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Art Spiegelman in 2007
|Born||Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev|
February 15, 1948
|Spouse(s)||Françoise Mouly (1977–present; 2 children)|
|This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2012)|
Art Spiegelman in 2007
|Born||Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev|
February 15, 1948
|Spouse(s)||Françoise Mouly (1977–present; 2 children)|
Art Spiegelman (born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev on February 15, 1948) is an American cartoonist, editor and comics advocate based in New York City, best known for his graphic novel Maus (1991). His work as coeditor on the comics magazines Arcade and Raw has been influential, and he spent a decade as contributing artist for The New Yorker starting in 1992, where he made several high-profile and sometimes controversial covers. He is married to artist, designer, and editor Françoise Mouly.
Spiegelman's work first gained prominence in the underground comix scene in the 1960s. This work was short and experimental, and often included autobiographical elements. A selection of these strips appeared in the collection Breakdowns in 1977. After Breakdowns, Spiegelman turned focus on a "very long comic book" about his father's experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The book, Maus, depicts Nazis as cats, Jews as mice, and ethnic Poles as pigs, and took thirteen years to complete. It won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and has come to be viewed as a pivotal work in comics, responsible for bringing serious scholarly attention to the medium.
Spiegelman and Mouly edited eleven issues of Raw from 1980 to 1991. The oversized comics and graphics magazine helped introduce talents who became prominent in alternative comics, such as Charles Burns, Chris Ware, and Ben Katchor, and introduced several foreign cartoonists to the English-speaking comics world. Beginning in the 1990s, the couple worked for The New Yorker, which Spiegelman left to work on In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), about his reaction to the September 11, 2001, attacks in Manhattan.
Spiegelman is an advocate for greater comics literacy. As editor and as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Spiegelman has promoted greater understanding of comics, and mentored younger cartoonists.
Art Spiegelman was born to Polish Jews Władysław (1906–1982) and Andzia (1912–1968) Spiegelman. His father was born Zeev Spiegelman, with the Hebrew name Zeev ben Avraham. Władysław was his Polish name, and Władek (or Vladek in Russified form) was a diminutive of this name. He was also known as Wilhelm under German occupation, and upon immigration to the U.S. he took the name William. His mother was born Andzia Zylberberg, with the Hebrew name Hannah. She took the name Anna upon her American immigration. In Spiegelman's Maus, from which they are best known, the names of the two were spelled "Vladek" and "Anja", as Spiegelman believed those spellings would be easiest for Americans to pronounce accurately. The surname Spiegelman is German for "mirror man".
The Spiegelmans had one other son, Rysio (spelled "Richieu" in Maus), who died before Art was born, at about the age of five or six. During the Holocaust, Rysio was sent to stay with an aunt, with whom it was believed he would be safe. The aunt poisoned herself, along with Rysio and two other minor family members kept under her guidance, so that they wouldn't be taken to the extermination camps by the Nazis. After the war, the Spiegelmans, unable to accept that Rysio was dead, searched orphanages all over Europe in the hopes of finding him. Spiegelman talked of having a sort of sibling rivalry with his "ghost brother"—he felt unable to compete with an "ideal" brother who "never threw tantrums or got in any kind of trouble".
Spiegelman was born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev in Stockholm, Sweden. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1951. Upon immigration his name was registered as Arthur Isadore, but he later had his given name changed to Art. Initially the family settled in Norristown, Pennsylvania, then relocated to Rego Park in Queens, New York City, in 1957. He began cartooning in 1960, and imitated the style of his favorite comic books, such as Mad. At Russell Sage Junior High School, where he was an honors student, he produced the Mad-alike fanzine, Blasé. He was earning money from his drawing by the time he reached high school, and sold his artwork to the Long Island Press and other outlets. His talent was such that he caught the eyes of United Features Syndicate, who offered him the chance to produce a syndicated comic strip. Dedicated to the idea of art as expression, he turned down this commercial opportunity. He attended the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan beginning in 1963. He met Woody Gelman, the art director of Topps Chewing Gum Company, who encouraged Spiegelman to apply to Topps after graduating high school. At 15, Spiegelman received payment for his work from a Rego Park newspaper.
