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Cover of the first volume of Maus
|Issues||Vol. 1 No. 2 – Vol. 2 No. 3|
Date(s) of publication
Cover of the first volume of Maus
|Issues||Vol. 1 No. 2 – Vol. 2 No. 3|
Date(s) of publication
Maus is a graphic novel completed in 1991 by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. It depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The book uses postmodern techniques—most strikingly in its depiction of races of humans as different kinds of animals, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. Maus has been described as memoir, biography, history, fiction, autobiography, or a mix of genres. In 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
In the frame tale timeline in the narrative present, beginning in 1978 in the Rego Park section of New York City, Spiegelman talks with his father about his Holocaust experiences, gathering material for the Maus project he is preparing. In the narrative past, Spiegelman depicts these experiences, starting in the years leading up to World War II. Much of the story revolves around Spiegelman's troubled relationship with his father, and the absence of his mother who committed suicide when he was 20. Her grief-stricken husband destroyed her written accounts of Auschwitz. The book uses a minimalist drawing style while displaying innovation in its page and panel layouts, pacing, and structure.
A three-page 1972 strip by Spiegelman, also called "Maus", was the impetus for Spiegelman to interview his father about his life during World War II. The recorded interviews became the basis for the graphic novel, which Spiegelman began in 1978. Maus was serialized from 1980 until 1991 as an insert in Raw, an avant-garde comics and graphics magazine published by Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly. It was one of the first graphic novels to receive academic attention in the English-speaking world.
Most of the book weaves in and out of two timelines. In the frame tale of the narrative present, Spiegelman interviews his father, Vladek, in Rego Park, New York, in 1978–79. The story that Vladek tells is depicted in the narrative past, which begins in the mid-1930s and continues until the end of the Holocaust in 1945.
In Rego Park in 1958, a young Art Spiegelman complains to his father that his friends have left him behind. His father responds in broken English, "Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!"
As an adult, Art visits his father, from whom he has become estranged. Vladek has married a woman called Mala in the time since the 1968 suicide of Art's mother, Anja. Art wants Vladek to recount his Holocaust experience. Vladek tells of his time in Częstochowa, describing how he came to marry into Anja's wealthy family in 1937 and move to Sosnowiec to become a manufacturer. Vladek begs Art not to include this part of the story in the book, and Art reluctantly agrees. Anja suffers a breakdown due to postpartum depression after giving birth to their first son, Richieu,[a] and the couple go to a sanitarium in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for her to recover. After they return, political and antisemitic tensions build until Vladek is drafted just before the Nazi invasion. Vladek is captured at the front and forced to work as a prisoner of war. After he is released, he finds Sosnowiec has been annexed by Germany, and he is dropped off on the other side of the border in the Polish protectorate. He sneaks across the border and reunites with his family.
During one of Art's visits, he finds that a friend of Mala's has sent the couple one of the underground comix magazines Art had contributed to. Mala had tried to hide it, but Vladek finds and reads it. In "Prisoner on the Hell Planet", Art is traumatized by his mother's suicide three months after his release from the mental hospital, and in the end depicts himself behind bars, saying "You murdered me, Mommy, and left me here to take the rap!" Though it brings back painful memories, Vladek admits that dealing with the issue in such a way was for the best.
In 1943, Sosnowiec Ghetto's Jews are moved to Srodula, then marched to Sosnowiec to work. The family splits up—Vladek and Anja send Richieu to Zawiercie to be with his aunt, where they believe he will be safe. As the roundups increase, and more Jews are sent from the ghettos to Auschwitz, the aunt poisons herself, her children, and Richieu to escape the Gestapo. In Srodula, many Jews, including Vladek, build bunkers to hide from the Germans. Vladek's bunker is discovered and he is placed into a "ghetto inside the ghetto", surrounded by barbed wire. The remnants of Vladek and Anja's family are taken away. Srodula is cleared of its Jews, except for a group Vladek hides with in another bunker. When the Germans depart, the group splits up and leaves the ghetto.
