MetaMAUS by Art Spiegelman

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MetaMAUS by Art Spiegelman

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A exhaustive - if never exhausting - guide to how a classic graphic novel is made.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670916832

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Before the Holocaust was turned into a child-like near-fable for all, and before it was the focus of superb history books such as this, it became a family saga of a father relating his experiences to a son, who then drew it all - featuring animals not humans - Maus. To celebrate the twenty-five years since then, we have this brilliant look back at the creation of an equally brilliant volume.

So Maus is 25, but its origins go back further, in fact to 1972 and the first appearance of Art Spiegelman's Jewish mice and Nazi cats, in a three-page short strip. The reasons for all the decisions that led to this are of course here, and in copious forms, as is the original. MetaMAUS is nothing if not forensic in looking at exactly how, why and when Art made his artistic decisions. You can count the pages here without illustration (from the end product, from his archive of sketches, his source materials and photos) on the fingers of one hand. The writing itself generally focuses on interviews with Hillary Chute, who knows her subject matter (whether artwork or artist) inside out and back to front, and stops at nothing to make sure you lack nothing by the end.

There's not only the creation process looked at quite intimately, but the history of the book since. It once featured on a non-fiction best-seller chart, although it's autobiography (unless one disallows that on account of it concerning mice). It's been seen and applauded in all corners of the world, but as yet nobody has ever published any kind of Arabian edition.

I got castigated once doing A-level English for submitting a 2,500 word essay regarding my own 500 word short story. You can feel at times the overload of information and minutiae here, and may wonder why any text deserves such academic and informative appraisal and dissection. But the level of information never exactly overwhelms, and for those who have read and loved, or perhaps studied and loved, the original will gain much from these pages, many times over.

By the end we're leaving the new material behind, and reading transcripts from the actual recordings Art committed to tape with his father. There's therefore a level of overlap with the DVD-ROM you also get with the physical edition of this book, for there too are the entire, unedited transcript, and four hours of the original audio. The DVD-ROM is replete with information and things to click on. One forty-four minute video is Art and his wife creating their own-made reference footage from Auschwitz and Birkenau, to where the story reaches at its depths. You have to wonder at the decisions German TV made to shoot their film of Art outside the Birkenau barbed wire, chain-smoking and reading an irrelevant comic.

Also featured are copious images. One file is claimed to have 7,500 illustrations. You don't need me or a maths degree to work out that at one a second that's over two hours alone - if your drive can actually allow you to access the pics at that rate! Curiously redacted notebooks and more add to the gamut of documentation. It also serves as an excuse to republish an older DVD-ROM copy of the original graphic novel, allowing you to click on any prior sketch draft, hear relevant audio, see and hear and learn as much as is physically allowed by this annotation.

So, as Art jokingly says, ""here are all the documents I used, you go through them. And here's a twelve-foot shelf of works to give these documents context, and here's like thousands of hours of tape recording, and here's a bunch of photographs to look at. Now, go make yourself a Maus!""

Another pertinent quote is from the wife, Francoise - so now, all these years later, the man who likes to complain finally has a legitimate grievance: he gets to complain about the success of Maus. There is a sense of signing off with this volume, Art making himself free to move on and never revisit these grounds. He certainly leave us with no cause to kvetch.

The best primer of the history of graphic novels of all stripes remains The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels by Danny Fingeroth.

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