Please repeat after me: This is not a comic book. This is a Graphic Novel.
And this graphic novel earned Art Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize.
If you’re not familiar with Maus, it’s a Holocaust story, a memoir told by a father to his son (the author,) presented in words and ink drawings. Spiegelman uses the surprisingly effective convention of having characters portrayed as animals–Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, a French guy is, well, a frog. Vladek tells the story of his survival in Poland and Germany, in and out of concentration camps and ghettos, during WWII. The use of animal characters goes beyond symbolism; it pulls the work out of the usual way of seeing such a story, forcing the reader to look at it in a new and challenging way.
Intertwined with Vladek Spiegelman’s tale is the author’s difficult relationship with his aging father, the contemporary Vladek. The reader follows along with Art as he hears his father’s story for the first time, recording it into a tape recorder to use in the creation of his book. Art, his wife and his stepmother comment on the story and on Vladek’s personality quirks, touching on other issues: How much (if at all) does a person’s experience shape them in later years, and the guilt that children of Holocaust survivors experience.
The imagery that accompanies the story is quite impressive and really leaves a lasting impact. When I finished the book I started thinking how it would make a good selection for a book discussion group. There are many interesting topics addressed in this deceptively simple picture book, and the different narrative style itself would generate much interesting discussion I’m sure. If you’re in a book group, and looking to do something a little different, I’d highly recommend Maus.