In Love With Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adven­tures in Comics with Art Spiegelman

Jeet Heer
  • Review
September 5, 2014

In his pref­ace to In Love With Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adven­tures in Comics With Art Spiegel­man, comics reporter and crit­ic Jeet Heer writes about how his short book is, in part, a cor­rec­tive to the lack of atten­tion gen­er­al­ly giv­en to comics vision­ary Françoise Mouly. As founder, edi­tor, and pub­lish­er of the ground­break­ing Raw mag­a­zine along with her hus­band, Art Spiegel­man, and more recent­ly as art edi­tor of The New York­er, Mouly has made a strong mark in the world of comics, pub­lish­ing, and the arts. But her pres­ence is fre­quent­ly unac­knowl­edged, a fault that Heer attrib­ut­es to three fac­tors: her cho­sen pro­fes­sion — edit­ing — which has been dubbed the invis­i­ble art;” her mar­riage to the world-famous, Pulitzer-prize win­ning author of Maus, which has some­times left her hid­den in his shad­ow; and her gen­der, which ren­ders her influ­ence and stature still some­what of an anom­aly in a world that often con­tin­ues to reg­is­ter as male-dom­i­nat­ed and exclusionary.

Heer’s book is an engag­ing and infor­ma­tive read, based main­ly on inter­views with Mouly, Spiegel­man, and oth­er comics artists who have worked with or been influ­enced by the Parisian-born New York­er. The book is part biog­ra­phy and part comics his­to­ry, and Heer’s skill in decod­ing and con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing for­mal aspects of the medi­um— and then con­nect­ing them to Mouly’s sto­ry — is evi­dent through­out. He notes, for exam­ple, how Mouly’s ear­ly strug­gles with accli­mat­ing to life in New York and her recog­ni­tion of how dis­ori­ent­ing New York can be to out­side eyes” is appar­ent in the artists and sub­jects that she choos­es to work with: many of her favorite New York­er cov­ers are par­o­dy maps.” Sim­i­lar­ly, her expe­ri­ences as the daugh­ter of a sur­geon (and her train­ing, giv­en to her in the hopes that she might fol­low in his foot­steps) have stayed with her, as she often works with car­toon­ists invest­ed in the human body as a rad­i­cal­ly muta­ble thing.” Her hands-on edit­ing work, too, calls to mind how, as she puts it, Sur­gi­cal ges­tures have to have ele­gance and an econ­o­my of means.”

Mouly began her work as art edi­tor of The New York­er in 1993, and she has pub­lished some of the most con­tro­ver­sial polit­i­cal images the mag­a­zine has seen, as well as increased the num­ber of cov­ers by fine artists and car­toon­ists. More recent­ly, in 2008, Mouly began to pub­lish a comics series for young read­ers called Toon Books. As the web­site pro­claims, the series is the first high-qual­i­ty comics for kids ages three and up,” and it has pub­lished beau­ti­ful and com­pli­cat­ed works by promi­nent car­toon­ists, includ­ing Art Spiegel­man, Eleanor Davis, and Renée French. In all of her endeav­ors, as Heer makes appar­ent, Mouly attests to how edit­ing can be an art.”

As far as ren­der­ing vis­i­ble what has too long remained hid­den in the shad­ows, Heer’s book does a fine job of estab­lish­ing the val­ue and influ­ence of Mouly’s life’s work until now. If the book has any short­com­ing, it is in its title, which twice invokes her famous hus­band’s name and thus goes against the very premise of Heer’s own argu­ment. Mouly is not, as some might see her, a great woman behind a great man, how­ev­er much of her work has been inspired: she is, as Heer con­vinc­ing­ly argues, an inspi­ra­tion in her own right. 

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