In Sosnowiec, Vladek and Anja move from one hiding place to the next, making occasional contact with other Jews in hiding. Vladek disguises himself as an ethnic Pole and hunts for provisions. They arrange with smugglers to escape to Hungary, but it is a trick—the Gestapo arrest them on the train and take them to Auschwitz, where they are separated until after the war.
Art asks after Anja's diaries, which Vladek tells him were her account of her Holocaust experiences. They are the only way to find out what happened to her after her separation from Vladek at Auschwitz. Vladek tells Art she had said, "I wish my son, when he grows up, he will be interested in this." Vladek comes to admit that he burned them after she killed herself. Art is enraged, and calls Vladek a "murderer".
The story jumps to 1986, after the first six chapters of Maus had been collected into a single volume. Art is overcome with the unexpected attention the book receives, finding himself "totally blocked". Art talks with his psychiatrist, Paul Pavel, a Czech Holocaust survivor, about the book. Pavel suggests that, as those who perished in the camps can never tell their stories, "maybe it's better not to have any more stories". Art replies with a quote from Samuel Beckett: "Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness", but then realizes, "on the other hand, he said it".
Vladek tells of his hardship in the camps, of starvation and abuse, of his resourcefulness, of avoiding the selektionen—the selection process by which prisoners were selected for further labor or execution. Though it is dangerous, Anja and Vladek can occasionally exchange messages. As the war progresses and the German front is pushed back, the prisoners are marched from Auschwitz in Poland to Gross-Rosen within the Reich, and then to Dachau, where the hardships only increase and Vladek catches typhus.
The war ends, the camp survivors are freed, and Vladek and Anja reunite. The book closes with Vladek turning over in his bed and telling Art, "I'm tired from talking, Richieu, and it's enough stories for now." The final image is of Vladek and Anja's tombstone—Vladek died in 1982, before the book was completed.
Art Spiegelman was born on February 15, 1948 in Sweden, to Polish Jews and Holocaust survivors Vladek and Anja Spiegelman. His brother Richieu had been poisoned by an aunt in order to avoid capture by the Nazis four years before Art's birth. He and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1951. While he was growing up, his mother occasionally talked about Auschwitz, but his father did not want him to know about it.
Spiegelman developed an early interest in comics and began drawing professionally at 16. He spent a month in Binghamton State Mental Hospital in 1968 after a nervous breakdown. Shortly after he got out, his mother committed suicide. The elder Spiegelman was not happy with his son's involvement in the hippie movement. Spiegelman said that when he bought himself a German Volkswagen, it damaged their already-strained relationship "beyond repair". Around this time Spiegelman had been reading in fanzines about graphic artists such as Frans Masereel who had made wordless novels. The discussions in those fanzines about making the Great American Novel in comics inspired him.
Spiegelman became a key figure in the underground comix movement of the 1970s, both as cartoonist and editor. Justin Green was a cartoonist who had produced the semi-autobiographical Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary in 1972, an influential work which inspired other underground cartoonists produce more personal, revealing work. The same year, Green asked Spiegelman to contribute a three-page strip for the first issue of Funny Aminals [sic], which Green edited. Spiegelman wanted to do a strip about racism, and at first considered focusing on African Americans, with cats taking on the role of the Ku Klux Klan chasing African-American mice. Instead, he turned to the Holocaust. The strip was called "Maus" and depicted Nazi cats, called die Katzen, persecuting Jewish mice. The tale was narrated to a mouse named "Mickey". After finishing the strip, Spiegelman visited his father to show him the finished work, which had been partially based on an anecdote he had heard about his father's Auschwitz experience. His father gave him further background on the story, which piqued Spiegelman's interest to learn more. Spiegelman did a series of taped interviews over four days with his father, which provided the basis of the longer Maus. Spiegelman followed up with extensive research, reading survivors' accounts and talking to friends and family who had also survived. One "really important" source for him was a series of Polish pamphlets published after the war which detailed what happened to the Jews by region. From this he was able to get detailed information about Sosnowiec.
