Reassessing the Classics: MAUS

When most people think "comic book”, words that come to mind are not “literature” or “classic.” I used to be like that. The common image of the nerd with his stack of Superman comics was all I really knew about, until I stumbled upon a list in one of my favorite magazines that offered 'The Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.' I have always loved both literature and art, so I guess it was just a matter of time until I found the natural combination of the two. And Maus, the two-part comic book by Art Spiegelman, made me fall in love with the graphic novel.

'Maus' is not a comic book in the classical sense. A superhero isn’t taking on his arch nemesis; a writer is taking on his father’s struggle through the Holocaust. Though 'Maus' is filled with unique elements, perhaps the most interesting is the visual style Spiegelman he uses to tell his story. He distances himself from what is an understandably painful story by depicting his characters as animals instead of people; the Jews are mice (hence the title), the Nazis are cats, the Americans are dogs, and so on. The concentration camp Auschwitz is changed into 'Mauschwitz', creating enough distance to make a very dark, sad story more palatable.

'Maus' doesn’t just cover the story of how his father survived the Holocaust, but also explores other dynamics of their family. Art’s father is a cheap, miserable man after the war, and since Art was born in peacetime this is the only way he has ever known his father. He feels guilty that he dislikes someone who lived through so much. It also confronts Art’s survivor’s guilt; both of his parents lived through the Holocaust and he feels like no matter what he does he will never be as strong as both of them, and that his life will always be too easy.

'Maus', since it’s debut in the 1990s has become a classic in both the comic book and literary community for its poignant rawness and emotional self-probing. It is also a gateway comic book for literary types skeptical about the literary merit of comic books. Though it is devastatingly sad in some places, it really lets you see how much a well-written comic book can offer in literary merit. Even if you don’t move on to read any more comic books afterwards, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with 'Maus'.


Title Image sourced from San Diego Reader. Other images from Georges Comte and Graphic Classroom. Compiled by Nicole Horgan.