Spiegelman, Art 1948–
Spiegelman, Art 1948–
(Joe Cutrate, Al Flooglebuckle, Skeeter Grant)
PERSONAL: Born February 15, 1948, in Stockholm, Sweden; immigrated to United States; naturalized citizen; son of Vladek (in sales) and Anja (Zylberberg) Spiegelman; married Françoise Mouly (a publisher), July 12, 1977; children: Nadja Rachel, Dashiell Alan. Education: Attended Harpur College (now State University of New York at Binghamton), 1965–68.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Deborah Karl, 52 West Clinton Ave., Irvington, NY 10533; Steven Barclay Agency, 12 Western Avenue, Petaluma, CA 94952.
CAREER: Freelance artist and writer. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, creative consultant, artist, designer, editor, and writer for novelty packaging and bubble gum cards and stickers, including Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids, 1966–89; New Yorker, staff artist and writer, 1991–2003. Instructor in studio class on comics, San Francisco Academy of Art, 1974–75; instructor in history and aesthetics of comics at New York School of Visual Arts, 1979–87.
AWARDS, HONORS: Playboy Editorial Award for best comic strip, and Yellow Kid Award (Italy) for best comic strip author, both 1982; Regional Design Award, Print magazine, 1983, 1984, and 1985; Joel M. Cavior Award for Jewish Writing, and National Book Critics Circle nomination, both 1986, both for Maus: A Survivors Tale, My Father Bleeds History; Inkpot Award, San Diego Comics Convention, and Stripschappenning Award (Netherlands) for best foreign comics album, both 1987; Special Pulitzer Prize, for both Maus: A Survivors Tale, My Father Bleeds History and Maus: A Survivors Tale II, and Here My Troubles Began; National Book Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Times award, and American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation Award, both 1992, both for Maus: A Survivors Tale II, and Here My Troubles Began; Guggenheim fellowship, 1990; National Book Critics Circle nomination, 1991; two nominations for Harvey Awards for Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits.
The Complete Mr. Infinity, S.F. Book Co. (New York, NY), 1970.
The Viper Vicar of Vice, Villainy, and Vickedness, privately printed, 1972.
Zip-a-Tune and More Melodies, S.F. Book Co. (New York, NY), 1972.
(Compiling editor, with Bob Schneider) Whole Grains: A Book of Quotations, D. Links (New York, NY), 1972.
Ace Hole, Midget Detective, Apex Novelties (New York, NY), 1974.
Language of Comics, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1974.
Breakdowns: From Maus to Now: An Anthology of Strips, Belier Press (New York, NY), 1977.
Work and Turn, Raw Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Every Day Has Its Dog, Raw Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Two-fisted Painters Action Adventure, Raw Books (New York, NY), 1980.
(Contributor) Nicole Hollander, Skip Morrow, and Ron Wolin, editors, Drawn Together: Relationships Lampooned, Harpooned, and Cartooned, Crown (New York, NY), 1983.
Maus: A Survivors Tale, Pantheon (New York, NY), Volume I: My Father Bleeds History, 1986, Volume II: And Here My Troubles Began, 1991.
(Editor) Françoise Mouly, Raw: The Graphic Aspirin for War Fever, Raw Books & Graphics (New York, NY), 1986.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly, and contributor) Read Yourself Raw: Comix Anthology for Damned Intellectuals, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly, and contributor) Mark Beyer, Agony, Raw, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly, and contributor), Gary Panter, Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.
Raw: Open Wounds from the Cutting Edge of Commix, No. 1, Penguin (New York, NY), 1989.
Raw, No. 2, edited by Françoise Mouly, Penguin (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly and R. Sikoryak) Warts and All/Drew Friedman and Josh Alan Friedman, Penguin (New York, NY), 1990.
Raw 3: High Culture for Lowbrows, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
(Editor, with R. Sikoryak) Charles Burns, Skin Deep: Tales of Doomed Romance, Penguin (New York, NY), 1992.
The Complete Maus (CD-ROM), Voyager (New York, NY), 1994.
