Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Mourning and laughter are both valuable
I decided I wanted to cry basically forever so I sat down and reread Maus this weekend.
Look, I know I harp on a lot about comic books but Maus may be objectively the best comic book ever made. It's Art Spiegelman's masterpiece in which he tells the story of his father's experience of the holocaust. Spiegelman does this deftly and touchingly, interweaving his own experience of telling the tale and arguments with his father into the narrative of the horrors experienced by one family during the worst period in human history.
It's the first graphic novel to have ever won a Pulitzer Prize. Maus is the reason I want to make comic books. It's the model that all other serious biographical comics have followed since because it (if it didn't create the genre) tells its story with such honesty and delicacy that NOT attempting to live up to that standard is frankly not acceptable. And in spite of the fact that it's a graphic novel that deals heavily with suicide, digs into the author's strained relationship with his father, and is about the holocaust and literally illustrates cute animals hanging in concentration camps, Maus is often very light and sweet and funny. The book focuses on the human elements of tremendous tragedy, the pettiness that mutual sufferers can exhibit toward one another, the joy found in small respites from torture, the kindness of strangers - all of these things are put on display frequently because they not only make the painful story more bearable, they're what makes the story important. We see silly exchanges between cousins and love affairs and old jokes and goofy misunderstandings because the lighten up a heavy load but they also remind us that this, the simple contact of humans and their relationships, is what was being exterminated.
Maus is painful to read but it's important to read. In a world full of memoirs of pain and biographies of suffering it's vital that the memory of laughter not be lost, because we need those memories to act as signposts to prevent such a terrible loss from ever happening again.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus. Pantheon Books. New York: New York. 1997. (1973, 1986).