After he graduated in 1965, Spiegelman's parents urged him to pursue the financial security of a career such as dentistry, but he chose instead to enroll at Harpur College to study art and philosophy. While there, he got a freelance art job at Topps, which provided him with an income for the next two decades. He did not graduate, but received an honorary doctorate from Harpur 30 years later. At Harpur, Spiegelman audited classes by the avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs, with whom he became friends. Spiegelman has acknowledged Jacobs as one of the artists who inspired him, though he claims Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad as his true spiritual father.
From 1965 until 1968, Spiegelman attended Harpur College. While there, he worked as staff cartoonist for the college newspaper, and edited a college humor magazine. After a summer internship when he was 18, he was hired for Gelman's Product Development Department at Topps as creative consultant making trading cards and related products in 1966. The same year, he began selling self-published underground comix on street corners, and had cartoons published in underground publications such as The East Village Other. He traveled to San Francisco for a few months in 1967, and began the Wacky Packages series of parodic trading cards for Topps in 1967. His university studies were cut short when in late winter 1968 he suffered a brief but intense nervous breakdown. At the time he was "taking LSD as casually as some of [his] contemporaries now drop antacids" He spent a month in Binghamton State Mental Hospital. Shortly after he got out, his mother committed suicide, following the death of her only surviving brother.
In 1971, after several visits, Spiegelman moved to San Francisco and became a part of the countercultural underground comix movement that had been brewing there. Some of the comix he produced during this period include The Compleat Mr. Infinity (1970), a ten-page booklet of explicit comic strips, and The Viper Vicar of Vice, Villainy and Vickedness (1972), a transgressive work in the vein of fellow underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson. Spiegelman's work also appeared in underground magazines such as Gothic Blimp Works, Bijou Funnies, Young Lust, Real Pulp and Bizarre Sex, and were in an inconsistent variety of styles and genres as Spiegelman tried to find his artistic "voice". He also did a number of cartoons for men's magazines such as Cavalier, The Dude, and Gent.
In 1972, Justin Green asked Spiegelman to do a three-page strip for the first issue of Funny Aminals [sic]. He wanted to do one about racism, and at first considered focusing it on African Americans, with African-Americans as mice and cats taking on the role of the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, he turned to the Holocaust that his parents had survived. The strip was called "Maus". The Jews were depicted as mice persecuted by die Katzen, which were Nazis depicted as cats. It was narrated to a mouse named "Mickey". It was with this story that Spiegelman felt he had found his "voice".
After seeing Green's revealingly autobiographical Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary in 1972, he was inspired to produce a strip for Short Order Comix #1 (which he edited) called "Prisoner on the Hell Planet", and expressionistic work which dealt with his mother's suicide. His work became more and more formally experimental. 1974's often reprinted "Ace Hole, Midget Detective" was a Cubist-style nonlinear narrative full of non sequiturs.
In 1973, he edited a book of quotations, one that was explicitly pornographic and psychedelic, which he dedicated to his mother. Co-edited with Bob Schneider, it was called Whole Grains: A Book of Quotations. In 1974–1975, he taught a studio cartooning class at the San Francisco Academy of Art. Spiegelman was quoted in the Apex Treasury of Underground Comics in 1974 saying, "As an art form the comic strip is barely in its infancy. So am I. Maybe we'll grow up together."
By the mid-1970s, the underground comix movement was encountering a slowdown. To give cartoonists a safe berth, Spiegelman co-edited the anthology Arcade with Bill Griffith, from spring 1975 until fall 1976. Arcade was printed by The Print Mint and lasted seven issues, five of which had covers by Robert Crumb. It stood out from similar publications by having an editorial plan, in which Spiegelman and Griffith attempt to show how comics connected to the broader realms of artistic and literary culture. Spiegelman's own work in Arcade tended to be short and concerned with formal experimentation. Arcade also introduced art from ages past, as well as contemporary literary pieces by writers such as William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. In 1975, Spiegelman moved back to New York City, which put most of the editorial work for Arcade on the shoulders of Griffith and his cartoonist wife, Diane Noomin. This, combined with distribution problems and retailer indifference, led to the magazine's 1976 demise. For a time, Spiegelman swore he would never edit another magazine.
