MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus
By Art Spiegelman
I first read and wrote about Maus just over three years ago and it remains especially affecting. Memoirs of the Holocaust carry an unparalleled dramatic weight, but what sets Maus apart is that is not simply a survivor’s tale, but a meta-fictional treatise on the responsibility assumed by an individual as chronicler and son. Art tells Vladek’s story, and that of many. But he also relates his own experiences with guilt, rage and acceptance over a complicated paternal relationship and the manner in which he immortalized past experiences. There are few images in comics more resonant to me than Spiegelman’s self portrait, face concealed by a novelty mouse mask, laboring over a drawing board set atop a heap of corpses. If you’ve ever questioned the artist’s choice of employing animal archetypes, I point to this image and the added layer of complexity it represents. For a book that seemingly hides behind a cat and mouse game, it’s one of the most baldly honest expressions to be found in this or any medium.
Whether it’s been three or twenty-five years since you last visited the saga of Vladek and Anja and Art and whole nations of mice and men, Pantheon’s MetaMaus is as essential as a book-about-a-book could possibly be. There are a few different answers to film’s Truffaut/Hitchcock on the comic shelves–2005′s Eisner/Miller leaps to mind–but this extensive conversation between University of Chicago professor Hillary Chute and Art Spiegelman is perhaps the most enlightening behind-the-scenes reference about a single graphic novel project. The bulk of the 300 page book is comprised of that interview, generously peppered with production sketches, photographs and illustrations relevant to the wide-ranging discussion of family, history, and even the depiction of cartoon mice throughout the ages. Spiegelman endeavors to answer the three major questions posed to him ad nauseam since the publication of Maus in 1986: Why comics? Why mice? Why the Holocaust? I was also surprised to find a complete, unedited transcript of Art’s original conversations with his father. These interviews of course provide the basis of Spiegelman’s narrative, the source text from which he composed the Survivor’s Tale. Readers can now reference these dialogues when exploring the comic for a better understanding of the cartoonist’s process. This is especially relevant since so much of Maus is devoted to Spiegelman’s near anguish over his depiction of such grave events. Is Maus a fair interpretation of Vladek’s story? Of his life? Perhaps there’s no concise answer to such questions, but now readers can evaluate the source material if they so choose.
But MetaMaus isn’t simply a book. Imbedded in the inside cover, we find a disc containing further resources. Included is a browsable edition of the complete Maus comic originally made available in the mid 90s. It’s not as smooth a digital reading experience as we’ve grown accustomed to in 2011, but the pages themselves are annotated with optional extras like original page layout sketches or brief audio clips from Spiegelman. You can also search the comic by keyword, making it a handy reference when coupled with the MetaMaus book. The disc also features audio from the father and son interview tapes as well as other extensive documentary material. The cleanest digital experience? Not really. But outside of a dedicated app, it’s a rich resource for those interested in the amazing story behind the comic’s creation.
I’m still working my way through the book and marveling at its meticulous presentation. Not just any comic or graphic novel has the enormous place in the canon, nor the production material to warrant this kind of treatment. But for a project so thoughtful about a subject so weighty and vital, Maus almost demands this kind of supplement. If the original book or the medium as a vehicle for education and experimentation has any pull for you, this is a reference you’ll want to explore.
For a better idea of what to expect of those 300 pages and the book’s overall presentation, here’s a brief flip-through from my desk to yours.
Buy MetaMaus from Amazon.