|Final Project Paper on Maus by Dawn Hall 11/28/2008
Introduction to Literature
The process of using illustrated narrative, where words become the picture, is one of the most effective methods of telling a story as evidenced by the impact of Maus by Art Spiegelman. Spigelman, a well known cartoonist, has created more than just a cartoon. He has helped to define the term “graphic novel”. The word cartoon comes from “cartone”, an Italian pasteboard used in the 14th and 15th centuries.1 Cartoons are often humorous or satirical and have a very colorful history. However, the term “graphic novel” describes much more than the mere comic book. A “graphic novel” can be fiction or nonfiction, satire, manga, fantasy or about superheroes. Many classic tales are being recreated in this form, even though there is much discussion in the literary community regarding their use for instruction instead of the classic written form. Spigelman’s use of this literary form, as graphic novel in general, embraces the multimedia nature of today’s culture.2
Some of the basic tools needed by a graphic artist are clearly illustrated in the novel Maus. Spigelman draws himself sitting before his desktop drawing board and worktable, drawing tool in hand. Using these tools and his father Vladek’s story of persecution in the Holocaust, Spiegelman created a memorable, powerful visual novel using comic art.
Spiegelman drew Maus in its actual size to keep his work in its original state. He successfully differentiates this graphic novel as a work of nonfiction, as reality. The pictures are very detailed. Spiegelman reworked each panel innumerable times, tracing and retracing the contours of each drawing with multicolored inks until he arrived at the perfect synthesis of form and content.3
Anthropomorphized animals are frequently used by cartoonists. This means the animals have been given humanized expression and activity. Art Spiegelman uses the cats for Nazis and the mice for the Jews in his novel Maus. Not only are the drawings anthropomorphized but they are also iconic. The faces of the Jewish characters in this story are very simple and mask-like at times. Spiegelman seems to want the reader to project his own thoughts and feelings to the characters. These characters could be any of the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust. They are disturbing from the very beginning because of their lack of facial detail. We are forced to look at the stereotypical propaganda the Nazi’s used to portray the Jewish race.
Spiegelman also effectively uses cartooning devices and visual cues to give his characters emotion and expression. He portrays the cold bleak despair of the Holocaust victims on the trains as they travel to the camps. We see the menace and evil hatred of the persecutors in the cat faces.
The aggression depicted in the guards is hard and direct. In many of his self images Spigelman illustrates his own depression through body language as his character’s posture folds beneath the heavy weight of his family history.
Frames, panels and gutters are devices used to establish the sequence of the story being told in the comic strip. The gaps in the relationship Art has with his father Vladek are indicated throughout the story with gaps in the borders of the panels. Intruding and broken lines are symbolic of the rules of humanity that were broken during the Holocaust. Hitler’s army broke all the rules of society. In book one a "bleed” or lack of borders occurs on the page describing the arrival of the transport truck carrying Vladek and Anja to Auschwitz. The “bleed” is the artist’s method of showing the enormity of the situation. The horrors of Auschwitz and the other extermination camps can’t possibly be completely described on just this one page or any other. The effects of the Holocaust will reach on indefinitely. In book two the “bleed” occurs as the pictures of all of the lost family members flutter to the floor. There are too many. It is too overwhelming, too painful. Spiegelman describes his father as bleeding history. What Art means is that his father’s story and the effects of the Holocaust on his father, his mother, and their lost family are his inheritance.
Spiegelman uses visual clues to emphasize many emotions. For instance the characters on page one hundred and thirty-eight continue to wear their masks but Spiegelman uses hand gestures to show shock, dismay and accusations.4
Spigelman uses light and shading and texture to set the scene or mood of his novel. His use of black and white only and no colored ink along with bold lines emphasis the drama of the story he is telling. Spiegelman employs verbal sound effects by lettering groans and anguished cries outside of the typical dialogue balloons. The jagged lines of the speech bubbles indicate yelling. Gestures such as an arm across a shoulder and a tear being wiped away show caring and relief.
Many of the panels in Maus speak volumes with symbols. Spielgeman, the artist uses images as text. On one page he depicts a road and the directions it branches off to as a swastika. Anja and Vladek leave the ghetto but no matter which direction they choose it will only lead them to the Nazis. He uses smoke in one scene to spell Hitler’s SS. The entrance to the bunkers in chapter five are shaped like mouse holes in the wall which describes the deplorable conditions the people were forced to endure in order to hide. He frequently uses mouse traps and mouse holes to show that there is captivity and pursuit. There are often skulls on the Nazi helmets and even some of the Nazi faces appear as skulls which represents the death they caused. 5 I will always feel fear and disgust each time I see the Nazi swastika which he uses often.
The Nazis took the ancient symbol of the swastika which meant good and power and used it for hate and murder forever changing it’s meaning for most. Ancient history tells us the Jewish people were often labeled with the yellow Star of David and the word Jude. This symbol was not original to the Nazis either, but was eventually mandated and became one of their symbols of intense hatred and disgust for these people.
Spiegelman uses the swastika to depict the unfolding of the Nazi’s power. Nazi faces began to look like skulls as they are killing the Jews. He uses the image of a satchel throughout this story and draws himself frequently carrying it around as he must carry the story Vladek has given him to tell. Trains are important symbols in Maus. Once innocent toys, they soon becoming vehicles of death. They were the fastest, most efficient way to achieve large scale transport of Jewish people to the extermination and concentration camps. Spiegelman uses Nazi symbols in the thick black smoke or shows the trains sitting isolated and covered in cold snow. They were dead, just like the victims inside.
Many of the symbols Spiegelman employs are depicted throughout my moviemaker project. There were numerous images of the Holocaust available on the internet. Combining them with the haunting music Requiem by Mozart is my best effort at describing the effect this novel had on me. None of the images or accounts I found captured the story as simply and distinctively as Maus by Art Spiegelman. It is not just the illustration of a story but a tapestry woven of both visual and verbal elements. It is truly a memorable literary work. Dawn P. Hall 11/28/2008
"Maus at The National Museum of American Jewish History." The National Museum of American Jewish History. 31 Dec. 1996. The National Museum of American Jewish History. 28 Nov. 2008 .
Gorman, Michele. Getting Graphic!: using graphic novels to promote literacy with preteens and teens. Worhtington, OH: Linworth Publishing.2003
Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus : A Survivor's Tale. New York: Pantheon, 1997.
Whitaker, Steve. The Encyclopedia of Cartooning Techniques : A Comprehensive Visual Guide to Traditional and Contemporary Techniques. Grand Rapids: Sterling Co., Inc., 2002.