Rose Ellen Sain
26 January 2009
The faces in Maus depict the German’s as cats, the Jews as mice, and all other ethnics were depicted as pigs. In my opinion, the faces in Maus are iconic and incredibly stoic as one would only perceive due to the torture the victims of the Holocaust faced. The fear the Jews faced every second of every day.
Spiegelman drew the characters in the way the Germans treated the prisoners, as vermin. Cats prey on mice as the Germans (cats) preyed on the Jews (mice). Spiegelman portrays the Jews as vermin’s. His drawings reflect how cats are sneaky and will stop at nothing to torture and kill a vermin such as a mouse. Mice are filthy, nasty vermin’s and through the eyes of the Germans they believed the Jewish race should be abolished. Spiegelman chose his characters carefully to depict how most humans perceive these two species.
Brilliant, clever, dramatic, tasteful, awesome, and shocking are a few adjectives that come to mind to describe Spiegelman’s artwork. I believe Spiegelman drew his artwork to size so we, the reader, can relate to him trying to tell the story through his father while Spiegelman tries to come to grips with his own life. A life he has been trying to cope with and understand since his mother committed suicide and left no note, with his brother losing his life at such a young age, and his father being aggressive with memories filled with pain. I think Spiegelman knew he was taking a risk by depicting the realism of the Holocaust in a comic type setting. This could be why he drew the comic in a raw, unprofessional form. The story reverts back to Vladek’s pre Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust numerous times keeping us questioning where we are in the story.
The artwork is most detailed during the war and especially on page 92 where Hitler rises to power and we get a sense of how barbaric the time really was. Just like the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. This page gives you a 4D effect. There is a statue of Hitler with a cross held up in the air in his right hand, a flag with a swastika flying, a train, a car, a bus, people dressed in their best, passports, and families. You can feel the surroundings as if you were there. The Jews arrived perhaps having a sense of hope to possibly once again get a descent life but also knowing that Hitler was the one that held the power. The artwork is most rough during his time with his father. Perhaps this is due to the fact he didn’t have a close relationship with his father so therefore there wasn’t anything vivid to recall. The last page in the book was roughest to me. The tombstone with his parents dates on them and then at last was just “art spiegelman 1978-1991”. Did he want to elude the fact he had finally come to an understanding and had closure for once in his life?
In book one on page 159, Speigelman uses a “bleed” to give an overall effect and keeps you thinking of what else is there that needs to be told. The “frame” keeps the reader confined to the image with no guess work for the imagination. The subtitle, “My Father Bleeds History”, is simply a suggestive phrase to help the reader visualize his father has an enormous amount of actual barbaric accounts he has lived to tell as well as some left untold.
The jagged speech balloon on the fourth panel on page 161 suggests intense anger and frustration. I think it tells us there is immense fire and intensity coming out of this speech balloon unlike the subtle speech balloons on other panels. The black squiggle line over Art’s head in the fifth panel suggests Art is confused. It is as if Art is saying, “What are you talking about”? On the last panel, there is no frame because Art has had enough and it is time to go. The only details I see is Art’s shadow suggesting it is late in the evening and a few bushes to suggest he is walking home. The feeling I get on the last frame with Art smoking is his way of relieving stress and needs nicotine to calm him.
Stereotypes are a way of printing two or more pages of the same content. In my opinion, it can be harmful. If an image is mass produced, the way we see others can be conveyed to a thought we may not have envisioned before. This may cause “labeling” an individual or whatever it is that is being stereotyped in a way that was not at first intended. Tattoos, certain colors or clothing, shaved heads, and behavior are a few common examples of stereotypes. Speigelman used cats, mice, and pigs as stereotypes in his comic. Cats hunt down, torment, torture, and then kill their prey as the German’s did the Jews. Mice are filthy, nasty vermins that are hunted down by cats and tortured before killing them. Pigs will do anything to get their next meal and do not care who they hurt if someone gets in their way. Speigelman portrays each one in the way the Holocaust happened. Note the picture on page 33, panel three. The mice are holding a sign stating they were a filthy Jew while the German’s are being portrayed as cats looking and laughing as though they were enjoying the torment. On page 139, panel three, there is a pig depicted as someone yelling to turn a Jew over to the German’s instead of trying to help hide the Jew. I think Speigelman’s bitter attitude and his reasons for choosing these animals were due to his childhood of always trying to understand and cope with his family’s horrific events and not being able to connect with his father. It seems as though he was venting to overcome his frustration with his father’s way of raising him.