In 1973, he produced a strip for Short Order Comix #1 about his mother's suicide called "Prisoner on the Hell Planet". The same year, he edited a pornographic, psychedelic book of quotations, which he dedicated to his mother. He spent the rest of the 1970s building his reputation making short, avant-garde comics. He moved back to New York from San Francisco in 1975, which he admitted to his father only in 1977, by which time he had decided he wanted to work on a "very long comic book". He began another series of interviews with his father in 1978, and visited Auschwitz in 1979. The story was serialized in a comics and graphics magazine he and Mouly began in 1980 called Raw.
American comic books, which had been big business with a diversity of genres in the 1940s and 1950s, had reached a low ebb in the 1970s. By the time Maus began serialization, the "Big Two" comics publishers, Marvel and DC Comics, dominated the industry with mostly superhero titles. The underground comix movement that had flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s also seemed moribund. The public perception of comic books was of adolescent power fantasies, inherently incapable of mature artistic or literary expression. Most discussion focused on comics as a genre rather than a medium.
Maus came to prominence when the term "graphic novel" was beginning to gain currency. Will Eisner first popularized the term with the 1978 publication of A Contract with God. The term was used partly to mask the low cultural status that comics had in the English-speaking world, and partly because the term "comic book" was being used to refer to short-form periodicals, leaving no accepted vocabulary with which to talk about book-form comics.
About the comics medium, this is what Spiegelman has to say in an interview with Gary Groth: "I'm literally giving a form to my father's words and narrative, and that form for me has to do with panel size, panel rhythms, and visual structures of the page." Paul Buhle claims, "more than a few readers have described [Maus] as the most compelling of any [Holocaust] depiction, perhaps because only the caricatured quality of comic art is equal to the unseeing reality of an experience beyond all reason."
The first chapter of Maus appeared in December 1980 in the second issue of Raw. A new chapter of the story appeared in every issue as a small insert in the oversized magazine until it came to an end in 1991. Every chapter except the last appeared in Raw.
Spiegelman struggled to find a publisher for Maus, but in August 1986, after a rave New York Times review of the serial, Pantheon Books published the first six chapters in one volume. The book was called Maus: A Survivor's Tale, and subtitled My Father Bleeds History. Spiegelman was relieved that the book's publication preceded the theatrical release of the animated film An American Tail by three months. He believed that the film, produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, was inspired by Maus, and in any case he wished to avoid comparisons with it.
The book found a large audience, partly because it was sold through bookstores, rather than the direct market comic shops where comic books were normally sold. However, the book was difficult for critics and reviewers to classify, and also for booksellers, who needed to know on which shelves to place it. Pantheon pushed for the term "graphic novel"; Spiegelman was not comfortable with this, as many book-length comics were being referred to as "graphic novels" whether or not they were novelistic. He also suspected the term was being used in an attempt to validate the comics form, rather than to describe the content of the books. Spiegelman later came to accept the term, and, along with Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros, successfully lobbied the Book Industry Study Group in the early 2000s to include "graphic novel" as a category in bookstores.
In 1991, Pantheon collected the last five chapters in the second volume, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began. Pantheon later collected the two volumes into soft– and hard-covered two-volume boxed sets and single-volume editions. In 1994, the Voyager Company released The Complete Maus on CD-ROM, a collection which, as well as the original comics, contained Vladek's taped transcripts, filmed interviews with the author, sketches, and other background material. The CD-ROM was based on HyperCard, a now-obsolete Macintosh-only application. In 2011 Pantheon Books published a companion to The Complete Maus entitled MetaMaus, with further background material, including filmed footage of Vladek. The centerpiece of the book is a Spiegelman interview conducted by Hillary Chute. It also has interviews with his wife and children, sketches, photographs, family trees, assorted artwork, and a DVD with video, audio, photos, and an interactive version of Maus.
