The two volumes that comprise Maus stand as two of the most important books of the past 25 years. To say they changed the face of comics is an understatement (Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first book of its kind to do so). Maus is a cultural phenomenon, studied in schools around the world for its brilliant look at the Holocaust from a unique perspective. Few books have managed to capture the story of surviving the concentration camps and the effects it had not only on survivors but also their descendants as well as Maus manages to. Its creator, Art Spiegelman, managed in the books’ pages to capture the cold brutality of the world without blinking or flinching. It is impossible to read Maus and not come away changed somehow. Reading this powerful story puts something deep inside you.
A quarter of a century after the first volume’s publication, Pantheon is publishingMetaMaus, a comprehensive look into the book, its author, World War II and the Holocaust, Spiegelman’s family, and so much more. This is an incredibly complex companion to the work, and it opens the book up in fascinating ways. A bonus DVD included with the book also features compelling and informative material to build understanding of Maus.
Multiple interviews with Spiegelman permeate MetaMaus, capturing the creator at various stages of his life and in various states of reflection about his creation. We learn why he chose rodents to portray his people, how he felt about the book and what he wanted it to accomplish, and more. Spiegelman has always been a challenging figure in comics—he wants a profound reaction from the reader, and he won’t settle for a timid response. His own analyses of his work and its impact are fascinating, for the simple fact that he is so vehemently introspective and at the same time so immersed in the world around him. He is an interesting guide to his own book, both as a work of art and as a cultural touchstone.
MetaMaus asks many questions, and Spiegelman attempts to answer them all. The interviews, the history lessons, the back stories, the interviews with Spiegelman’s wife and children, the stories about the protests the book generated—even the spread presenting the multiple rejection letters from publishers when the book was initially submitted—all fill the history of one of the greatest graphic works ever published. Like Maus itself, some of the book is challenging, difficult to read and stomach, and hard to wrap your head around. It’s worth it. The book will be a great companion to Maus.
Reviewed by John Hogan on February 28, 2012