I would be lying if I said this class was my first encounter with comics. While I’ll openly admit this is not a medium that dominates my bookshelf, there are a few graphic novels that I have enjoyed over the years. In my head, however, these were always different from “comics”, which I saw as predominantly superheroes, and a countless amount at that. I had never considered comics as a medium. Still, I found great appeal in the combination of images and words, and a few months ago, I went to the bookstore to give a new comic book a try (Fables: The Wolf Among Us). When I saw how the editions of superhero comics dominated the shelves still (and don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Marvel and DC! However, I wished for more variety in an already-small corner of a big bookstore full of different genres and types of other books), I began to lose hope that comics would ever evolve past this.
This class, along with Maus, called that thought into consideration. Not only did I encounter a nonfiction comic book, but a downright depressing one, something I never would have perceived as possible. It instantly stretched the limits of what I thought was possible and what I thought had been done through this medium.
What stood out to me the most after getting over my initial surprise and discomfort, was Art Spiegelman’s message throughout the narrative. There was no doubt in my mind that the books I’d read were nothing short of a work of art, yet I still couldn’t understand why they existed in the first place. Why would someone put themselves through not just writing about but drawing and picturing something as terrible as the Holocaust? Why were we sitting here and reading it? How was this a book we could read, why wasn’t it as unpleasant as it should have been?
At first glance, it may seem like something historical, like Art Spiegelman telling the story of his dying father, who was a survivor of all these horrors and deserved to have his story told. But the more I read, and especially since analyzing the two pages, I realized that this isn’t Vladek’s story at all; it’s Art’s. A Survivor’s Tale may seem, of course, about the man who survived all the travesties that are being told throughout the books, and maybe that was Art’s intention, especially in the first book, but it feels to me as if the title of survivor shifted towards Art as the story went on. So my question on his purpose of writing this becomes a little clearer in the sense that I don’t think even he knew exactly why, only that he had to do it. In fact, he points to this briefly in the second book:
The Holocaust and what happened to his parents and brother leaked heavily throughout his entire life, something he shows us at the very beginning of the first book with the sort of prologue of his father failing to be supportive of him due to what he went through. Right here, at the very beginning:
We theorizing for a long time during class why he would include this as his beginning, but I think it’s his way of showing us that this story is more about him than we realize. The most important things of these books, I think, are what he doesn’t say outright. In my analysis throughout the other posts, you’ll see what I mean. The hints of Art’s internal struggle only started to become evident in the second book, but clearly, he was hinting towards this from the very beginning. As a writer and an artist, Art Spiegelman did the only thing he could to deal with the answerless conflict in his life: he created Maus.