The rights to publish the initial volume in the Commonwealth were licensed to Penguin Books in 1986. In support of the African National Congress's cultural boycott in opposition to apartheid, Spiegelman refused to "compromise with fascism" by allowing publication of his work in South Africa.
By 2011, Maus had been translated into about thirty languages. Three translations were particularly important to Spiegelman: French, as his wife was French, and because of his respect for the sophisticated Franco-Belgian comics tradition; German, given the book's background; and Polish. Poland was the setting for the majority of the book, and Polish was the language of his parents. Spiegelman has said that Polish was his own mother tongue. The German reception was positive—Maus was a best-seller, and was taught in schools. The Polish translation encountered difficulties; as early as 1987, when Spiegelman planned a research visit to Poland, the Polish consulate official who approved his visa questioned him about the Poles' depiction as pigs and pointed out what a serious insult it was. Publishers and commentators refused to deal with the book for fear of protests and boycotts. In 2001, Piotr Bikont, a journalist for Gazeta Wyborcza, set up his own publishing house to publish Maus in Polish. Demonstrators protested Maus's publication, and burned the book in front of Gazeta's offices. Bikont's response was to don a pig mask and wave to the protesters from the office windows. The magazine-sized Japanese translation was the only authorized edition with larger pages. Long-standing plans for an Arabic translation have not yet come to fruition.
For the Hebrew edition of Maus, a few panels were changed. Based on Vladek's memory, Spiegelman portrayed one of the minor characters as a member of the Nazi-installed Jewish Police. An Israeli descendant objected and threatened to sue for libel. Spiegelman redrew the character with a fedora in place of his original police hat, but appended a note to the volume voicing his objection to this "intrusion". This version of the first volume was published in 1990. Its reception was indifferent or negative, and the publisher, Zmora Bitan, did not release the second volume. Another Israeli publisher put out both volumes, with a new translation that included Vladek's broken language, which Zmora Bitan had refused to do. Marilyn Reizbaum saw this as highlighting a difference between the self-image of the Israeli Jew as fearless defender of the homeland, and that of the American Jew as feeble victim, something that one Israeli writer disparaged as "the diaspora sickness".[f]
Spiegelman, like many of his critics, worries that "[r]eality is too much for comics ... so much has to be left out or distorted", admitting that his presentation of the story may not be accurate. He takes a postmodern approach; Maus "feeds on itself", telling the story of how the story was made. It examines the choices Spiegelman made in the retelling of his father's memories, and the artistic choices he had to make—for example, when his French wife converts to Judaism, Spiegelman's character frets over whether to depict her as a frog, a mouse, or other animal.
The book portrays different races as different species of animals—the Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and ethnic Poles as pigs, among others. Spiegelman took advantage of the way Nazi propaganda films depicted Jews as vermin, though he was first struck by the metaphor after attending a presentation where Ken Jacobs showed films of minstrel shows along with early American animated films, abundant with racial caricatures.
Jewish characters try to pass themselves off as ethnic Poles by tying pig masks to their faces, with the strings showing at the back. Vladek's disguise was more convincing than Anja's—"you could see she was more Jewish", Vladek says. Spiegelman shows this Jewishness by having her tail hang out of her disguise. This literalization of the genocidal stereotypes that drove the Nazis to their Final Solution may risk reinforcing racist labels, but Spiegelman uses the idea to create anonymity for the characters. According to art historian Andrea Liss, this may paradoxically enable the reader to identify with the characters as human, preventing the reader from observing racial characteristics based on facial traits, while reminding readers that racist classification is ever present.