(Illustrator) Joseph Moncura March, The Wild Party: The Lost Classic, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with R. Sikoryak) The Narrative Corpse, Raw Books & Gates of Heck (Richmond, VA), 1995.
I'm a Dog! (children's book), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of introduction) Bob Adelman, editor, Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s–1950s, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly) Little Lit: Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly) Little Lit 2: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, Joana Cotler Books/RAW (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Chip Kidd) Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
(Editor, with Françoise Mouly) It Was a Dark and Silly Night…, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to books, including The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics, edited by Don Donahue and Susan Goodrich, D. Links (New York, NY), 1974; and The Complete Color Polly and Her Pals, Volume 1: The Surrealist Period, 1926–1927, Remco Worldservice (New York, NY), 1990. Also contributor to numerous underground comics. Editor of Douglas Comix, 1972, and (with Bill Griffith; and contributor) Arcade, the Comics Revue, 1975–76; founding coeditor and contributor, Raw, 1980–. Some works appear under the pseudonyms Joe Cutrate, Al Flooglebuckle, and Skeeter Grant.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Drawn to Death: A Three-Panel Opera with composer Phillip Johnston; the comic series In the Shadow of No Towers.
SIDELIGHTS: The two-volume graphic-novel saga Maus: A Survivors Tale has been cited as "among the remarkable achievements in comics" by Dale Luciano in Comics Journal. The comic, an epic parable of the Holocaust that substitutes mice and cats for human Jews and Nazis, marks a zenith in the artistic career of writer and illustrator Art Spiegelman. Prior to the creation of Maus Spiegelman made a name for himself on the underground comics scene, and was a significant presence in graphic art beginning in his teen years when he wrote, printed, and distributed his own comics magazine. In the early 1980s Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly, produced the first issue of Raw, an underground comics—or as Spiegelman and Mouly refer to them, "comix"—anthology that grew into a highly respected alternative press by the middle of its first decade. It was not until the publication of the volume of Maus in 1986, however, that a wide range of readers became aware of Spiegelman's visionary talent and his considerable impact on the realm of comics. In an interview with Joey Cavalieri for Comics Journal, Spiegelman called Maus "the point where my work starts…. Up to that point, I feel like I'd been floundering…. All of a sudden, I found my own voice, my own needs, things that I wanted to do in comics."
The first volume of Maus: A Survivor's Tale, subtitled My Father Bleeds History, starts with Spiegelman, representing himself as a humanoid mouse, going to his fa-ther, Vladek, for information about the Holocaust. As Vladek's tale begins, he and his wife, Anja, are living in Poland with their young child, Richieu, at the outset of World War II. The Nazis, portrayed as cats, have overrun much of Eastern Europe, and their oppression is felt by everyone, especially the Jews/mice. The story recounts Vladek's service in the Polish army and subsequent incarceration in a German war prison. When he finally returns to Anja and his son, the Nazi "Final Solution"—to exterminate the entire Jewish race—is well underway. There is talk of Jews being rounded up and shipped off to camps where they are either put to strenuous work or put to death. Vladek and Anja's attempt to flee is thwarted and they are sent to Auschwitz, Poland, the site of one of the most notorious camps. As the first section of Maus: A Survivor's Tale concludes, Richieu has been taken from his parents by the Nazis—never to be seen again—and Vladek and Anja are separated and put in crowded train cars for shipment to Auschwitz.
As the second Maus volume, And Here My Troubles Began, opens, Art and his wife, Françoise, are visiting Vladek at his summer home in the Catskills. During the visit Art and his father resume their discussion. Vladek recounts how he and Anja were put in separate camps, he in the Auschwitz facility, she in the neighboring Birkenau. The horrors and inhumanity of concentration-camp life are related in graphic detail. Vladek recalls the discomfort of cramming three or four men into a bunk that is only a few feet wide and the ignominy of scrounging for any scrap of food to sate his unending hunger. His existence at Auschwitz is marked by agonizing physical labor, severe abuse at the hands of the Nazis, and the ever-present fear that he—or Anja—may be among the next Jews sent to the gas chambers. Despite these overwhelming incentives to abandon hope, Vladek is bolstered by his clandestine meetings with Anja and the discovery of supportive allies among his fellow prisoners. In an encounter with a former priest, Vladek is told that the numerals in his serial identification, which the Nazis tattooed upon their victims, add up to eighteen, a number signifying life.