The portrayal of cats and mice in Maus closely resemble those of the cartoon “Tom and Jerry”. Tom (the cat), and Jerry (the mouse) are in constant battle to see if Tom can catch Jerry. Tom is always hunting and tormenting Jerry. I believe the epigraph in the beginning of book two of Maus regarding Mickey Mouse is despicable. Mickey Mouse was invented by Walt Disney to bring hope and significance to people of all ages. His character was portrayed that no matter how small or in-significant you are, you can overcome all obstacles in life. I believe when Vladek told Artie he could become famous like Walt Disney, he was sincere in seeing how Artie could take a cartoon, tell Vladek’s memory of the Holocaust, and keep it interesting and sincere without making a joke about it. Most cartoons Walt Disney drew about were comedies. Walt Disney had become famous primarily with cartoons. He took a vermin, such as a mouse, and transformed him into an amusing, well received character.
A few examples of how we read pictures without text are by surroundings, facial expressions, lines, small and large details, symbols, and clothing. On page 113 in book one, panel one, Speigelman supplants words with detailed graphics. First, there is a coat and hat hanging on the wall making it appear someone is in the home. Second, there are two German’s with two dogs on leashes sniffing at a large bin and the German’s are trying to locate the scent. And last, there is a German coming up from the cellar as though he had been looking for someone or something. In panel two on the same page, a similar scene is taking place. There are Jews hiding in a room while the German’s are on the other side with a flashlight and dogs trying to locate the scent they have picked up. The Jew’s appear they are in fear because they are huddled close together as though they are afraid to breathe and one of them has their ear against the wall as if they are listening to see if they were discovered. On page 159, book one, the bleed out at the bottom of the page Speigelman is circumventing words. Here a German with his baton and his dog are chasing a Jew who seems to be fleeing a concentration camp. Also, the swastika on the truck along with the gates to the concentration camp gives you a sense of how atrocious this place must be. On page 232, book two, last panel, Speigelman once again seems to be circumventing words. The Jew’s are depicted of being burned alive. You can see the flames burning wildly and the horrific faces of the Jew’s as they are living hell on earth.
A symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else by reason or relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance. There are a few symbols listed on page 33, book one such as the buildings with smoke coming out of the smoke stacks to emulate factories, the picture frame on the coffee table and the frame behind the sofa resembling a family photo and a female with the apron giving a drink to the child resembling a nanny. The swastika has a disturbing feel as you see the family looking out their window not knowing what their country will become. The swastika has the same feel throughout the book. Every panel seems to suggest this is the symbol to obey and honor and there is only one true genetic pool, the German’s, with all other races being inferior.
Art carries a satchel in various pages in the book which suggests he has important notes he has taken over time of his dad’s recollection of the Holocaust. Carrying around baggage means you have incorporated your past along with your current life. You may start a new life but your old one still exists. You may want to cherish some memories while leaving some unpleasant ones behind. I think this story is about carrying around baggage. He has always wondered why his mother committed suicide without leaving a note and wanted so desperately to find the answer through his father. He must understand and accept his father’s unpredictable behavior in order to get closure on the manner he has displayed throughout Art’s life. Art wanted to have a close relationship with his father but never could due to his father’s terrifying past. Art’s past is what has helped mould him into the person he has become and the person he has strived to be.
Vladex is returning home to surprise his family. He is wearing a mask so he would not be easily recognized by his family spoiling his surprise entrance. I believe Speigelman is wearing a mouse mask in his self portrait on the inside cover in order to become one of the victims of the Holocaust. He needed to become a victim of the Holocaust and feel the pain and anguish the Jew’s felt in order to tell the story through the comic images. Speigelman needed to connect, feel, smell, touch, hear, and see the events taking place to understand the pain and hostility the Jew’s faced against the German’s. You must become the person in order to convey your story just like an actor develops their character in a movie or play.
The image on page 83 depicts children playing with trains in happy times. There are other images throughout the book displaying trains but with life ending images. Trains are typically used as mass transportation to work, stores, and families who lived far away. Trains are now thought of as ways to unknown destinations and mostly death traps.
The pictures on page 137, book one, doesn’t require words in order to tell the story. When looking at this page, I can clearly understand the story without looking at the words. I can imagine myself in the setting with Vladek and Art. Speigelman gives us a clear picture with details that speak for themselves. Speigelman creates for us visual clues such as a fence, lounge chairs, bushes, Art’s satchel, microphone, Vladek’s blanket. These details create a picture of Vladek and Art sitting in a park on a cool afternoon as Art is asking and taping Vladek’s vivid memories of the Holocaust. As the day progresses into evening, they humbly get up and head towards home.
"symbol." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.
Merriam-Webster Online. 25 January 2009