MAUS a review of this Pulitzer Prize winning Comic Book’s two pages
The Course detailed into many aspects of Comic books, of how this is more than just entertainment, and of comic books being a virulent art and a wonderful form of literature.
Now being a comic books fan since ages (About Me & Comic Books) I was obviously seriously interested in “LEARNING” more about this wonderful form of art – The Comic Books and Graphic Novels.
In this course Professor Kuskin spoke about various types, forms and styles of comic books and graphic novels. Their evolution and the story behind some of the most popular, insightful, entertaining and most importantly even politically influential comic books of all time.
It was a wonderfully refreshing course!
We discussed some of the most popular comic books including superheroes and their evolution with insights into the real process of ‘how they came to be’ for eg. Superman, Batman, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, etc….. and the very first comic books that introduced them to the world.
One of the most favorite topics of mine during this course was about the insights, story and details of probably one of the most influential comic books of all time – ‘MAUS’ – In 1992, MAUS became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
As part of the course, we were asked to submit two THESIS or two essay’s about a comic strip page (we were given 3-5 different comic book pages) to choose from and we need to write about one of them. Finally, we were also asked to create our own comic book as part of this series, including artwork and story. (I will share more details of this soon.)
In this post, I thought of sharing my insights and understanding about two pages from one of the greatest graphic novels of all time – MAUS: (limitations of the essay were: Less than 1,300 words)
I Scored 95/100 for my essay given below
(There were lot of criteria, rules and guidelines to follow while students wrote their essays as part of this wonderful course)
Ananthanarayanan V – Essay Assignment #2
COURSE: Comic Books and Graphic Novels
MAUS By – Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Volume I: My Father Bleeds
Title: ‘Remember, it was all started by a Mouse’
It is humbling to write about something that describes in an art form, an experience that is so tragic in human history, that it is difficult to even comprehend the gravity of this horror. The award winning comic book is more than just another Holocaust story. It is a bridge between the past and present. It focuses on Spiegelman and his complex relationship with his father Vladek. Spiegelman has expressed the events of the Holocaust that have seemed to not just influence his father’s life, but at certain levels, still continue to haunt Vladek. Vladek’s attempt to ‘explain’ to Artie, shows desperation to convince Artie to believe in him otherwise of the rationality or despair in making the decisions he had to, during and after the Holocaust. Spiegelman has used animals to represent faces of different ethnic groups, Jews are mice, Nazis are cats etc, but when observed in their complete forms, the rest of their body moves and expresses with human emotions. This brings together an epic tale in a creative manner. In these pages, the story of a horrid racial genocide takes the readers inside the ghetto and bunkers during Holocaust of WWII. I found these pages to be very crucial as it showcases despair and expresses feeling of distrust owing to the fear of death growing among each individual. As the page evolves, we can almost feel trust eroding overshadowed by fear. Each individual is thinking about survival, not as a human race, but each man for himself.
The comic book has a four by two layout with four Tiers and two columns.
Tier 1 is a mid-shot of the core characters with a close-up of the Notepad. Artie and Vladek are seriously discussing details of the bunker and Judenrat. The readers get a view from the characters eyes. Notepad drawing grabs the attention of the reader from any panel across pages. Detailed description of ‘false wall’,‘hidden by chandelier’ give a view of the frightened state of Jews seeking solace. Artie is completely immersed in the drawing whereas Vladek is trying to take Artie into the scene and make him feel the emotions.
Tier 2 is a wide shot depicting the narrative about them seeking food by sneaking out. This scene is balanced with silhouette of the Mice trying to hide themselves from the army Cats (Two soldiers feet walking facing the other direction). One cannot see the (mouse) eyes, but the body posture says it all. The scene feels grimmer as we can clearly see that the place is already pitch-dark and yet the mouse needs to take precaution by hiding behind the wall while grabbing small bag of food.
