It’s hard to believe that it is 25 years since Art Spiegelman’s Maus first appeared in its collected edition. On the other hand perhaps it is easy to believe, in some ways it feels like it has always been here. Cleverly mixing the personal (a son and father with a distant relationship) and one of the largest and most awful events in 20th century history, the Holocaust, Maus, like Orwell’s brilliant Animal Farm before it, uses anthropomorphised animals for humans involved in that dreadful time (cats as Nazis, Jews as mice) to quite brilliant, powerful effect. The Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel has gone on to be translated into many languages, become a bestseller and to draw in a diverse range of readers, including many who probably rarely read comics. It’s taken on a life of its own the artist couldn’t have imagined when he was recording his talks with his father about his time in the death camps and figuring out how to represent it accessibly but respectfully in comics form.
And yet it wasn’t ever sure Maus would become this iconic book – as Art explains in the forthcoming MetaMaus many publishers rejected the concept when his agent pitched the book to them. It may seem a little like the infamous man who turned down the Beatles, but to be fair to most English language book publishers back then a full length graphic novel was an unusual item most wouldn’t be familiar with, or know how to deal with (some probably didn’t even know exactly how to read it, I suspect – being able to read a comics page is a learned skill). But eventually it was accepted, with neither the publisher or artist having any idea that it would go on to become such a literary landmark.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a read at an advance copy of MetaMaus, a fascinating look by Art back into how Maus came into being, from the original short three pager in Funny Animals through his talks with his father for his personal recollections, years of research, struggling to decide how to portray some characters and scenes, trying to secure a publisher and, even after the book is published and had become a huge success, the effect this had had on him and his life – something he likens to being akin to Heller with Catch-22, wondering if anything else you create afterwards will be judged fairly on its own merits or held up against Maus as the standard, not an easy shadow to live in. The book also talks about how it has affected his own family, asking some questions I hadn’t considered about Maus before (and I’ve re-read it a number of times over the years). Packed with rarely seen work, sketches and other pieces of Maus history, the lovely hardback also comes with a DVD packed with various multimedia items to supplement it. It’s pretty much essential reading for anyone interested in the artform of serious comics and a fascinating (and sometimes personal and touching) insight into the creation of one of the most important comics works of the last quarter century, all built around a series of talks by Art with Hillary Chute of the University of Chicago.
In addition to MetaMaus, Penguin Viking are also publishing a gorgeous 25th anniversary hardback edition of the Complete Maus, in the same matching format as MetaMaus (quite lovely hardbacks with cloth spines), which is also published this week. And thanks to the generosity of our friends at Penguin we have 5 sets of MetaMaus and the Complete Maus 25th Anniversary Hardcover just waiting for 5 lucky readers to give a good home to. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of both books email in the answer to one simple question – what is the name of Art’s father? Send your answer (and contact details) to joe (dot) gordon (at) forbiddenplanet (dot) co (dot) uk before Monday 14th of November to be in with a chance of winning this gorgeous set of books.