Vladek manages to hold on through several harrowing incidents, including a bout with typhus. As the war ends and the Allied troops make their way toward Auschwitz, Vladek and some fellow prisoners flee the camp and eventually make their way to safety. In the haste of his escape, however, Vladek loses contact with Anja and does not know if she is alive. Their reunion marks a happy point in Vladek's tale. As the book continues Vladek and Anja desperately search orphanages in Europe for Richieu, to no avail. They eventually immigrate to Sweden, where Art is born, and from there the family moves to America. However, the horrors of the war have scarred Anja permanently, and in 1968 she commits suicide. The book concludes with Art visiting Vladek just before Vladek's death in 1982.
Although Maus is essentially the story of Vladek and Anja's ordeal, Spiegelman has stated that Maus is also, in part, "a meditation on my own awareness of myself as a Jew." There are deeply personal passages depicting conversations between Art and his psychiatrist, Pavel, who, like Vladek, survived the Nazi's attempted purge. Their conversation ranges from Anja's suicide to the guilt Art feels for being successful in light of his father's tribulation. As much as Maus serves as a piece of edifying literature, it also provided its creator with an opportunity to confront his personal demons. As Spiegelman wrote in Village Voice, Maus was motivated "by an impulse to look dead-on at the root cause of my own deepest fears and nightmares."
Not surprisingly, Maus sparked much critical discussion, much of it regarding Spiegelman's use of animals in the place of humans. When he began the book, Spiegelman made no mention of Jews or Nazis. The protagonists were mice, persecuted because they are "Maus." Likewise, the antagonists were cats, or "Die Katzen," and they chase mice, although "chasing" the mice means rounding them up in camps for work, torture, and extermination. The closest the strip came to an outright identification with the Holocaust was in naming the concentration camp "Mauschwitz." As Spiegel-man began the expanded version of Maus however, he found it necessary to write in terms of "Jews" and "Nazis" when going into detail. He decided to maintain his characters as animals, however, citing a fear that using human characters would turn the work into a "corny" plea for sympathy. He explained to Joey Cavalieri in Comics Journal, "To use these ciphers, the cats and mice, is actually a way to allow you past the cipher at the people who are experiencing it. So it's really a much more direct way of dealing with the material."
Luciano agreed with Spiegelman's reasoning in his description of Maus: "By making the characters cats and mice, the result is that the characters 'human' qualities are highlighted all the more, to an inexplicably poignant effect." "By relating a story of hideous inhumanity in non-human terms," declared Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor James Colbert, "Maus and Maus II allow us as readers to go outside ourselves and to look objectively at ourselves and at otherwise unspeakable events." Luciano continued, "The situations recalled and acted-out in Maus place the characters in a variety of delicate situations: they express themselves with a simplicity and candor that is unsettling because it is so accurately human." "And while the presentation is enormously effective (and while the events Mr. Spiegelman relates are factually accurate, in most ways a memoir)," Colbert concluded, "the fact is, too that these events did not take place among mice, cats and dogs. That is fiction—and it is fiction of the very highest order."
Full recognition of Maus's influence came in 1992, when Spiegelman received a special Pulitzer Prize for the work. The event marked a change in his status as a writer—he joined the prestigious New Yorker magazine as a contributing editor and artist the same year—and launched another round of Maus commentary from critics. A special exhibition, "Art Spiegelman: The Road to Maus," featuring the artist's sketches and stories used in the composition of the work, opened at the Galerie St. Etienne late the same year. The exhibition—as well as the related CD-ROM that appeared in 1994—shows how the work evolved both out of the author's relationship with his father and his own need to understand himself. Maus goes "further than many Holocaust memoirs," wrote April Austin in Christian Science Monitor, "because they portray the difficulties of living with a Holocaust survivor. Spiegelman achieves this by writing himself … into the stories, breaking into his mouse-father's narrative with descriptions of their present-day conversations."
