Tonight I had the opportunity to meet Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus, as he took time to speak at a nearby Barnes & Noble about his new book Breakdowns (an auto-biographical graphic novel that touches on how he came to write graphic novels and how he came to write Maus).
Maus, for those not familiar, is one of the most well read books about the Holocaust, known for it’s distinct graphic novel style and it’s portrayal of the the world as animals. It’s also a story written by Art Spiegelman looking at his father, who was the survivor (rather than say Night, which Eli Weisel wrote about himself the survivor). The perspective of the son and the post-survivor generation is different, and intense in it’s own way.
I’ve read Maus (it’s actually a two part series, Maus I & II) several times, and always it has been incredibly intense and emotional; my Grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, and many many of my relatives died in the war, so thought it is not my family’s story, it is in a way their very story. Everything about the victims and the survivors is tied to every other, and the emotions of Spiegelman himself as a 2nd generation is just one more layer that survivor families can relate to.
I had not expected for tonight to impact me as it did; I knew that Maus wasn’t particularly the subject at hand, and so I expected more to hear about the graphic novel industry. He was also not who I had imagined from reading the books – he’s jovial, boisterous, comes off almost as a jolly professor (his talk is filled with literary reference) rather than the burdened tired man I envisioned. If I hadn't known what he wrote about, I probably wouldn't have expected it from him. Still, the few images he presented of Maus and his time writing it reminded me that regardless of how he carries himself out in the open, Maus the story and more importantly Maus the life of his father was the defining influence on his life. His pictures were small peaks into what's deep inside him and what lies embedded in the history of all of our families.
Standing in front of him, I was humbled and thankful – the book he wrote may have been cathartic for him, but it is also incredibly important to my family as survivors, as it is I’m sure for all of us that have ties to the Holocaust. As he signed my book, I thanked him for the difficult work he did that is so significant to all of us, and told him that as a family of survivors we are thankful for it. He asked if my grandfather was still alive, where my last name comes from (it’s modified from polish origin), and finished the inscription from above. It was a short meeting that followed a talk meant more to be humorous and informative, but I walked away from it shaking and emotionally exhausted, in ways that I can only begin to describe here.
If you haven’t read Maus, make sure you do – it will not take long.