In New York, Spiegelman met Françoise Mouly, an architectural student on a hiatus from her studies at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. Spiegelman introduced her to the world of comics and helped find work as a colorist for Marvel Comics. They married on 12 July 1977, the same year Spiegelman brought himself to admit to his father he had moved back to New York. He moved into Mouly's Soho loft in 1978. He lobbied to see Breakdowns, an anthology of his formal experiments in comics published around that time; it eventually came out from Belier Press to "resounding indifference".
Spiegelman began teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1978, and continued until 1987, teaching alongside his heroes Kurtzman and Eisner. The same year, he began to interview his father again, with the intention of creating a book-length work based on his father's story. In 1979, as part of his researches, he visited Auschwitz, where his parents had been put by the Nazis.
Mouly insisted on launching a new magazine with Spiegelman, parts of which were printed on the small printing press they had in their loft. With Mouly as publisher, Spiegelman and Mouly co-edited Raw, starting in July 1980. The first issue was subtitled "The Graphix Magazine of Postponed Suicides". While it eventually came to include work from underground cartoonists like Crumb or Griffith, Raw focused on publishing artists who were virtually unknown, avant-garde cartoonists such as Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, Ben Katchor, and Gary Panter, and introduced English-speaking audiences to translations of foreign works by José Muñoz, Cheri Samba, Joost Swarte, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Jacques Tardi, and others. Spiegelman serialized Maus one chapter at a time as an insert in Raw beginning with the second issue in December 1980. Maus told the story of Spiegelman's father's experiences in the death camps in World War II. On 18 August 1982, Spiegelman's father died.
In the wake of the enormously popular Cabbage Patch Kids series of dolls, Spiegelman created the popular card series Garbage Pail Kids in 1985. Similar to the Wacky Packages series, the gross-out factor of the cards was controversial with parent groups. Its popularity started a gross-out fad amongst children. The same year, Spiegelman learned that Steven Spielberg was producing an animated film about Jewish mice who escape Eastern European persecution by fleeing to the United States. Spiegelman was sure the film, 1986's An American Tail, was inspired by Maus. He became eager to have his unfinished book come out before the movie in order to avoid comparisons. He struggled to find a publisher, but in 1986 Pantheon agreed to release a collection of the first six chapters, after the publication in the New York Times of a rave review of the work-in-progress. The volume was titled Maus: A Survivor's Tale and subtitled My Father Bleeds History. The book found a large audience, partially because it was sold through regular bookstores, rather through comic shops in the direct market that comic books were normally sold through.
In 1987, Mouly and Spiegelman had their first child, daughter Nadja Rachel. In 1988, Spiegelman, Mouly, and many of the Raw artists appeared in Comic Book Confidential. Spiegelman had an essay published, "Commix: An Idiosyncratic Historical and Aesthetic Overview", in Print.
In 1990 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. The same year, he had an essay critiquing the High/Low exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art published in ArtForum called "High Art Lowdown". In 1991, Raw Vol. 1, No.3 was published. It was to be the last issue, and contained the second-last chapter of Maus. It was followed later that year by the second volume of Maus, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began. Maus attracted an unprecedented amount of critical attention for a work in the form of comics, including an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art and a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. That same year, Mouly and Spiegelman's second child was born, son Dashiell Alan.
After 20 years of asking Topps to grant the creators a percentage of the profits, and after other industries (such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics) had grudgingly conceded, Topps still refused. Spiegelman, who had assigned Topps work to many of his cartoonist friends or students, left over the issue of creative ownership and ownership of artwork. In 1989 Topps auctioned off the original artwork they had accumulated over the decades and kept the profits.
Hired by Tina Brown as a contributing artist in 1992, Spiegelman worked for The New Yorker for ten years. Spiegelman's first cover appeared on the February 15, 1993 issue, for Valentine's Day, and showed a black West Indian woman and a Hasidic man kissing. It was intended to reference the 1991 Crown Heights riot, in which racial tensions led to the murder of a Jewish yeshiva student. The cover caused much turmoil at The New Yorker offices. Spiegelman had twenty-one published New Yorker covers in all, and submitted a number which were rejected for being too outrageous. Spiegelman collaborated on a strip, "In the Dumps", with reclusive children's illustrator Maurice Sendak, which appeared in The New Yorker's 27 September issue.