Tier 3 Panel 1 shows immediate reaction of relief from other members when they see Lolek who says “It’s like a battlefield outside” even prior to climbing back into the space showcasing urgency to express his fearful experience. Tier 3 Panel 2 shows all of them having a serious discussion about the status outside. This focuses on the fact that the time to grab food is also an important time to gather as much information about what’s really happening outside.
The Tier 4 Panel 1, shows them scurrying hungrily towards the bag. As one of the mouse queries about the contents of the bag, Lolek replies “Just a few old turnips” takes a small pause and adds, “and some books.” His pause tells us about the fierce discussion that is about to follow. The Tier 4 Panel 2 shows the sudden commotion and frustration of a group member who yells angrily with his arms on his hips, “BOOKS!? What’s the matter with you? We can’t eat books!” This scene speaks about each member’s state of mind. One member is shown to be in complete fear with focus on keeping their voices down from reaching the soldiers patrolling outside. Two members at the back with their heads and eyes lowered express shattered hopes of finding more food. The agitated character is shown in absolute state of fury whereas Lolek is shown to give importance to books, even more than food. This behavior could have been to express the fact about Nazis burning all texts that spoke of topics which were not approved by them. This scene ends with an informal English dialect by Vladek to Artie.
Tier 1 panel 1, narrative description continues. When they return from food hunt, they find a stranger in the bunker sitting petrified and dazed with fear. Important to note: All of them have been out hunting for food, probably due to earlier fight causing distrust among them. Readers can feel human bonds of trust and empathy eroding in this scene and more so further. Tier 1 Panel 2 “We DRAGGED him….” The eyes of each character in that room express rage towards this stranger. “What are you doing here?” is the first question they ask him. No one enquires about ‘his family’ or even ‘who he is’. Rather it’s extremely curt especially with focus on ‘We DRAGGED’. The stranger stammers and responds explaining he came without any preconceived expectations of this place and landed here merely to rest.
The Tier 2 is divided into 4 panels:
Tier 2 Panel 1: Stranger is shown perspiring and his hands as though trying to request the group to hold back and just give him a moment. He explains that he has a family and a kid who is starving, the stern eyes of the group adds more tension to the room while one of them, says out aloud, “He’s lying!” Based on the earlier panel’s sketches, the person speaking out could very well be Lolek, as he is the only one shown through these panels to be wearing a hat, right from the start.
Tier 3 Panel 1: Lolek continues expressing to others that this stranger might be an informer and goes to the extent of saying with a sense of rush, to even kill him. It ends with an informal English narrative from Vladek expressing that finally they decided to trust the stranger out of pity.
Tier 2 Panel 2 is an important scene where Vladek states that they set the stranger free and also gave him food. Here we can see the group members in fear as they are hiding in the bunker above the chandelier.
The Tier 3 Panel 2 depicts what looks like the stranger from the earlier panels being accompanied by army Cats as he coldly points out towards the hidden room above. The stranger depicted as a Mouse is clearly a Jew, but him turning into a traitor could be to save his own skin. Such kind of betrayals were very common during those times as things went from bad to worse to absolute hell. This was the time when even families and friends meant nothing.
Tier 4 is a wide shot of the scene where all group members are shown held captive and taken to the barbaric Ghetto. German army ‘cats’ are sketched with details of whiskers depicting their fierce nature, lack of pupil filled with white space expressing scary personality coupled with guns pointed towards prisoners, creating an eerie scene. This powerfully exemplifies the command of army cats over the submissive mouse.
These two pages speak volumes of the eroded ‘human bonds’ overshadowed by need to survive.There is no trust,but merely a horrendous experience when all hope is lost giving us a glimpse of ‘nature of experiences to follow’.I titled this essay after the iconic Disney quote as the Nazi’s spoke of Jews & Mickey Mouse as vermin’s through propaganda.
Which comic book or Graphic Novel has influenced you a lot? Do share your comments and views with me here.
Have a wonderful week ahead.