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CREATOR PROFILE:

ART SPIEGELMAN

Biography:

Art Spiegelman (1948- ) was born in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1951 his family emigrated to USA and he was raised in Queens NY. His early comic work was produced for the American underground comixs of the 1960’s and 70’s, culminating with him co-editing Arcade, The Comics Revue magazine for seven issues between 1975-77 with Bill Griffith in San Francisco. Much of his early work concerned itself with experimenting with the techniques and language of comics rather than a specific plot or narrative, as evident in The Malpractice Suite and Ace Hole, Midget Detective. However, the Arcade experience was such that he vowed never again to edit another magazine.

However, upon returning to New York, he met Francoise Mouly who persuaded him to try again. The result was the avant-garde, self-published and co-edited RAW magazine. Beginning in RAW #2, and appearing in every subsequent issue, was the serialisation of his most famous work, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Together with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, Maus attracted mainstream attention in the late 1980s and won the Pulitzer prize in 1992. However, this new found level of acceptance didn’t sit comfortably with Art, and as he later commented, “One thing Maus did was scare the bejesus out of me as far as doing any more comics for a while. I would rather have gotten a lethal case of the flu than taken on another comic project after that.”

In the early 1990’s, Tina Brown became editor of The New Yorker magazine with a mission to update the magazine’s image. One of the first artists she wanted to produce the cover was Art Spiegelman. He began to contribute covers as well as short comic works and by doing so earned himself a reputation for generating controversy. During his long career, he has also worked for the Topps Bubblegum Company between 1966 and 1989, designing the famous Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages bubble gum cards, before finally leaving over a dispute over the return of art work to himself and the artists he had encouraged to also work for them. He has taught history and aesthetics of comics at New York ‘s School of Visual Arts. He has co-edited with Francois Mouly, the series of RAW One Shot books and was the series designer for the Avon Neon Lit line of graphic novels which included the acclaimed adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass by David Mazzucchelli.

He lives in Manhattan, NY with his wife, Francoise Mouly and their two children.

Essential Reading:


Maus
Pantheon, 1997

Maus tells two powerful stories. The first is of Valdek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, in a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbable escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal. The second is of his son, a cartoonist, trying to come to terms with his father and his terrifying past, as together they try to lead a normal life in New York - a life of minor arguments and passing visits. It is a survivor’s tale and a tale of how the children survive the survivors.

Paul Gravett says:
Making comics worked out cheaper than paying for therapy to deal with his parents’ survival of the Holocaust and his own survival of his fraught family life. The almost 300-page Complete Maus took him more than a decade but changed the way people view comics, or graphic novels, forever. It also changed Spiegelman from an obscure avant-garde cartoonist who was finding himself “speaking to fewer and fewer people” into a Pulitzer prize-winning celebrity.

Alan Moore says:
Since discovering his work in the mid 70s, I have been convinced that Art Spiegelman is perhaps the single most important comic creator working within the field and in my opinion Maus represents his most accomplished work to date… Intensely subjective, it manages to encompass subjects as sensitive and diverse as the holocaust on one hand and the yawning emotional gulf between parents and children on the other, all in a fashion that is at once revealing, moving and innovatory. Maus surely marks one of the high points of the comic medium to date. It is perhaps the first genuine graphic novel in recent times, and as such its significance cannot be overstated. Please read it.

Umberto Eco says:
“Maus is a book that cannot be put down, truly, even to sleep. When two of the mice speak of love, you are moved, when they suffer, you weep. Slowly through this little tale comprised of suffering, humor and life’s daily trials, you are captivated by the language of an old Eastern European family, and drawn into the gentle and mesmerizing rhythm, and when you finish Maus, you are unhappy to have left that magical world and long for the sequel that will return you to it.”



