"Maus" author tells tale of his art


Art Spiegelman's "Maus" uses animals to tell -- in comic book style -- not only the story of how Spiegelman's father survived the Holocaust, but also the story of Speigelman's attempt to understand both his mother's suicide and his strained relationship with his father.

The Pulitzer Prize winner who redefined comic books with his tale of how the Holocaust affected him and his family spoke here April 23 at the conclusion of Holocaust Remembrance Day activities.

His book was so unusual and noteworthy that the 1992 Pulitzer committee created a special category for it, and bookstores have trouble identifying where to shelve the book, which has been translated into about 20 languages.

Dressed in black and puffing on his signature cigarette -- so dear to him the organizers had to hold the event in Chats, one of the few buildings on campus that allow smoking -- Spiegelman addressed a crowd of about 250 who squeezed into the aisles and sat on the floor to hear him and see slides of his work.

Comics seemed to him to be the perfect medium for the overlapping stories he wanted to tell. "They're little boxes for memories to be stuck into and put in orderly rows," he said. He wanted to make something complex that could move back and forth in time.

He said his earliest influences were pre-1955 comic books that depicted horror in everyday life. He was also influenced by other comics, including Zap -- "comics for comics' sake" -- and Mad. "I studied these early Mads as if they were the late entries into the Talmud."

His struggle for accuracy in recreating his father's story took him to drawings that survived the death camps and became the inspiration for his images of places and horrors he had never seen. "My collaborator on this book was Hitler."

The lecture was presented by the Holocaust Education Committee of Hillel and co-sponsored by several groups, including Connaissance and the history department.

Originally published on May 14, 1998