In making people of each ethnicity look alike, Spiegelman hoped to show the absurdity of dividing people along such lines. Spiegelman has stated that "these metaphors ... are meant to self-destruct" and "reveal the inanity of the notion itself". Professor Amy Hungerford saw no consistent system to the animal metaphor. Rather, it signified the characters' roles in the story rather than their races—the gentile Françoise is a mouse because of her identification with her husband, who identifies with the Holocaust victims. When asked what animal he would make Israeli Jews, Spiegelman suggests porcupines. When Art visits his psychiatrist, the two wear mouse masks. Spiegelman's perceptions of the animal metaphor seem to have evolved over the book's making—in the original publication of the first volume, his self-portrait showed a mouse head on a human body, but by the time the second volume arrived, his self-portrait had become that of a man wearing a mouse mask. In Maus, the characters seem to be mice and cats only in their predator/prey relationship. In every respect other than their heads and tails, they act and speak as ordinary humans. Further complicating the animal metaphor, Anja is ironically shown to be afraid of mice, while other characters appear with pet dogs and cats, and the Nazis with attack dogs.
To Marianne Hirsch, Spiegelman's life is "dominated by memories that are not his own". His work is one not of memory but of postmemory—a term she coined after encountering Maus. This describes the relation of the children of survivors with the survivors themselves. While these children have not had their parents' experiences, they grow up with their parents' memories—the memory of another's memory—until the stories become so powerful that for these children they become memories in their own right. The children's proximity creates a "deep personal connection" with the memory, though separated from it by "generational distance".
Art tried to keep his father's story chronological, because otherwise he would "never keep it straight". His mother Anja's memories are conspicuously absent from the narrative, given her suicide and Vladek's destruction of her diaries. Hirsch sees Maus in part as an attempt to reconstruct her memory. Vladek keeps her memory alive with the pictures on his desk, "like a shrine", according to Mala.
Spiegelman displays his sense of guilt in many ways. He suffers anguish over his dead brother, Richieu, who perished in the Holocaust, and whom he feels he can never live up to. The eighth chapter, made after the publication and unexpected success of the first volume, opens with a guilt-ridden Spiegelman (now in human form, with a strapped-on mouse mask) atop a pile of corpses—the corpses of the six million Jews upon whom Maus's success was built. He is told by his psychiatrist that his father feels guilt for having survived and for outliving his first son, and that some of Art's guilt may spring from painting his father in such an unflattering way. As he had not lived in the camps himself, he finds it difficult to understand or visualize this "separate universe", and feels inadequate in portraying it.
Spiegelman parodies the Nazis' vision of racial divisions; Vladek's racism is also put on display when he becomes upset that Françoise would pick up a black hitchhiker, a "schwartser" as he says. When she berates him, a victim of antisemitism, for his attitude, he replies, "It's not even to compare, the schwartsers and the Jews!" Spiegelman gradually deconstructs the animal metaphor throughout the book, especially in the second volume, showing where the lines cannot be drawn between races of humans.
The Germans are depicted with little difference between them, but there is great variety and little stereotyping among the Poles and Jews who dominate the story. Sometimes Jews and the Jewish councils are shown complying with the occupiers; some trick other Jews into capture, while others act as police for the Nazis.
Spiegelman shows numerous instances of Poles who risked themselves to aid Jews, and also shows antisemitism as being rife among them. The kapos who run the camps are Poles, and Anja and Vladek are tricked by Polish smugglers into the hands of the Nazis. Anja and Vladek hear stories that Poles continue to drive off and even kill returning Jews after the war.
Vladek's English is broken in contrast with that of Art's more fluent therapist, Paul Pavel, who is also an immigrant and Holocaust survivor. His knowledge of the language helps him several times during the story, as when he uses it to meet Anja. He also uses it to befriend a Frenchman, and continues to correspond with him in English after the war. His recounting of the Holocaust, first to American soldiers, then to his son, is never in his mother tongue, and English becomes his daily language when he moves to America. His difficulty with his second language is revealed as Art writes his dialogue in broken English; when Vladek is imprisoned he tells Art "... every day we prayed ... I was very religious, and it wasn't else to do". Late in the book, Vladek talks of Dachau, saying, "And here ... my troubles began", though clearly his troubles had begun long before Dachau. This unidiomatic expression was used as the subtitle of the second volume.
