Friday, December 02, 2011

I wrote about MetaMaus for Robot 6. I'm going to write a little bit more about it here.

This month's installment of Balloonless, my column of reviews of books about comics, focuses on the new MetaMaus, an excellent, downright awesome (as in, it will inspire you with awe, especially the amount of stuff on the bonus disc) book on Art Spiegelman's Maus. You can read my review at Robot 6 by clicking here. (You should really go read it. Because, based on the amount of comments it's received—zero—I don't think anyone else has).


As I mentioned in the Robot 6 piece, there was a whole lot of information in the book that was completely knew to me. One train of discussion I enjoyed was when Hillary Chute, the editor and interviewer, talked with Spiegelman about movies. In it, Spiegelman uses the word "Holokitsch" to refer to a certain type of movie dealing with the genocide, and also relays a story about how alarmed he was when he heard about An American Tail being in production. I saw that shitty movie as a child, and didn't read Maus until many years later. I never connected the two; Maus seemed so vital when I first read it—in the late '90s, probably?—that I always have to stop and remember how old it actually is, and that I was just a little kid when it saw print.

I love the quote from his wife that Spiegelman shares regarding a Maus movie in this exchange:

You've gotten lots of offers to turn Maus into a film, right?

Endless—they've been pouring in ever since the first volume came out! If I could only have been sure it wouldn't actually get made I'd have been glad to sell the option. As it is I keep a copy of Maus in a glass bookcase with a sign that says: "In Case of Economic Emergency, Break Glass" But, as Froncoise succingly put it: "Next to making Maus , your greatest achievement may habe been not turning Maus into a movie.


Oneof the many fascinating aspects of the book is how despite being all about Maus, it should also be of interest to folks who care about comics regardless of their level of interest in Maus. In the third section ("Why Comics?"), which Spiegelman and Chute get away form Maus a bit here and there to talk about comics in general. I think Spiegelman comes up with a pretty good definition of "comics," probably better than Scott McCloud's "sequential art," as Understanding Comics suggested:

Do you have a functional description of comics?

I just stuck with the dictionary definition I found years ago: comics are "a narrative series of cartoons." That's what my old American Heritage Dictionary said, and it'll do. No definition can be all embracing and inclusive; definitions are more like indications rather than recipes. One can always keep refining and say, "no, no a narrative series of juxtaposed cartoons. And why 'cartoons,' maybe we should use the word 'diagrams," or just 'drawings'!"

Actually, I think "a narrative series of drawings" is a little better than "cartoons," since cartoon is a word with multiple meanings now and its etymology is a little difficult, but "narrative series of cartoons" is pretty good.


Because Maus is about not just the Holocaust, but Spiegelman's relationship with his father, Chute asks the artist how his two children have dealt with the work growing up, and he replies that she would have to ask them. She does.

Based on the photos that run with the interviews, I'm pretty sure the little Spiegelman's are both models: There are short-ish interviews with Nadja Spiegelman and Dash Spiegelman about Maus, providing some really compelling anecdotes regarding growing up in a house with Maus on the bookshelf, the guy who made it in the next room, and the guy who told the guy who made it your unknown, late ancestor whom your family doesn't talk to you much about, but everyone who reads comics knows all about.

The younger Spiegelmans seem like pretty cool people. Like, people you'd want to be friends. (Surely they're on the list of their father's greatest accomplishments, too).

I can't tell if Dash Spiegelman was being sarcastic or not when he discussed his interests. I imagine not, but they sure sound like sarcastic answers:He talks a bit about how his father was always totally focused on one thing—comics—while he has many shifting interests, and it can be a point of friction between them. Read in the context of a work about a work based in part on the frictions between Dash's father and Dash's father's father...I don't know, this is a really neat work of family history unfolding around a reader/complete stranger.


Chute asks Spiegelman a lot of questions, but she never asks him the question I most wanted to know the answer to, the question I want to know more than any other, now that I've seen so many other questions asked of Spiegelman and answered at length by him: What's up with the vest?

If you've never met him, but closed your eyes and imagine Art Spiegelman, the image you conjure will be a man (or mouse) wearing a white, long-sleeve shirt with a black vest over it. There are a lot of photos of Spiegelman from throughout various points of his life, and he's not always wearing a black vest over a white shirt, but he is in a lot of them. And every drawing of Spiegelman that Spiegelman makes, no matter the context, inevitably has him in a dark vest over a light shirt (usually white). Here are four excerpts from various strips Spiegelman drew featuring himself at various points:Why is this? How did he choose that as something he wore all the time in real life, and why did he so consciously choose it as his cartoon avatar's costume or uniform? It's like Little Lulu's dress or Charlie Brown's zig-zag shirt; it's how we know it's a cartoon of Spiegelman, and it seems to be present just as often—if not more often—than a mask-like mouse head or mouse face mask.

Also, you know who else always wears a white shirt with a black vest over it?Spiegelman started working on Maus in the late seventies. Star Wars debuted in 1977. Did Spiegelman think Han Solo looked so cool he started wearing that outfit? Or did George Lucas meet or see Spiegelman at some point, and base Han Solo's wardrobe on the young cartoonist? Darth Vader was inspired by Dr. Doom, remember, and The Force and the Vader/Luke relationship were borrowed from Jack Kirby's The Source and Darkseid/Orion relationship...


I used to have to look up "Spiegelman" every time I wanted to write the name down, but over the course of writing about MetaMaus, I developed a mnemonic device. Instead of pronouncing it "Spiegelman" in my head, I know pronounce it "S. Pie Gel Man."


Akilles said...

Your review hasn`t got enough comics...?

I always picture Spiegelman as a mouse, not wearing anything particular. But maybe, when you pointed it out, I`ll also imagine him with that clothe combination.

Caleb said...

Oops. I meant "comments."

Will said...

Say what you like about late-era Simpsons, the comic book episode where a mouse-mask-wearing Spiegelman fights crime while crying "Maus is In the House!" is a thing of beauty.

Unknown said...

Okay, so you've completely sold me on Metamaus being a worthwhile read, but THANK YOU for being someone else who wants to know about the vest!

The first time I went to MoCCA it was an overwhelming experience. So much that at the end of the second day someone poked me on the shoulder and said "Art Spiegelman is right behind you," and I was so tired that all I could think was "eh, cartoonist in a vest. I've seen it."

Isabella Fiske McFarlin said...

My unsubstantiated response re vest (art and I were very close for years)
Is that he is, as he has said, "nostalgic for all decades preceding my own birth." The vests perhaps are what old time cartoonists wore at work; or at least associate with turn of the 20th c. Newspaper artists, editors etc.
I truly doubt he ever even saw Star Wars unless his kids made him.
--Ladybelle Fiske (Art's girlfriend in our teens & friends for many years)