Maus. The autobiographic narrative that documents the experiences of the Jewish community during the second world war, depicting the characters as mice.
This is a perfect example of autobiographic novels and the techniques that can be used to present autobiographies in the medium of graphic narratives.
Maus centers around author and cartoonist Art Spiegelman, interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, as well as some of the events that transpired.
Don’t get me wrong, Maus is a incredibly successful piece, but i’m not here to focus on its success entirely. moreover, i want to look into the graphical techniques that set the foundation of the biography and raise the question, are comics a great medium to use for autobiographies?
sure Spiegelman is a cartoonist, but due to the intensity of the topic at hand, he could of easily done a documentary to capture more realism right?
there are pros and cons when it comes to documenting a autobiography. its just that Spiegelman utilizes those variable that make taker away from his graphic, and use them to make his work and Maus a better piece overall.
The main concern about autobiographies in general revolves around how much information one needs and how much one can get. there are already a number of variables that factor in to how much information can be retrieved for a autobiography. if the recipient remembers an event or if they feel comfortable sharing the information are just some of many hurdles that need to be overcome.
having said this, emphasis on detailing can cause harm to the content of the autobiography, especially in a graphic narrative. keep in mind that graphic narrative is made up partly of images to illustrate the situation or event. if that feature is taken away, it might as well be a book then a graphic. too much detailing would be too difficult to document in a medium like graphics because you wouldn’t have enough space to fit in so much detail.
autobiographical comics would be too thick and worse of all, readers wont be that invested in the minor details, especially from this medium. hence why Spenglerian choose this medium to document his farther’s experiences.
In a graphic narrative, small and unclear details in a autobiography can be covered with the “Graphic” or “Imagery” aspect of the narrative. Spiegelman demonstrates this by depicting race and cultural groups as differing species of animals. The Jewish are portrayed as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, English as fish, French as frogs etc.
The personification in terms of character has been simplified down, mainly because Spiegelman father cant remember the detailing of everyone during his experiences and saw different people as groups. this was a good way to categorize characters as well as what they (Mostly) stood for. cats are the predators of mice and this portrayal is meant to symbolism not only that, but how much more dominant the Germans were at the time. on top of this, other characterization of groups in Maus is a cultural reference. English for Fish and chips, French for frog legs, Americans for Hot-Dogs etc.
using the imagery to cover the small details, Spiegelman can now focus on the event rather then crafting characters, environments and situations to invest the reader into. this brings up the situation if how much information Spiegelman can place into Maus.
considering that the format would be in the layout of a graphic book, a “Goldilocks” sweet spot will have to have been found in order to get the most richness in terms of content into Maus. Too much and the reader wouldn’t be as interested. in addition, it would be too much information to work with in terms of giving the auto biography visual perspective. Too little and their wont be enough material to visualize.
As i mentioned before, Spiegelman doesn’t need to worry about the other hurdles of graphic narrative, being characters, setting and storytelling. he can focus on the information he receives and outputting that information visually. that is where a autobiographic graphic can work. the small detailing is already taken care for you.
i would say that Spiegelman’s approach to using graphic as a medium is a big step forward in terms of storytelling. he proves that if executed right, any story cannot be limited to its medium. An example of this is experimenting with sound in comics. sounds like ‘Woosh!’ or ‘Zoom!’ depict movement on a flat medium (But we can talk about that on another day).
Spiegelman proves that the medium is just as important as the content, and if done right, can actually help out the production of that content really well. Maus has sparked many more graphic autobiographies and will continue to do so, proving that the medium of graphic narrative is flexible.