. However, as I read on, I felt that he went deeper into why he chose to do this. And what about Artie’s mother? I felt greatly disappointed that we couldn’t hear her own side of the horrors she faced. This as well, made more sense to me as I read on.

Artie adds several new animals to his visuals. A moose(Swedes), frogs(French), and dogs(Americans). It was the part in chapter three when Francoise picks up the hitch-hiker that made me realize why Artie put people as animals instead of humans in his comics. Vladek yells to Francoise, “a hitch-hiker? And-OY-it’s a colored guy, a Shvartser!” I was rather surprised to hear Vladek say this. Even as the friendly hitch-hiker(who was represented as a black dog)rode with them, Vladek cursed under his breath in Polish. Once the man leaves, Vladek makes a hateful claim; “I had the whole time to watch out that this Shvartser doesn’t steal our groceries from the back seat!” Francoise puts it all into perspective when she defiantly yells, “that’s outrageous! How can you, of all people, be such a racist! You talk to the blacks the way the Nazis talked to the Jews!” This made me realize that hatred didn’t start until people were put into categories such as social class, race, religion, gender, and sexuality. It is because of these categories that we have hatred, genocide, and war. When Vladek replies, “it’s not even to compare. The Shvartsers to the Jews!” It pained me to realize that hatred is instilled in us all. This is why Artie put humans in different animal categories. After all, with all this hatred and death; could human beings really do this to each other?

And what about Anja? She went through just as much as Vladek went through. Why did Vladek have to throw out all her memories? It greatly disturbed me how Anja didn’t get the chance to justify her suicide. But when Artie goes to talk to Pavel, his shrink in chapter two, it brought an insight  to not only her own story we couldn’t hear, but all the other Jews who last their lives. Artie explains that even though his success with his first part of Maus, “it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.” Pavel then turned Artie’s perspective around by saying that “maybe your father needed to show that he was always right-that he could always survive-because he felt guilty about surviving.” They then talk about survival. Artie feels that “life equals winning, so death equals losing.” Pavel explains, “but it wasn’t the best people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!” Pavel then added, “the victims who died can never tell their side of the story, so maybe it’s better not to have any more stories.” It was this meeting that made me realize a sad but important truth. Anja wasn’t the only one that couldn’t share her story. Many more honorable Jews had died that didn’t get to tell their story as well. And maybe there were those that didn’t deserve to survive that did. However, this wasn’t Artie’s story he was sharing. This was his fathers survival story, and how his father told it to “the REAL survivor.”

The brutality of the Holocaust is indescribable to many. This could be said for Art Speigelman when he first decided to take on the challenge of telling his fathers story. Pavel said to Artie that “many books have already been written about the Holocaust. What’s the point? People haven’t changed…” This is why Art made the Graphic Narrative that he did. He incorporated a harrowing and gripping text with symbolic and even detailed images to portray a Holocaust we have never read or seen before.

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