Breakdowns
Pantheon, 2008

Paul Gravett says:
This year as he turns 60 brings a reprint of Breakdowns, a 1977 hardback collecting and enlarging thirteen strips of one to eight pages from before Maus. Its title suggests both the author’s mental crises and those sketchy preliminary stagings of a comic. Among them is a 1972 prototype of Maus, three pages created when he was 24 for Funny Aminals [sic], an underground comic subverting the funny animal genre’s traditional innocence. Those Jewish mice and Nazi cats, a cutaway diagram and father’s distinctive voiceover are all here in embryo but over-rendered in an imitation of Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat style, the mice’s enlarged, weepy Margaret Keane eyes trying too hard to make us emote. Part of what gave the later full-length Maus such impact is the understated directness which Spiegelman arrived at in its drawing and narrative.

This apparent simplicity contrasts with many of the other early efforts in Breakdowns which reveal his penchant for density, deconstruction, experimentation, theorising and High/Low quotation, from cut-up collage in Malpractice Suite to Picasso-meets-Chandler in Ace Hole, Midget Detective. Ahead of their time, these knowing exercises flew over the heads of most of his peers, whereas today they can be seen as anticipating the current cutting-edge. Alan Moore and Chris Ware cite them as inspiring their work’s multi-path, multi-track sophistication which is now almost taken for granted.

Spiegelman’s 1970s work also provides him with the formal grid, five storeys of three identical panels, and the building blocks - recurring elements, techniques and characters - for the book’s new 19-page introduction. He has separated this into combinations of orange and greenish blue, reminiscent of the two-colour 3D process which Spiegelman, virtually blind in his left eye, can never perceive. Just as our memories are fluid, his twenty-two autobiographical vignettes shift in time and style to recreate moments that have shaped and misshaped him.



In The Shadow Of No Towers
Pantheon Books, 2004

On 11 September 2001, Art Spiegelman raced to the World Trade Center, not knowing if his daughter Nadja was alive or dead. Once she was found safe - in her school at the foot of the burning towers - he returned home to meditate on the trauma. “I hadn’t anticipated that the hijackings of September 11 would themselves be hijacked by the Bush cabal that reduced it all to a war recruitment poster…” In his first graphic novel since the groundbreaking Maus, Art Spiegelman presents a deeply moving personal, politically charged account of the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001. In a large format book, Spiegelman relates his experiences of the national tragedy in drawings and text that convey the unfathomable enormity of the event itself, the obvious and insidious effects it had on his life, and the extraordinary and often hidden changes that have been enacted in the name of post-9/11 national security and that have begun to undermine the very foundation of American democracy.

 

Bibliography:

Comics & Illustration:
Be A Nose! (2009)
Jack & The Box (2008)
Wacky Packages (2008)
Breakdowns (2008)
In The Shadow Of No Towers (2004)
Covering The New Yorker (2000)
From Maus To Now: Comix, Essays, Graphics and Scraps (1998)
Open Me… I’m A Dog (1997)
The Complete Maus (1997)
The Complete Maus CD-ROM (1994)
The Wild Party with Joseph March (1994)
Maus Vol 2: And Here My Troubles Began (1991)
Maus Vol 1: My Father Bleeds History (1986)
Breakdowns (1977)

Editor:
Lynd Ward: Six Novels In Woodcuts (2010)

Contributor & Co-edited With Francoise Mouly:
The Toon Treasury Of Classic Childrens Comics (2009)
Big Fat Little Lit (2006)
Little Lit 3: It Was a Dark And Silly Night (2003)
Little Lit 2: Strange Stories for Strange Kids (2001)
Little Lit 1: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies (2000)
RAW Vol 2 #1-3 (1989-91)
Read Yourself Raw (1987)
RAW Vol 1 #1-8 (1980-86)

Contributor & Co-editor:
Jack Cole & Plastic Man with Chip Kidd (2001)
The Narrative Corpse with R. Sikoryak (1998)
Tijuana Bibles with Bob Adelman & Richard Merkin (1997)
Arcade #1-7 with Bill Griffith (1975-77)
Whole Grains: Book Of Quotations with Bob Schneider (1973)

Interviews:
The Comics Journal #65, 74, 145, 180-1, 300
The Comics Journal Special Edition Vol 4, 2004

Links:

Online Resources:
Paul Gravett’s Articles
Galerie Martel
Jeet Heer: What Have You Done For Us Lately

Publishers:
Little Lit
Pantheon
Toon Books
University Press Of Mississippi