The German word maus is cognate to the English word "mouse", and also reminiscent of the German word mauscheln, which means "to speak like a Jew" and refers to the way Jews from Eastern Europe spoke German—a word not etymologically related to maus, but distantly to Moses.
Spiegelman's perceived audacity in using the Holocaust as his subject was compounded by his use of comics to tell the story. The medium was viewed in the English-speaking world as being inherently trivial, thus degrading the subject matter, especially as he used animal heads in place of recognizably human ones. Funny animals have been a staple of comics, and while they have traditionally been thought of as being for children, the underground had long made use of them in adult stories, for example in Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat, which showed that the genre could "open up the way to a paradoxical narrative realism" that Maus exploited.
Ostensibly about the Holocaust, the story is entwined with the frame tale of Art interviewing and interacting with his father. Art's "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" is also encompassed by the frame, and contrasts visually and thematicically with the rest of the book as all the characters are in human form in a surreal, German Expressionist woodcut style inspired by Lynd Ward.
The line between the frame and the world is bolded by comments such as when Spiegelman, neurotically trying to deal with what Maus is becoming for him, says to his wife, "You'd never let me do so much talking without interrupting if this were real life." When a prisoner the Nazis believe to be a Jew claims to be German, Spiegelman has the difficulty of whether to present this character as a cat or a mouse. Throughout the book, Spiegelman incorporates and highlights banal details from his father's tales, sometimes humorous or ironic, giving a lightness and humanity to the story which "helps carry the weight of the unbearable historical realities".
Spiegelman started taking down his interviews with Vladek on paper, but quickly switched to a tape recorder, face-to-face or over the phone. Spiegelman often condensed Vladek's words, and occasionally added to the dialogue, or synthesized multiple retellings into a single portrayal.
Spiegelman worried about the effect that his organizing of Vladek's story would have on its authenticity. In the end, he eschewed a Joycean approach and settled on a linear narrative he thought would be better at "getting things across". He also strove to present how the book was recorded and organized as an important part of the book itself, expressing the "sense of an interview shaped by a relationship".
The story is text-driven, with few wordless panels in its 1,500 black-and-white drawings. The art has high contrast, with heavy black areas and thick black borders balanced against areas of white and wide white margins. There is little gray in the shading. In the narrative present, the pages are arranged in eight-panel grids; in the narrative past, Spiegelman found himself "violating the grid constantly" with his page layouts.
Spiegelman did the original three-page "Maus" and "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" in highly detailed, expressive styles. Spiegelman initially planned to draw Maus in such a manner, but after initial sketches he decided to use a pared-down style, one little removed from his pencil sketches, which would be more direct and immediate. Characters are rendered in a minimalist way, with dots for eyes and slashes for eyebrows and mouths, looking "as if they were human beings with animal heads pasted on them". Spiegelman wanted to get away from the rendering of the characters in the original "Maus", in which oversized cats towered over the Jewish mice, an approach which Spiegelman says, "tells you how to feel, tells you how to think". He preferred to let the reader make independent moral judgments. He drew the cat-Nazis the same size as the mouse-Jews, and dropped the stereotypical villainous expressions. The contrast between the artwork in "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" and Maus drives home the effectiveness of the simpler artwork—"Prisoner" is alienating, while Maus is more inviting, encouraging deeper contemplation and understanding.
Spiegelman wanted the artwork to have a diary feel to it, and so drew the pages on stationery with a fountain pen and typewriter correction fluid. It was reproduced at the same size it was drawn, unlike his other work, which was usually drawn larger and shrunk down, which would hide defects in the art.
Spiegelman has published articles promoting a greater knowledge of his medium's history. Chief among his early influences were Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and Bernard Krigstein's "Master Race". He acknowledged Eisner's early work as an influence, but he denied that Eisner's first graphic novel, A Contract with God (1978), had any impact on Maus. He cited Harold Gray's comic strip Little Orphan Annie as having "influenced Maus fairly directly", and praised Gray's work for using a cartoon-based vocabulary, rather than an illustration-based one, for telling his stories. Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (1972) inspired Spiegelman to include autobiographical elements in his comics. Spiegelman stated, "without Binky Brown, there would be no Maus". Among the artists who influenced Maus, Spiegelman cited Frans Masereel, who had made an early woodcut novel called Passionate Journey[g] (1919).
