Monday, January 06, 2014

'Maus' Creator Art Spiegleman Lights Up New York

Cover of volume 1 of Spiegelman's 'Maus'
There are an enormous array of artistic forms of creative expression that examine the impact of the Holocaust.

From paintings, sculptures and plays, to an incredibly wide range of scholarly articles, books, films, documentaries and music.

The list is justifiably long; as were the millions of innocent victims of that heinous and staggering crime against humanity.

One of the most innovative, genuinely touching and deeply personal of these is the graphic novel 'Maus', written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman.

Earlier this afternoon Spiegelman was interviewed on the Leonard Lopate show on NPR in part to promote a retrospective of his work that will be on display at the Jewish Museum until March 24th.

You can click here to listen to the interview on the Website.

First published in 1991, 'Maus' was not without controversy for Spiegleman's fascinating creative choice to use animals to depict the characters in his graphic novel; Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, ethnic Poles are pigs and French are frogs.

He chose mice as his protagonists as a play on the German propaganda of the earlier part of the 20th century that frequently depicted Jews as vermin.

'Maus' was published in two volumes (the 2nd came out in 2004) and was the very first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. If you've never read it don't be fooled, the story is totally engrossing, the characters intense and multidimensional and the subject matter is as terrifying illustrated as a comic as the events it depicts.

In some ways it being drawn as a comic lends itself to a hyper-realism that's one of the most emotional stories I've ever read; I try to read 'Maus' at least once a year, and it still brings me to tears.

The story is based on extensive interviews Spielgelman conducted with his father Vladek, a moody eclectic, colorful Holocaust survivor from Rego Park, NY who was often estranged from his son.

One of the strengths of the story is that it depicts not only Spielgelman's real struggles with his aging father in terms of their rocky relationship, his own identity as the son of a Holocaust survivor and Vladek's telling his story of the Holocaust in series of flashback sequences that stretch over two volumes; but Speigelman also brilliantly tells the story of his efforts to create the very story that would become 'Maus'.

It's a brilliant and educational piece of art and one I highly recommend for those who've heard of it but never read it.

There's no question Spiegelman's career merits a retrospective at a museum to examine the span of his work. "Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix: A Retrospective" will be on display at the Jewish Museum in New York City (5th Avenue and 92nd Street) through March 24th.

Speigleman will also be on-hand for a 90-minute multimedia presentation called "Wordless!" at BAM in Brooklyn on Saturday January 18th at 7:30pm. He'll be discussing "the battle between words and pictures" and the evolution and impact of the graphic novel as a serious art form accompanied by live jazz from Phillip Johnston. Tickets are $30.

I'm definitely going to try and catch both; even though he did make the cats Nazis.

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