The Maus That Roared
Today is the official publication date of a book that marks several major milestones in the book world. For one, it shows how far the graphic novel has come in the past quarter century. For another, it shows how far the book has come in that same period.
The book we're talking about is MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel with accompanying DVD that is a tribute to Maus, the first part of which was published in 1986. (See our review of MetaMaus, published by Pantheon Books, below.)
The original Maus came out at a time when graphic novels were, well, novel to most readers and when many in the industry considered them unsuitable for bookstores or libraries. More than any other graphic novel, Maus changed all that. The tale of Spiegelman's father's survival of the Holocaust--whose main characters were Jewish mice and Nazi cats--was a familiar, sad story that in graphic form somehow became immediate and powerful.
Still, it took a while for strictures to loosen up. The Complete Maus, including the second part, published in 1992, eventually won a Pulitzer Prize--the sole graphic novel to do so--but only after the confused board created a special award. (Not even this writer was immune from an embarrassing brush with Maus: as paperback review editor at Publishers Weekly in 1986, I passed on reviewing Maus since we didn't review comics....)
Now, of course, graphic novels are an important part of the book world, carried in most bookstores and highly popular in libraries. And no one would decline to review a graphic novel because of its format.
MetaMaus is also striking because of the accompanying DVD--technology that didn't exist 25 years ago. The DVD contains a wealth of wonderful material, including audio recordings and transcripts of interviews with Spiegelman's father, a digitized reference copy of The Complete Maus, family documents, essays and copies of the author's notebooks and sketchbooks. It's a treasure trove of material that readers in 1986 couldn't have obtained anywhere.
So here's to the Maus that changed so much!
Happy reading! --John Mutter