Spiegelman edited David Mazzucchelli's graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass in 1994. The Voyager Company published a CD-ROM version of Maus with extensive supplementary material called The Complete Maus. Spiegelman illustrated a 1923 poem by Joseph Moncure March called The Wild Party.
In 1995, Binghamton University (the renamed Harpur College) awarded Spiegelman an honorary doctorate of letters. He contributed the essay "Getting in Touch With My Inner Racist" in the 1 September 1997 issue of Mother Jones. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999. The same year, he had an essay on called "Forms Stretched to their Limits" on the creator of Plastic Man, Jack Cole, in the 19 April issue of The New Yorker, and with designer Chip Kidd put out a book about Cole called Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to their Limits in 2001.
Spiegelman lived close to the World Trade Center site, which was known as "Ground Zero" immediately after the attacks. Immediately after the attacks, Spiegelman and Mouly rushed to their daughter Nadja's school. Spiegelman's anxiety only served to increase his daughter's own apprehensiveness over the situation. Spiegelman and Mouly created a cover for the September 24 issue of The New Yorker which received wide acclaim and was voted in the top ten of magazine covers of the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors. At first glance, the cover appears to be totally black, but upon close examination it reveals the silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers in a slightly darker shade of black. Mouly positioned the silhouettes so that the North Tower's antenna breaks into the "W" of The New Yorker's logo. The towers were printed in black on a slightly darker black field employing standard four-color printing inks, with an overprinted clear varnish. In some situations, the ghost images only became visible when the magazine was tilted toward a light source.
Spiegelman did not renew his New Yorker contract after 2003. Spiegelman said he left not over political differences, as had been widely reported, but because The New Yorker was not interested in doing serialized work, which he wanted to do with In the Shadow of No Towers. He later quipped that he regretted leaving when he did, as he could have left in protest when the magazine ran a pro-invasion of Iraq piece later in the year. Spiegelman said his parting from The New Yorker was part of his general disappointment with "the widespread conformism of the mass media in the Bush era". He said he felt like he was in "internal exile" following the events of 9-11, and that the media had become "conservative and timid". He felt the need to create provocative art which was not welcome within the U.S. media.
His response to 9-11 was In the Shadow of No Towers, commissioned by German newspaper Die Zeit. Jewish magazine The Forward was the only American periodical to serialize the feature. In September 2004, In the Shadow of No Towers was released as a book. It was printed as a 10-by-14.5-inch (25 cm × 37 cm) board book, and its pages had to be turned on end to read them. In 2005, Time magazine named Spiegelman one of the "Top 100 Most Influential People", and France made him Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres." That fall, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!" began serialization in The Virginia Quarterly Review.
In the June 2006 edition of Harper's magazine, Spiegelman had an article published on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. At least one vendor, Canada's Indigo chain of booksellers, refused to sell the particular issue. Called "Drawing Blood: Outrageous Cartoons and the Art of Outrage", the article contained a survey of the sometimes dire effect of political cartooning on its creators, ranging from Honoré Daumier (who was imprisoned for a satirical work) to George Grosz (who was exiled). An internal memo advised Indigo staff to tell people "the decision was made based on the fact that the content about to be published has been known to ignite demonstrations around the world." The article raised the ire of Indigo because it seemed to promote the continuance of racially-motivated cartooning.
In 1997, HarperCollins published Spiegelman's first children's book, "Open Me...I'm a Dog", a hardcover book with pop-ups and a leash which attempts to convince its readers that it is a dog.
In 2000, Spiegelman and Mouly edited the first issue of the children's comics anthology Little Lit, with contributions from "Raw" alumni and children's book authors and illustrators. The second issue appeared the following year, and the third and last in 2003. In 2006, Penguin released a compilation, Big Fat Little Lit. When it launched in 2008, Spiegelman was listed as an advisor to Mouly's latest publishing project, the TOON Books, a line of hardcover comics for young readers.
In 2008, TOON Books published "Jack and the Box," about which Publishers' Weekly said, in a starred review: "...this comic gem of a picture book demonstrates Spiegelman's ability to conquer his audience, no matter its constituents."