Spiegelman's work as cartoonist and editor had long been known and respected in the comics community, but the media attention after the first volume's publication in 1986 was unexpected. Hundreds of overwhelmingly positive reviews appeared, and Maus became the center of new attention focused on comics. It was considered one of the "Big Three" book-form comics from around 1986–1987, along with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, that are said to have brought the term "graphic novel" and the idea of comics for adults into mainstream consciousness. It was credited with changing the public's perception of what comics could be at a time when, in the English-speaking world, they were considered to be for children, and strongly associated with superheroes. Initially, critics of Maus showed a reluctance to include comics in literary discourse. The New York Times intended praise when saying of the book, "Art Spiegelman doesn't draw comic books". After its Pulitzer Prize win, it gradually won greater acceptance and interest among academics. An exhibition on the making of Maus was staged at the Museum of Modern Art in 1991−92.
Maus proved difficult to classify to a genre, and has been called biography, fiction, autobiography, history, and memoir. Spiegelman petitioned The New York Times to move it from "fiction" to "non-fiction" on their bestseller list, saying, "I shudder to think how David Duke ... would respond to seeing a carefully researched work based closely on my father's memories of life in Hitler's Europe and in the death camps classified as fiction". One editor responded, "Let's go out to Spiegelman's house and if a giant mouse answers the door, we'll move it to the nonfiction side of the list!" The Times eventually acquiesced. The Pulitzer committee sidestepped the issue by giving the completed Maus a Special Award in Letters in 1992.
Maus ranked highly on comics and literature lists. The Comics Journal called it the fourth greatest comics work of the 20th century, and Wizard placed it first on their list of 100 Greatest Graphic Novels. Entertainment Weekly listed Maus at seventh place on their list of The New Classics: Books – The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008, and Time put Maus at seventh place on their list of best non-fiction books from between 1923 and 2005, and fourth on their list of top graphic novels. Praise for the book also came from contemporaries such as Jules Feiffer, and literary writers such as Umberto Eco. Spiegelman turned down numerous offers to have Maus adapted for film or television.
Early instalments of Maus that appeared in Raw inspired the young Chris Ware to "try to do comics that had a 'serious' tone to them". Maus is cited as a primary influence on graphic novels such as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.
In 1999, cartoonist Ted Rall had an article published in The Village Voice criticizing Spiegelman's prominence and influence in the New York cartooning community. Entitled "King Maus: Art Spiegelman Rules the World of Comix With Favors and Fear", it challenged the Pulitzer board of opportunism in selecting Maus, which Rall deemed unworthy. Cartoonist Danny Hellman responded to the piece with a prank email in which Hellman posed as Rall, soliciting discussion at the email address "TedRallsBalls@onelist.com". Hellman followed up by posting fake responses from New York magazine editors and art directors. Rall launched a lawsuit, seeking damages of $1.5 million for libel, breach of privacy, and causing emotional distress. To raise funds to fight the suit, in 2001 Hellman had the Legal Action Comics anthology published, which included a back cover by Spiegelman in which he depicts Rall as a urinal.
A "cottage industry" of academic research built up around Maus, and schools have frequently used it as course material in a range of fields: history, dysfunctional family psychology, language arts and social studies. The volume of academic work published on Maus far surpasses that of any other work of comics. One of the earliest was Joshua Brown's 1988 "Of Mice and Memory" from the Oral History Review, which deals with the problems Spiegelman faced in presenting his father's story. Marianne Hirsch wrote an influential essay on post-memory called "Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning, and Post-Memory", later expanded into a book called Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Academics far outside the field of comics such as Dominick LaCapra, Linda Hutcheon and Terrence Des Pres took part in the discourse. Few approached Maus who were familiar with comics, largely because of the lack of an academic comics tradition—Maus tended to be approached as Holocaust history or from a film or literary perspective. In 2003, Deborah Geis edited a collection of essays on Maus called Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman's "Survivor's Tale" of the Holocaust. Maus is considered an important work of Holocaust literature, and studies of it have made significant contributions to Holocaust studies.
