9 Jul 2015

Transcribed Selections from Art Spiegelman's 2014 Interview with Neil Gaiman

by Corry Shores
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Transcribed Selections from

Art Spiegelman & Neil Gaiman

“Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Art Spiegelman”
[Public Interview]

April 4, 2014
Sosnoff Theater
The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts
Bard College


Transcribed Selections

[Gaiman and Spiegelman discuss family trees and how whole branches were eliminated in the concentration camps. Spiegelman mentions how he met with a cousin who did a genealogy of their family.]


The family in 1938 and the family in 1946. And it was the same thing, but with blank boxes everywhere. Nobody was left in 1946, just one little branch that included him and me, because cousins were really the same as brothers and sisters after the war. The only family you could find were through several steps of remove. I reproduced that diagram in MetaMaus over two spreads, and it still chokes me up in a way that the book so does not, because I have had to be so clinical about making Maus.
[from around 36.00 to 38.00]

[Gaiman then asks where did the original idea of the three-page Maus story in Funny Animals come from. Spiegelman’s answer largely reproduces what is explained in Metamaus, pages 111-114. Then he adds:]


Kafka’s “Josephine the Singer” came to mind, which is a metaphor of the Jews as mice, and allowed what became that three page story to happen.
[around 40.10]

[Gaiman then talks about his cousin who is a Holocaust professor and survivor herself.]


[She] hates Maus. And I got to listen to her tell me why she hated it, for five minutes, of going, “it is ridiculous, it portrays the Jews as mice,” and so on and so forth; “it is a cartoon.” And she got to the end of that, and she started telling me something else. And two minutes into that, she started telling me how the Nazis called us rodents, and they said “we were subhuman.” And she completely failed to see that the two lined up, absolutely.


Well, I certainly have gotten a lot of heat from Poles about drawing them as pigs. The Jews are so long suffering and so used to being put down, that I have hardly ever heard that particular response, you know? But also, because of the way the book is structured, these are self-destructing metaphors. They are metaphors that are meant to fall apart. There is a place in one little scene where a Jewish guy who is with a German woman, and they have a kid, and the kid is like a mouse with cat stripes on it. It is not meant to be taken as literal that they are different species. Or when my father is wandering around Poland, he is wearing a Woolworth pig mask that has strings hanging off the back. Some of the Poles behave really well, some behave badly. Some of the Jews behave well, some behave badly. So that in a number of places in the book, that particular metaphor, you are asked to let it dissolve. And it just allows actually something really important, which is the Little Orphan Annie’s Eyeball Effect to take place. I always found Little Orphan Annie a lot more emotionally evocative than say Little Abner, with a much more exaggerated drawing style, because here we are asked to project the expression and ultimately the face through these blank pieces of paper that were inside those oval eyeballs. And so it allows somebody to become more specific by you doing the work of finding that specific person. And I think if I was off on a search for verisimilitude, I would collapse in five seconds. I do not know what these Polish people looked like. I do not know what Vladek’s friend looked like. There is no photo reference to go to. And just by having a mouse-mask, it was just, you project the face, I will just give you the body gestures as if it were some kind of Japanese Noh Theater or something.
[around 40.00 to 43.10]

[[We will first address the notion of the animal forms as being “self-destructing metaphors.”  In another interview, he says, “I tend to think of it as humans with animal heads” (1991 UWTV interview). Note also in this interview, even the mouse heads he calls masks (“And just by having a mouse-mask…”). He has portrayed himself as having such a mask before. Consider for example these panels from MetaMaus.

Metamaus mask

Metamaus mask.2

In MetaMaus, in the chapter “Why Mice?”,  Spiegelman further discusses this notion of the characters wearing masks. So the mice are humans wearing masks, and then at times they wear pig masks over their mouse masks.
1.64.2 6

Below we see the comparison of Little Orphan Annie’s and Li’l Abner’s faces. He says in the 1991 TV interview:

do you know of Little Orphan Annie? These big discs for eyes? Well, you look into these blank eyes, and you get to a sheet of paper very quickly, and on that sheet of paper you project an expression. And it is much more evocative than a lot of other comics for me as a result, because the expressiveness is there because of your participation. And the animal heads are relatively neutral, relatively blank, and they ask for you to project Anja, Vladek, me, and whatever, into that work and thereby draw you deeper into the actuality of what happened, that somehow the animals offer a defamiliarization of the experience.
1991 UWTV interview)

Little Orphan Annie Abner coversLittle Orphan Annie Abner faces

Finally in the panel below we notice flexibility of the masks or animal forms with the hybrid child, who has both a mouse mask and cat stripes.

Spiegelman. Maus 2. p.131 panel 1 striped mice



For me comics are an art of compression. […] …what comics do so well. They are an abbreviated form of writing and an abbreviated form of drawing, closer, as I think James Stern who has this comics school up in Vermont put it, comics are not about drawing and writing, they are about graphic design and poetry. […] It is not about illustration, exactly. The visual compression is part of its power, and not everything should be a three hundred page story. If I could draw better, Maus would be have been 2000 pages. It is a compressed 300 pages, and it took 13 years to compress.
[around 57.15 to around 58.20]


For me, the power of comics is the point when you can go silent. What I miss the most about writing novels is silent panels, because in a comic I can actually have a character stop talking for a moment and just have a beat, just one of those blank panels. And you cannot do that in a novel. You have to say something. Even if you say, “he did not say something for a moment,” you just said something. You broke that silence. And the glory of comics is especially of things that are happening silence, then the reader brings herself to what is going on, to the image and has to decide what is happening, how people feel, and I love that. So for me, just because I have written “no dialogue” underneith a panel description does not make it any less [… overtalk].


All those silent movies were written. Someone had to write them, and not just the intertitles. It is built in.
[from 1.26.15 to around 1.27.25]

Art Spiegelman & Neil Gaiman. “Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Art Spiegelman”. [Public Interview]. April 4, 2014. Sosnoff Theater.
The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. Bard College. Available on youtube:

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