IN THE 1991 SECOND VOLUME of his classic graphic novel Maus, published five years after the first, Art Spiegelman briefly — and dramatically — drops the conceit for which his book is so famous. For seven pages, instead of depicting himself as a humanoid mouse, he draws himself as a human being wearing a mouse mask. When we first meet this new version of Art, he is sitting at his drafting table, balanced atop a pile of dead, emaciated humanoid-mouse bodies, reflecting on the success of the first volume of Maus. In the panels that follow, journalists ask an exasperated Art what Maus means. Merchandisers approach him offering lucrative opportunities to turn his comic book about his father Vladek's experience surviving a Nazi concentration camp into what Spiegelman has elsewhere called "Holokitsch": grossly sentimental and commercial appropriations of survivor stories. In response to the trauma of success, Art shrinks down to a child-sized form. "I want ... ABSOLUTION," he whines. "No ... No ... I want ... I want ... my MOMMY!" Art visits his therapist, Pavel — another Holocaust survivor, whose own mouse mask bears an eerie resemblance to Vladek's mouse face (talk about transference!) — and slowly returns to adult size. But not for long.
If the newly published MetaMaus — an engaging 25th anniversary commemoration of the first volume's publication — is any indication, Spiegelman has yet to recover from the trauma of his creation's success. And the ironic distance that once separated Spiegelman the artist from "Art" has, if anything, shrunk. The image of Art atop a stack of bodies was, as Spiegelman notes, less a reflection on the impact of the Holocaust on his everyday life than a response to the monumental triumph of Maus itself, its distance from its humble beginnings, serialized as a pamphlet insert in Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly's avant-garde comics anthology,RAW. "It's just that after a while it started seeming like Groundhog Day," Spiegelman laments inMetaMaus of the constant requests for interviews, lecture appearances, and other explanations of and elaborations on his work. "I suppose it led to the image of me perched on a pile of corpses with a lot of microphones aimed at me in the 'Time Flies' section of Maus." "Time Flies," which partly reverts to the formal experimentation that obsessed Spiegelman before he started working on Maus, is itself "a MetaMaus-like commentary on the whole project."
The core of MetaMaus is a book-length interview of Spiegelman, ably conducted by University of Chicago English professor and distinguished comics scholar Hillary Chute. This interview is divided into three sections, each attempting to answer a single question: Why the Holocaust?, Why Mice?, and Why Comics? These are the questions that have haunted Spiegelman for almost three decades. As Spiegelman says in the pithy cartoon introduction to MetaMaus — which constitutes, as far as I can tell, the only new artwork in the book:
I thought I'd finally try to answer as fully as I could ... That way, when asked in the future, maybe I could just say ... NEVER AGAIN! And maybe I could even get my damned MASK off! I can't breathe in this thing ...
In the last panel of th...read more