Spiegelman's appointment as contributing artist at New Yorker sparked a new wave of controversy, as many were taken aback by the graphic content of his interior and cover illustrations. The artist, working with newly appointed editor-in-chief Tina Brown, helped create a new style for the magazine as Brown worked to change the magazine's content and image. "In case you hadn't noticed or are one of New Yorker traditionalists who refuse to pick up the magazine these days," declared Sean Mitchell in Los Angeles Times,"it now contains comic strips by Spiegelman, Edward Sorel and other artists who once toiled mainly in the pages of the nation's 'underground' and alternative media. The truth is, they are—many of them, anyway—comic strips of a high order." Spiegelman kindled intense controversy for cover illustrations, one being a Valentine's Day cover showing a Hasidic Jewish man embracing a black woman. Mitchell noted of these covers that they are "meant not just to be plainly understood but also to reach up and tattoo your eyeballs with images once unimaginable in the magazine of old moneyed taste." Other covers included depictions of a naked press corps reviewing a fashion show model in spiked heels.
Spiegelman viewed his appointment not as an escape from New Yorker tradition, but as a return to it. He told Mitchell that during the "Pre-Tina" era "it was a kind of live wire—like Peter Arno's cartoons were pretty hot for their moment. Charles Addams was considered rather morbid. It wasn't all those cartoons about businessmen in suits talking to each other over martinis." He continued to relish the creative freedom given him at the magazine until the events of September 11, 2001, changed the creative climate of the nation. Spiegelman resigned from New Yorker in February of 2003. His reasons, as explained to an interviewer for the Italian Corriere della Sera and posted in translation on Electronic Iraq: "From the time that the Twin Towers fell, it seems as if I've been living in internal exile, or like a political dissident confined to an island. I no longer feel in harmony with American culture, especially now that the entire media has become conservative and tremendously timid…. On the contrary, I am more and more inclined to provocation."
In addition to his own cartoon work, beginning in 2000 Spiegelman has collaborated with his wife, Françoise Mouly, on the "Little Lit" comic book series, which collects pieces by noted cartoonists and illustrators of children's books such as Ian Falconer, Jules Feiffer, Walt Kelly, Barbara McClintock, and Maurice Sendak, as well as by Spiegelman. Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies, the first book in the series, begins with Spiegel-man's story of "Prince Rooster." Also included in this volume are renditions of "Princess and the Pea" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" along with a Japanese folktale called "The Fisherman and the Sea Princess." Artists Bruce McCall, Charles Burns, and Chris Ware contributed brainteasers, scratchboard hide-and-seek games, and a board game.
"Little Lit" raised the controversy characteristic of most Spiegelman enterprises. Appraising Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies, a Horn Book review stated that "Many of the stories are illustrated with an affectionately retro flair." Claude Lalumiere wrote in January Magazine that the work is "a pretentious collection of misplaced nostalgia" that seems written more for adults than for children, even though it is advertised and recommended for the latter. "Spiegelman and Mouly's sophisticated collection … lingers at the crossroad between kids and adults, classics and parodies," commented a more appreciative Publishers Weekly critic. In a Booksense interview with Christopher Monte Smith, Spiegelman stated the reasons for focusing on fairy tales: "The tales are kinetic, filled with transformations. There's a lot to draw and see. Fairy tales and folklore … offer archetypal themes and memorable situations. We wanted to do a book for all ages, that could hold the interest of very young children and grown-ups."
Maurice Sendak and Jules Feiffer are among the cartoonists represented in the second "Little Lit" installment, Strange Stories for Strange Kids. One of the comics is based upon David Sedaris's story "Pretty Ugly." This volume also contains the original 1942 episode of the classic comic strip "Barnaby," produced by the late Crockett Johnson, as well as activity pages and jokes. The volume makes up "an exceptionally strong set of stories and games for kids that will also be appealing to teens and adults," noted a writer for Rational Magic. Grace Oliff of School Library Journal stated, "The stories all possess a sharp intelligence and unique imagination," while in a Horn Book review, Roger Sutton found the cartoons and stories "purposeful … even when absurd." Booklist's Gillian Engberg felt that Strange Stories for Strange Kids "will excite readers of many ages," and Andrew D. Arnold in a Time review called the book "a delightful album of sophisticated, G-rated comix." Arnold concluded: "Thanks to the intelligence of editors Spiegelman and Mouly, you can't be too old to appreciate Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids."
Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits is a memorial by Spiegelman and Chip Kidd to an early cartoonist and his quirky superhero. Trained via a mail-order illustration course prior to beginning his career as a professional cartoonist in 1936, Jack Cole originally worked in the crime and horror comicbook genre until becoming a cartoonist for Playboy. His most notable creation was Plastic Man, a criminal who becomes a stretchable superhero as the result of a chemical accident. Jack Cole and Plastic Man includes a 1999 New Yorker essay about Cole's life which was written by Spiegelman. Kidd, a book designer, arranged to reprint Cole's cartoons in paper stocks that imitate the original work.
Jack Cole and Plastic Man "is an excellent memorial to an innovative American cartoonist," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while a writer for DC Comics online called the book "a fascinating back story [with] a colorful cast of characters." "Spiegelman and Kidd have assembled an attractive and innovative package," said Noel Murray in an Onion A.V. Club article, adding that because of its nostalgic feel, the work should "be held, smelled, and felt as much as read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 76, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Witek, Joseph, Comic Books As History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1989.
Booklist, December 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, p. 726.
Boston Globe, November 23, 1994, p. 25. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 2002, review of Little Lit, p. 185.
Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1992, p. 14.
Comics Journal, August, 1981, Joey Cavalieri, "An Interview with Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly," pp. 98-125; December, 1986, pp. 43-45; April, 1989, pp. 110-1117.
Commonweal, December 5, 1997, p. 20; April 6, 2001, review of Little Lit, p. 22.
Entertainment Weekly, October 14, 2001, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limit, p. 12; November 2, 2001, review of Little Lit, p. 70.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 15, 2001, review of Little Lit, p. D19.
Horn Book, September, 2000, Roger Sutton, review of Little Lit, p. 590; January-February, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of Little Lit 2: Strange Stories for Strange Kids, p. 73.
Library Journal, February 1, 2002, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man, p. 57.
Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1994, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 8, 1992, p. 2.
New Yorker, December 10, 2001, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man, p. 107.
New York Times, February 11, 1994, p. D17.
New York Times Book Review, November 3, 1991, pp. 1, 35-36; January 20, 2002, review of Little Lit 2, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1991; January 31, 1994, pp. 26-27; October 10, 1994, p. 61; September 4, review of Little Lit, p. 106; September 3, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man, p. 67; November 19, 2001, review of Little Lit 2, p. 66.
Rolling Stone, November 20, 1986, pp. 103-106, 146-148.
School Library Journal, March, 2002, Grace Oliff, review of Little Lit 2, p. 221.
Times Educational Supplement, December 2, 1994, p. 7.
Village Voice, June 6, 1989, pp. 21-22.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 2001, review of Little Lit, p. 271.
Art and Culture Network, http://www.artandculture.com/ (June 2, 2003).
Booksense, http://www.booksense.com/ (June 2, 2003), Christopher Monte Smith, interview with Art Spiegelman.
DC Comics, http://dccomics.com/beyond_comics/ (January 2, 2004), review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man.
Electronic Iraq, http://www.electroniciraq.net/ (February 11, 2003), interview with Spiegelman from Corriere della Sera.
January Magazine, http://www.januarymagazine.com/(June 2, 2003), Claude Lalumiere, review of Little Lit: Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies.
Onion A.V. Club, http://www.theonionavclub.com/ (June 2, 2003), Noel Murray, review of Jack Cole and Plastic Man.
Rational Magic, http://www.rationalmagic.com/ (June 2, 2003), review of Little Lit 2: Strange Stories for Strange Kids.
Steven Barclay Agency Web site, http://www.barclayagency.com/ (November 16, 2003).