Monday, December 1, 2008

Meet Art Spiegelman

Now that we are venturing deep into Maus territory, an introduction to Art Spiegelman would be appropriate. Spiegelman is a highly regarded figure in the area of comics and the graphic novel medium. He is a comics legend and something of a countercultural figure with his contribution to the underground comic book scene. The creation of Maus, which is about Spiegelman's parents attempting to survive the Holocaust, is his most recognized work.

Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden and later moved to Queens, New York in the United States with his family. He began drawing cartoons in high school and became a professional at the age of sixteen. His parents wanted Spiegelman to pursue dentistry but he studied both art and philosophy at Harper College. After graduating, Spiegelman joined the "underground comix" movement. He contributed to publications such as Real Pulp, Young Lust and Bizarre Sex. Spiegelman went under a series of pseudonyms which included Joe Cutrate, Skeeter Grant and Al Flooglebuckle. He drew for comcs such as Ace Hole, Midget Detective, Nervous Rex, Douglas Comics and Cracking Jokes. Spiegelman founded his own comix revue with Bill Griffith titled Arcade.

Spiegelman later founded his own comics magazine RAW (Real Art Works), from which he became the editor. The magazine hosted a number of important talents from the United States and abroad. Spiegelman collaborated on Whole Grains: A Collection of Quotations with Bill Schneider. The book featured quotations from countercultural icons such as Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsberg. The book was mistakently placed with cookbook sections in some shops!

It wasn't until the publication of Maus that Spiegelman earned serious fame. Maus was initially seralized by RAW. Spiegelman compiled Maus into a graphic novel format in 1986. He finished the second part of Maus in 1991. Spiegelman's creation was exibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Maus helped Spiegelman earn the Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992.

Aside from comics, Spiegelman invented Garbage Candy and Wacky Packages card series while working for Topps Bubble Gum for twenty years. He also helped create the disgustingly memorable Garbage Pail Kids collection of cards with Mark Newgarden.

After leaving Topps for creative issues involved, Spiegelman worked for The New Yorker. He resigned after the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 for differences in political ideology. The image below is Spiegelman's black-on-black cover which received considerable acclaim:Do you see the Twin Towers in the background? It is a tragically disturbing picture. My interpretation is that the Towers could represent the old figure and philosophy of America destroyed, hovering as a ghost over where it fell. I personally have to give props to Spiegelman for this image because of its deceptive simplicity.

In 2004, Spiegelman later released In the Shadow of No Towers. The book is a graphic account of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a satire on the Bush Administration handling the crisis. At the time, Spiegelman lived in lower Manhattan when the two air liners struck the towers. The book explored his experiences of the catastrophe as well as the psychological aftereffects which followed. As of 2005, Spiegelman has been working on a series called Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! for The Virginia Quarterly Review.
Spiegelman cemented himself into the comics Hall of Fame by portraying many dark events such as the Holocaust and the 9/11 attacks with brutal honesty. Spiegelman is famous for his represenation of the Jewish people as mice. In the Simpsons episode of "Husbands and Knives," Spiegelman is featured in a Maus mask along with Alan Moore and Dan Clowes as highly muscled graphic novel creators!

Later on, I will do further analysis on Maus and possibly on Understanding Comics. Stay tuned!

- Kristopher

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