In the quarter century since Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale used the comic book form to seriously examine the Holocaust and its impact on his own family, “graphic novels” have become mainstream and respectable in literary circles. That’s due in no small part to the impact of Maus itself, which won a Pulitzer prize. But Spiegelman says in his book trailer that the burden of Maus‘s success had become a bit of a drag over the years, with “journalists and students always asking the same questions” about its creation. So, for everyone and anyone who’s ever wanted to know, Spiegelman created MetaMaus, a book and DVD that does an official deep dive into his creative process once and for all.
Spiegelman’s father survived Hitler’s death camps and brought a lot of… baggage to Art’s childhood, to say the least, so the question “Why the Holocaust?” doesn’t take much detective work to surmise. But MetaMaus provides intriguing background to the other big questions about Maus‘s creation. In “Why Mice?”, Spiegelman explains that he took a film class taught by a friend which illuminated the connections between squeaky-clean cartoons like Mickey Mouse and more racist contemporary media of the day like “The Jazz Singer.” Before deciding to use Maus‘s cat-and-mouse visual metaphor to dramatize Nazis and Jews, Spiegelman toyed with the notion of explore the impact of the Ku Klux Klan (or “Ku Klux Kats” as he says) in America.
As to the “Why Comics?” question, Spiegelman was never a heroes-in-tights comics reader, but he did gravitate toward the satirical magazines like Mad, which often used comics to send up the hypocrisies of contemporary culture. Spiegelman says that he came to embrace the medium of comics as way of “saying, primarily, ‘the world is lying to you.’ This was the rosetta stone, a way of breaking the code and seeing what was really going on in the world.” A perfect choice, then, for a harrowing story about the long shadow the Holocaust cast over his family.
MetaMaus is beautifully designed and comes with a DVD full of bonus materials, including digital interactive versions of Maus itself.