Spiegelman suffers from a lazy eye, and thus lacks depth perception. He says his art style is "really a result of [his] deficiencies". His is a style of labored simplicity, with dense visual motifs which often go unnoticed upon first viewing. He sees comics as "very condensed thought structures", more akin to poetry than prose, which need careful, time-consuming planning that their seeming simplicity belies.Spiegelman's work prominently displays his concern with form, and pushing the boundaries of what is and is not comics. Early in the underground comix era, Spiegelman proclaimed to Robert Crumb, "Time is an illusion that can be shattered in comics! Showing the same scene from different angles freezes it in time by turning the page into a diagram—an orthographic projection!" His comics experiment with time, space, recursion, and representation. He uses the word "decode" to express the action of reading comics. He sees comics as functioning best when expressed as diagrams, icons or symbols.
Spiegelman doesn't see himself as a visual artist first, one who instinctively sketches or doodles. He says he lacks the confidence as a visual artist, and approaches his work as a writer. He constantly revises his dialogue and visuals—some dialogue balloons in Maus were revised up to forty times. A critic in The New Republic compared Spiegelman's dialogue writing to a young Philip Roth in his ability "to make the Jewish speech of several generations sound fresh and convincing".
Spiegelman makes use of both old– and new-fashioned tools in his work. Sometimes he prefers to work on paper on a drafting table, while at other time he draws directly onto his computer using a digital pen and electronic drawing tablet, or mix methods, employing scanners and printers.
Spiegelman, a non-practicing Jew, considers himself "a-Zionist"—neither pro– nor anti-Zionist. He calls Israel "a sad, failed idea". While not religious, he told Charles Schulz that he identified with the "alienated diaspora culture" of Kafka and Freud, what Stalin called "rootless cosmopolitanism".
Following 9-11, Spiegelman became vocally critical of the Bush administration, as well as what he saw as complicity on the part of the mass media.
Chief among Spiegelman's early cartooning influences were Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and Bernard Krigstein's short strip "Master Race". In the 1960s Spiegelman read in comics fanzines about graphic artists such as Frans Masereel, who had made wordless novels in woodcut. The discussions in those fanzines about making the Great American Novel in comics later acted as inspiration for him. Justin Green's comic book Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (1972) motivated Spiegelman to open up and include autobiographical elements in his comics.
Spiegelman acknowledges Franz Kafka as an early influence, whom he says he has read since the age of 12, and lists Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein among the writers who work "stayed with" him.
Spiegelman is a prominent advocate for the medium of comics and comics literacy. He believes the medium echoes the way the human brain processes information. He has toured the US with a lecture called "Comix 101", examining its history and cultural importance. He sees comics low status in the late 20th century as having come down from where it was in the 1930s and 1940s, when comics "tended to appeal to an older audience of GIs and other adults". Following the advent of the censorious Comics Code Authority in the mid-1950s, Spiegelman sees comics' potential as having stagnated until the rise of underground comix in the late 1960s. He taught courses in the history and aesthetics of comics at schools including the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the School of Visual Arts in New York. As editor of Raw, he helped jumpstart the careers of younger cartoonists whom he mentored, such as Chris Ware, and published the work of his School of Visual Arts students, such as Kaz, Drew Friedman, and Mark Newgarden. Some of the work published in Raw was originally turned in as class assignments.
Spiegelman's influence and connections in New York cartooning circles drew the ire of political cartoonist Ted Rall in 1999. Rall accused Spiegelman of the power to "make or break" a cartoonist's career in New York, while denigrating Spiegelman as "a guy with one great book in him".
Maus looms large not only over Spiegelman's oeuvre, but over the comics medium itself. While Spiegelman was far from being the first to do first-person autobiography in comics, Maus is considered by critics such as James Campbell to be the work which popularized it. The bestseller has been widely written about, in the popular press as well is academia—the quantity of its critical literature far outstrips any other work of comics. It has been viewed fruitfully from a great variety of academic viewpoints, though most often by those who have little understanding of Maus' context in the history of comics. While Maus has been credited with lifting comics from popular culture into the world of high art in the public imagination, criticism has also tended to ignore its deep roots in popular culture, roots that Spiegelman is intimately familiar with and has devoted considerable time to promote.
Spiegelman's beliefs that comics are best expressed in a diagrammatic or iconic manner has had a particular influence on formalists such as Chris Ware and former School of Visual Arts student Scott McCloud.
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