20 Jun 2015

Transcribed Selections from Art Spiegelman's 1991 Interview about Maus on UWTV

by Corry Shores
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Art Spiegelman

“The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Maus (Art Spiegelman)”
[Television Interview]

University of Washington Television, 1991
Transcribed Selections

[If the above youtube embed does not work, try the blogger embed below.]

Transcribed Selections

I think one of the themes of Maus is the way the past and present intertwine. And if anything I think that is something that the comics medium makes available, because in a comic book – I know that it sounds like a peculiar choice – but in a comic you have various panels. Those panels are each units of time. You see them simultaneously. So you have various moments in time simultaneously made present in space. And that is what Maus is about. It is about  the past and present intertwining irrevocably and permanently.
[around 5.00]

[Interviewer mentions that Spiegelman did a lot of research to put himself into the situation.]

That is one thing, again, about comics is that, if I am writing a book in words, and my father says, “we marched out of the gates,”  I can type “We–marched–out–of–the–gates.” Now, to draw it, in just one box, I have got to know, what did the gate look like, very specifically, no faking here, what building was on the other side of the gate? Did you march five across or four across? Were there guards in front of you or next to you? Did you march straight like a soldier, or were you hunched over and straggling? Was it raining? Did you have socks on? There is a million bits of tiny components of information that have to be found to correctly visualize such a thing. So for me that meant I went back to Poland twice. I went to Germany a couple of times as well, trying to retrace the areas my parents have been in. Did as much reading as I could. It is a vast literature at this point of the enormity. And I also I found drawings by survivors, or drawings that survived at least, from the camps. And those are an amazing resource, and amazing drawings, because it is drawing not out of ambition like I want to make a nice picture and have a nice line. It is drawing that is borne out of real urgency, like, I saw this and I have to bear witness to what I saw. And so the drawings are highly charged, very potent, carrying real information, because there were no cameras there to record this. It is the only picture of daily life inside the death camps, and that was essential for me to be able to do what I did.
[around 9.00 to 10.30]

[Interviewer notes the different kinds of animals: Jews are mice; Gypsies are moths; Germans are fish; Americans dogs; Poles pigs, etc.]
This particular menagerie, I tend to think of it as humans with animal heads. And these are animals that stand up and insist on their own humanity in spite of the fact that building something around this highly flawed notion. In that sense, this is Hitler’s idea, not mine. He said, “the Jews are certainly a race, but they are not human.” He slated Jews for extermination, which is not something that is done to people, it is done to pests, to vermin. And, I am trying this on for size with these animal heads that are kind of worn by the characters, thereby on the one hand, I suppose, universalizing the dynamics of the experience, and because of the way comics work, I think, making it even more intimate and more specific, because, when I did this, I was thinking … 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.
A kind of distance again.
You know, I have heard things referred to as, “Oh, this book is not another holocaust story,” as if you have Westerns, Gothics, Romances, Holocaust Stories, Science Fiction, which is a nutty notion, but there is this thing of like, they have the same structure: there is a life before, there was hell, there was a life after. In Maus, I felt by using these animal heads, there is a distancing from your expectations that allows you to feel something that might be difficult to experience, to allow yourself to experience, and it invites you in through the benign surface of the funny animal comic books of your childhood. And that is the visual equivalent of what I did in the balloons. My father’s English is broken English. He came and cobbled together his English after another lifetime had been built and destroyed. So to hear the story through language that isn’t structured through the way you usually hear it, you hear something freshly.
[around 16.45 end 19.20]

I meet people, and they say, well, how is Mala, and how is Francois? A lot of intimate conversation as if we had known each other for a long time. That is interesting for me. This has something to do with my medium. It is not just the fact that I say, “I have a wife,” or “I had a father I did not get along with.” Part of it is that comics are a very intimate medium, and I try to emphasize that in the way I used it. What I mean there is, I draw my pages 1:1. In other words, most comics get drawn big, they are printed small. So the errors are reduced. I try to preserve all my errors. The drawings are only like one and half or two inches high. So there is no room for wasted gesture, and there is something that is a little bit like handwriting. So it is almost as if you picked up a very elaborate diary or something. And that is one thing about it. And I suppose because comics goes so directly into the brain you end up feeling like you experienced something, and the result is a very intimate relationship with people at readings.
[around 21.50 to 22.30]


Another thing that the book does. There is this idea that, well, that is history, it is over. And you very clearly in the book say, this is not over. The holocaust is something that is as critical and important now for people to think about, to understand, than it was forty or fifty years ago, and it d the story in a very contemporary way.


You cannot pick up a newspaper and read any given day’s news without an awareness of the fact that there is reverb from Auschwitz until now, whether it is taking place in Crown Heights in New York with African Americans and Jews in collision, or whether you are reading about Eastern Europe coming out of a deep freeze, and the virus are still intact and infecting everything.
[around 24.45 to 25.00]

Another passage I remember from the book, it says, “I think, people need a newer, bigger Holocaust.”


Well, this is my shrink, Pavel, who went through Auschwitz-Birkenau as well, in a moment of bitterness saying – this is the silence speaking argument again – “what’s the point? people do not seem to learn. People do not seem to care or know or become more empathic.” And the result is that a David Duke can go as far as he has in America. We are such an ahistorical country that we are ripe for fascism, frankly.
[around 25.00 to 26.10]

Art Spiegelman. Television Program entitled, "The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Maus (Art Spiegelman)." University of Washington Television (UWTV). Available on youtube: https://youtu.be/BLVG3GNvHkU

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