My first introduction to graphic novels (sophisticated terminology for long-form comic books) was through a family member. Watchmen, by Alan Moore, was gifted to me by my cousin and I didn’t know the literary significance* of the book at the time and was completely unfamiliar with the graphic novel genre. What I thought would be an entertaining jaunt through a superhero landscape became much more than that. Stories layered upon stories and thick slabs of political and social commentary. It wasn’t just a superhero story (is any superhero just a superhero story?) but a grim satire on the political environment of the 1960s and an examination in personal motivation.
Since then, I’ve cautiously dipped my toe into the graphic novel genre. I hope to convince you, dear fellow reader, to explore the genre if you haven’t already and introduce you to stories told in a different way.
Maus by Art Spiegelman is the story about a father and son and also a story about the Holocaust. Maus is set around Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, telling his adult son about his travails during the Holocaust as a Polish Jew, which forms the backdrop behind Spiegelman’s shattered family–his older brother, whom he never knew, and his mother, whom had committed suicide–and the resilience of the surviving members.
We are all aware of the history and horror around the Holocaust and Spiegelman spares no details or feelings when sharing those. We have all also heard or read stories about the survivors (and those who didn’t survive). In the square comic panels, very much like windows, Spiegelman tells the tale of Vladek’s survival and how it shaped him into a survivor, the father he was, and the person that Spiegelman himself became.
Honest, flinchingly honest even, is Spiegelman’s depiction of his father, who lived in a seemingly alien world and experienced things that are completely unrelatable by his only surviving family member. Just as we may never truly understand our parents, it is also that way with the Holocaust and the experiences of its victims.
In a move that can only be pulled off in the graphic novel medium, Spiegelman casts the characters in Maus as animals, depicting Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. If you’ve never tried a graphic novel, this is a great one to cut your teeth on. A sincere story with an author and artist who breathes life into his characters through his pictures and his words.
*Watchmen is commonly referred to as the best graphic novel of all time and is also one of the best-selling graphic novels ever.