Last year I read Watchmen for the first time. I read it before watching the movie because I didn’t want my perception of the novel to be influenced by the movie, I wanted to compare the movie to the graphic novel.
I’ve read edgy graphic novels before, but I was primarily brought up on a diet of 2000 AD and Batman. After reading Watchmen however, I made a pledge to broaden my reading spectrum and seek out more edgy, interesting and unusual graphic novels that don’t feature super heroes – particularly ones that have not yet been made into movies. I picked up a copy of 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide and one of the first novels I decided to purchase was The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Maus is the true story of the survival of Spiegalman’s father and mother through the Nazi holocaust with Jews depicted as mice and Germans depicted as cats as well as Polish pigs, French frogs and others which go to form visual metaphors for the range of nationalities featured and their attitude towards events at the time.
Despite its animal theme and comic format, Spiegelman pulled no punches in depicting the realities of life at the time, including the violence and death that encircled his immediate family. At the same time, the novel does not attempt to paint Vladek (Speigelman’s father) as a wholly innocent and guilt-free victim. Not only do we see Vladeks resourcefulness and caring side, we see prejudice, paranoia, stinginess and even racism. In fact this is part of what makes the story so powerful – the fact that his father, despite all he has been through, is human just like the rest of us.
The story recalls to my mind both Watership Down and Animal Farm. Both of which use animals as metaphors to convey certain characteristics, and both of which deal with violence, persecution and other mature themes. The story is both intense and immersing. I didn’t want to put it down, but had no choice due to it being so weighty in words. I do not think it is intended to be a tragedy, nevertheless this is the feeling you get when you come away from it, yet there are moments of humour and hope punctuated throughout the story, including towards the end where Art and Vladek seem to become reconciled towards one another, as well as Art’s revelations through meeting with his shrink. I particularly like the way Spiegelman has drawn himself ‘shrinking’ to the size of a little boy whilst sitting on the couch!
Rich in details and character driven, I highly recommend Maus, it’s a story I think that will appeal even to people who don’t usually read graphic novels.
I hope you liked my first review of a graphic novel, actually my first review of anything really. I just hope my next one is a little shorter and less work!