Art Spielgelman’s Maus

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Maus: An Illustrated Chronicle

Maus, an illustrated chronicle by Art Spiegelman, was first published in 1991. It tells the story of Spiegelman's father, who was a Jew from Poland and a Holocaust survivor, through images. The other image strip, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, is by the same artist and was first published in an obscure underground comic in 1968. Spielgelman uses mice to represent Jews, cats to represent Germans, and pigs to represent Poles, among other nationalities, in his film Maus. The storyline in Prisoner on the Hell Planet makes use of human faces that portray bizarre and weird mortal forms in an effort to show the pain and suffering that we undergo and whose final outcome is self-destruction. This paper seeks to substantiate how the dissimilarity in style in the two comics supports analogous grander themes, which are agony and woe, and self-healing.

Symbols in Maus

In Maus, there is use of animals to symbolize people of various nationalities and to a large extent stereotypes. Cats signify a powerful and cunning political class, in this case, the Nazi oppressors. Mice represent a group in grave danger, often prey to cats, in this case, the Jews who are the tragic victims. The pigs, also used in this comic, stand for neutrality. From their omnivorous diet, it seems the author wanted to show the Poles as being accommodative. The French are frogs, maybe as a result of their use of amphibians as a delicacy. Americans are dogs, showing happiness and good-looking.

Portrayal of Cats (Nazis)

Cats (Nazis) are drawn as well-groomed, rangy, and severe. The drawings reveal good nourishment and the expressions on their faces show a smirk. This, in essence, gives Germans proud airs and a superiority complex and thus the stereotype of a superior race. As the comic builds, one cannot fail to see this pride and arrogance grow and fatten until it explodes as the Holocaust. The cats have it all and they can do as they wish. It seems as though the cats can win any battle that comes their way since they have the strength, materials, and the desired countenance.

Portrayal of Mice (Jews)

Mice (Jews) are sketched as skinny and with dull-looking skin, showing an underprivileged life and not surprisingly, evidence of a poor diet. In their eyes, which appear glittering and shadowy, they reveal deep pains. Mice, countless and almost similar, seem to suggest that Jews were too many, of lesser value, and ultimately a parasitic nuisance to Nazis. Just like the pests that sometimes invade our private spaces, this seems to justify the Nazi view that Jews were fit to be annihilated.

Portrayal of Dogs (Americans)

Dogs (Americans) in the drawings are nice-looking and joyful Labradors. Their attitude through dogs as man's best friend is at its best revealed. This goes a long way to confirm the feeling that the rest of the world had as far as American intervention was concerned in regard to the heroic acts that they did to rescue Jews from the camps of death that they had been confined into. In normal situations, and in particular law enforcement, dogs have shown that they help maintain law and order by acting as police. This builds on the narrative of America as happy, easy-going, and defenders of a desirable world order.

Importance of Drawings in Maus

These drawings and the many others used in the novel help to bring out the various intentions that the author had. Such, by virtue of the overwhelming reception and ease of interpretation by the many who have read the comic, have made the drawings iconic faces. Anyone familiar with the context from which this comic is derived does not need to be an expert to make out what each of the icons represents. They also justify the assumptions that have been made over time with regard to the various roles played by the opposing forces during the trying time that the Holocaust occurred. By using animal drawings, it is clear that the objective of bringing important historical dialogue to the fore has been achieved.

Maus: Anyone Can Relate

It can be argued that the characters in Maus can be anyone as well. The fact that a cat does not have a specific name means that apart from the historic personal context from which the story is drawn, there is indeed no reason why it cannot be anyone.

Emotional Distance

Through a lack of identifying characteristics in the iconic faces, Spiegelman manages to stay away emotionally from a story that was too personal to him. We can tell that he feels mortified that his parents had to go through hell unlike him and probably has difficulty understanding why his parents were in the situation that they were in. Through the terrible cat and mouse game played by the Nazis versus the Jews, the lowering of human dignity and their subservience, the author wants to keep safe despite telling is a gut-wrenching horror story.

The Power of Visuals

We can be able to tell a lot about the characters by interpreting their facial expressions and body language. On page 265 in the second book, there is joy and euphoria once war is declared over. The faces in the picture reveal priceless respite and bliss that cannot be equated to anything else. A picture being worth a thousand words comes into mind.

Realism and Trauma

Through these drawings, Spiegelman hopes to be as genuine as possible. The intention of Spiegelman as an artist is to create originality through his drawing. Spiegelman illustrated Maus in its actual size to keep his work in its novel state. He wants everyone to appreciate his work as authentic. Through thorough working and reworking on individual panels, sketching and re-sketching individual illustrations, his work reveals a flawless amalgamation of structure and content.

Prisoner on the Hell Planet

Unlike Maus, Prisoner on the Hell Planet uses characters with a photograph showing distinct faces, meaning that they can be attached specific individuals. In this, we are able to associate certain behavior to and define relationships based on the photos used. For example, when we see Anja (Art's mother) as depressed and almost committing suicide. This could guide us to appreciate the level of emotional engagement that Spiegelman had in this comic. To fully understand some things, one has to get through them and this is clear in the author's life and, in particular, his mother's death.

Realism and Emotional Engagement

His other depictions in this comic have sharp slants, transformed perspectives, are weird and outlandish. It seems here that the intended effect is to bring out shock and confusion. The enhanced details make the reader closely share his pain and ultimately his story.

Realism and Connection

Realism as a style in the novel and comic helps to tell a traumatic story. Action is in pictures and drawings and not narration. As such, we find it easy to relate to and even find comparatives to the characters we meet and engage in an emotional journey. Indeed, by looking at his artistic work, our minds move into his creations and we can see what he wants us to see.


It is clear, therefore, that although the graphic novel and the comic adopt different approaches, they are very much close in terms of propagating the kind of pain and suffering that the author underwent courtesy of the Holocaust and his ultimate survival.

Works Cited

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.

Spiegelman, Art. Prisoner On The Hell Planet. 1st ed. Unknown: unknown, 1972. Print.

August 18, 2021
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