According to writer Arie Kaplan, some Holocaust survivors objected to Spiegelman making a comic book out of their tragedy. Literary critics such as Hillel Halkin objected that the animal metaphor was "doubly dehumanizing", reinforcing the Nazi belief that the atrocities were perpetrated by one species on another, when they were actually done by humans against humans. Harvey Pekar and others saw Spiegelman's use of animals as potentially reinforcing stereotypes. Pekar was also disdainful of Spiegelman's overwhelmingly negative portrayal of his father, calling him disingenuous and hypocritical for such a portrayal in a book that presents itself as objective. Comics critic R. C. Harvey argued that Spiegelman's animal metaphor threatened "to erode [Maus's] moral underpinnings", and played "directly into [the Nazis'] racist vision".
Some commentators, such as Peter Obst and Lawrence Weschler, expressed concern over the Poles' depiction as pigs, which reviewer Marek Kohn saw as an ethnic slur. Jewish culture views pigs, and pork, as non-kosher, or unclean—a point that was unlikely to be lost on the Jewish Spiegelman. Critics such as Obst and Pekar have said that the portrayal of Poles is unbalanced—that, while some Poles are seen as helping Jews, they are often shown doing so for self-serving reasons. In the late 1990s, an objector to Maus's depiction of Poles persistently and abusively interrupted a presentation by Spiegelman at Montreal's McGill University, and was expelled from the auditorium.
Literary critic Walter Ben Michaels found Spiegelman's racial divisions "counterfactual". Spiegelman depicts the various European races as different animal species, but Americans, both black and white, as dogs—with the exception of the Jews, who remain unassimilated mice. To Michaels, Maus seems to gloss over the racial inequality that has plagued the history of the U.S.
Other critics, such as Bart Beaty, objected to what they saw as the work's fatalism. Belgian publisher La Cinquième Couche anonymously produced a book called Katz, a remix of Spiegelman's book with all animal heads replaced with cat heads. The book reproduced every page and line of dialogue from the French translation of Maus. Spiegelman's French publisher, Flammarion, forced the publisher to destroy all copies, under charges of copyright violation.
Scholar Paul Buhle, quoted by Hillary Chute, claims, "More than a few readers have described [Maus] as the most compelling of any [Holocaust] depiction, perhaps because only the caricatured quality of comic art is equal to the seeming unreality of an experience beyond all reason." She also quotes Michael Rothberg as saying, "By situating a nonfictional story in a highly mediated, unreal, 'comic' space, Spiegelman captures the hyperintensity of Auschwitz."
|1986||National Book Critics Circle||National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography||Nominated|
|1987||Present Tense magazine|
American Jewish Committee
|Present Tense/Joel H. Cavior Book Award for Fiction||Won|
|1988||Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards||Religious Award: Christian Testimony||Won|
|1988||Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards||Best Foreign Album (Maus: un survivant raconte)||Won|
|1988||Urhunden Prize||Foreign Album||Won|
|1990||Max & Moritz Prize||Special Prize||Won|
|1991||National Book Critics Circle||National Book Critics Circle Award||Nominated|
|1992||Pulitzer Prize||Special Awards and Citations – Letters||Won|
|1992||Eisner Award||Best Graphic Album—Reprint (Maus II).||Won|
|1992||Harvey Award||Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Material (Maus II)||Won|
|1992||Los Angeles Times||Book Prize for Fiction (Maus II)||Won|
|1993||Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards||Best Foreign Album (Maus: un survivant raconte II)||Won|
|1993||Urhunden Prize||Foreign Album (Maus II)||Won|