Meta­Maus: A Look Inside a Mod­ern Clas­sic, Maus

Art Spiegel­man

By – November 28, 2011

For the past six­ty years, Holo­caust sur­vivors have told their sto­ries in writ­ing, but few books have rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way peo­ple looked at the Holo­caust as much as Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graph­ic biog­ra­phy of his father, Vladek. In his new auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Meta­Maus, Spiegel­man takes read­ers through the process of his inno­v­a­tive graph­ic nar­ra­tive. He tells us why he chose to tell his father’s sto­ry in com­ic book form, why he chose to rep­re­sent Jews as mice, and how he respond­ed to the back­lash he received after Maus was pub­lished. He also includes inter­views with his wife and chil­dren, dis­cussing their roles in the cre­ation of Maus and how it changed their lives.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the most strik­ing fea­ture of this auto­bi­og­ra­phy is Spiegel­man’s art­work. The book is filled with his sketch­es, inspi­ra­tions, pre­vi­ous work, and even fam­i­ly pho­tos. Also includ­ed is a DVD that con­tains Maus I and II and “ an exem­plary thim­ble­ful from the vast Maus Midrash.”

Alyssa Berlin is a senior at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School. Along with being an avid read­er, she is the edi­tor-in-chief of her school news­pa­per. Alyssa worked as an intern for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil this past sum­mer (and will hope­ful­ly con­tin­ue again next spring).

Discussion Questions

Meta­Maus is as bril­liant and par­a­digm-shat­ter­ing as Spiegelman’s award-win­ning mod­ern clas­sic, Maus. It is extreme­ly valu­able for its insights into the artis­tic process, and it con­tex­tu­al­izes a life of cre­ative imag­i­na­tion and the haunt­ing ques­tions that sur­round and pen­e­trate it. Indeed, this is a work of genius. Even if it were only a mem­oir about writ­ing a mem­oir, it would stand as extra­or­di­nary in itself. But in new and strik­ing ways the book (though we need anoth­er, rich­er name for this piece of art) includes, through text, draw­ings, pho­tos, and oral tes­ti­mo­ny, a grap­pling with the ques­tions that sur­round­ed Maus and per­sis­tent­ly fol­lowed in its wake: Why the Holo­caust, why mice, why comics? Spiegel­man not only con­fronts and wres­tles with these ques­tions, he also tries valiant­ly to tell us some­thing about the mean­ing of Jew­ish­ness across the gen­er­a­tions. He often succeeds.