MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus

Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a completely unique graphic novel, the only comic to win the Pulitzer Prize. It is meaningful — telling the story of Spiegelman’s father, a Holocaust survivor, through his son’s eyes — and worth study, yet it turns on the simplest and silliest of visual imagery — the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice. It opened readers’ minds to what the comic format could do, 25 years ago. Now, this companion volume serves to elaborate on how it came about.

This book comes with a DVD that includes The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, the original two-part graphic novel. Each page is accompanied by optional background material, which may include sketchs, drafts, video, reference documents, and/or audio interview clips with Art or his father, Vladek. It also contains

  • The video introduction to the 1994 CD-Rom version put out by Voyager (where much of this material first appeared)
  • A new introduction to that introduction by Spiegelman
  • “Art on Art”, audio clips from a 1993 interview with Spiegelman accompanied by unpublished drawings and other work
  • New supplemental material, including the following:
    • Information on Spiegelman’s family tree, assembled by his cousin
    • More interviews with Vladek
    • Footage from a 1987 trip to Auschwitz by Art and his wife
    • Reproductions of notebooks full of reference material
    • A few essays on the book from other writers
    • Another few short essays by Spiegelman

In short, it’s a treasure trove, a wonderful way to dive as deeply into this seminal work as you wish. The book provides an alternate, more traditional view of similar material, allowing the reader to choose their favorite mode of exploration. The print MetaMaus is based on conversational interviews with Spiegelman and is focused on the three core questions behind his classic work — Why comics? Why the Holocaust? Why mice?

A two-page introduction in comic format expresses Spiegelman’s continuing ambivalence towards his work, once again drawing him as a rodent while he says, “it’s kinda hard to be seen behind a mouse mask!” You can see that intro in the book trailer, shown here:

The text throughout is illustrated with other of his comics, family photographs, draft pages, and sketch work. It’s a very handsome book, easier to approach than the DVD, which can be intimidating in providing so many choices.

I very much appreciated reading through it, “listening” to Spiegelman talk about his conflicts with his father and how interviewing him gave them something to do together. He also tackles the issues of working with memories and how much to change and structure an autobiographical work. Plus, Spiegelman’s children are given short sections to discuss their reactions, as is his wife Françoise.

I also learned from the last section, the one that lays out Spiegelman’s theories on comics, both the medium and his own work. His discusses history and his influences, what he learned from various greats, as well as going into detail on why he made certain choices in structure and layout, to solve various problems with his subject material. It’s a master lesson in technique.

I can’t think of any other comic work where it would be as interesting reading a book-length interview with the author. I know there have been a number of conversations with creators about their overall careers, but many have been of the “boy, you draw pretty” variety. Other books have focused on lives of creators best-known for their work on company property. I think Maus is one of the very few that can live up to this scrutiny, where the creation is strong enough and so thematically rich as to stand up to the examination, and the artist still has new insight to provide. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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