Living in the shadow of ‘Maus': 43 years after its publication, the comic book remains the highlight of cartoonist Art Spiegelman's prolific career

Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, talks about his new book, "CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps."

Living in the shadow of ‘Maus': 43 years after its publication, the comic book remains the highlight of cartoonist Art Spiegelman's prolific career

NYT News Service

Spiegelman has been a celebrity ever since "Maus" won the Pulitzer Prize 1992. It was the first comic book to be awarded the prize. This changed the medium and proved that comics could be high art and literature. It was a bestseller in the United States and became a standard for school curriculums.

On a recent afternoon, Art


He was sitting in his SoHo apartment's living room, smoking an e-cigarette. The pen is clipped to a pen holder so he doesn’t lose it. He explained that he lost things all the time. After several weeks on the road, he was feeling disoriented. He had just returned from a two-week trip across the South with Dash, and also a research expedition to Columbus, Ohio's comics museum for a new project. A stop in Cincinnati was made to attend the memorial service for Justin Green, his close friend and mentor. This whirlwind trip was the culmination of a turbulent year for Spiegelman, an icon cartoonist who was forced into a national debate over censorship, rising antisemitism, and after a Tennessee school district removed his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic book, 'Maus,' from classrooms in January. Spiegelman has been repeatedly called upon to defend and champion his work since then. He has given numerous interviews, speeches, and webinars. One Zoom meeting was with residents in Tennessee County where 'Maus" was removed because parents objected that there were too many instances of profanity or nudity. He repeatedly argued that the ban is more than "Maus", which depicts his parents' experiences during the Holocaust and shows Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. Spiegelman believes that the removal of 'Maus" from schools is a more sinister campaign to "protect" children. He said, "They want a gentler, fuzzier Holocaust." Ironically, the ban brought new readers to his book and underlined its continued relevance in a time of increased fear over antisemitism and fascism. "Maus" rose to the top of this year's bestseller list, selling 665,000 copies. This is more than double its 2021 sales. Spiegelman said that the renewed attention has been exhausting and left him without much time or energy to create art. He never wanted to be a spokesperson on Holocaust remembrance, but would rather draw in his notebook. He said that it had been a "wild year" and added, "I'm done." Spiegelman is no stranger to the spotlight. Since 1992 when 'Maus' won The Pulitzer Prize, Spiegelman has been a celebrity. It was the first comic book to be awarded the prize. It was a bestseller in the United States and became a standard for school curriculums.

Spiegelman was still in high demand this year. The November issue of Spiegelman was published.

National Book Foundation

Spiegelman was awarded a medal for distinguished contributions to American letters. A new collection of essays, criticism and reflections about 'Maus’ and its enduring legacy will be published this fall.


Pantheon released a new edition of 'Maus Now'. To Spiegelman's delight, Pantheon has just reissued a new issue of 'Breakdowns,' an anthology that includes his early work. It was published first in 1978 and didn't receive much attention from outside of academic and hard-core cartoonist circles.

Spiegelman stated that there is a small group of comics-readers who know my work. "But for most of the time, 'Maus’ is like a giant skyscraper." These images show Spiegelman's comics from the 1970s as well as his later work from 2000. They give a glimpse into his versatility and his influence. There are gag comics, a detective serial that has a cubist bent, and images that go into extreme pornography. Anthology features also intimate, emotional drawings that show Spiegelman's grief after his mother's suicide and how he coped with the trauma of his parents. Spiegelman stated that "Breakdowns" was where he found his own voice. "I found territory that was truly mine." Spiegelman's close students and admirers view "Breakdowns" as a Rosetta Stone. It provides a master key to his complex and varied visual vocabulary, which reveals his vast and often overlooked talents as an artist.

Hillary Chute, an English, art, and design professor, said that the book is "on one level, it’s a deeply formalist, showing how antinarrative comics may be, with this avant garde experimental language Art is exploring."

Northeastern University

Spiegelman has been a long-time fan of Spiegelman's work and edited 'Maus Now. It's also very personal.

Although the reissue was in the planning stages long before the ban on 'Maus, the timing proved to be perfect, according to Lisa Lucas, Pantheon publisher. Lucas sent an email explaining that the reissue of "Breakdowns" coincided with a time when Art Spiegelman's remarkable career was so clearly visible to the culture. It's exciting to see so many people learn more about Art's contribution to comics writ large, given the increased attention to his career and work. Spiegelman, now 74, speaks softly with precision and has a reserved, professorial manner that can seem to be at odds with some his early comics which are hypersexual and grotesquely morbid.

On a cold December afternoon, he reflected for almost two hours on his work and its legacy, sitting or pacing in his art- and book-filled apartment with his wife, a creative collaborator.

New Yorker

Francoise Mouly is an art editor. They have been living since the mid 1970s. They had a printing press in the living room that they used to put together editions.


Spiegelman was a fan of the eclectic alternative comics magazine titled.

Spiegelman stated that Green showed him that "confessional, autobiographical and intimate material is perfectly fine content to make comics." He continued, "It's more than just making a joke or writing a fantasy story. "This was more like, What's happening in one's mind, and how can it be expressed?'

Spiegelman grew up in Queens and was plagued by the belief that he shouldn’t exist. His parents were lucky to escape death camps. He found refuge in Mad magazine and other comics for his subversive humor. His mother's playful games of doodling prompted him to draw early. He published his first comic in a weekly at 13 years old.


Newspaper, who later hired him as a freelancer.

He was hired by Topps Chewing Gum in 1966 to design novelty cards and stickers. His career was supported by the company for twenty years. This gave him a steady income and allowed him to experiment with more commercial comics. Spiegelman was influenced by the 1960s underground comic scene and was a regular in some of those magazines that featured cartoons about drugs, sexuality, and other twisted stories. In the late 1960s, Spiegelman was in a pivotal moment in his life and career. He was in hospital for a mental breakdown and was kicked out college. His mother committed suicide. He was interested in mixing high- and low-art, as well as pushing the boundaries of narrative in comics. He explored how time and space could compress or be stretched in a series images and how inner experiences and memories could be illustrated on paper. Spiegelman stated that he was able to use the vocabulary of everyone, from Gertrude Stein to Picasso to James Joyce and other formal aspects of picture-making to open up new territory. Everything I learned from this site was used to create a new vocabulary in order to make 'Maus'. Spiegelman created a three-page comic in 1972 that would later become 'Maus'. The comic opens with Spiegelman as a young mouse in bed. His father then tucks Spiegelman in and tells Spiegelman the story about how he was taken prisoner in Poland by Nazis and sent away to Auschwitz. Spiegelman was able to tell his story from enough distance by using animal faces instead of human faces. He said, "It was powerful because it allowed me deal with the material by placing a mask on people." It allowed me to at most come to terms with something that was otherwise a shadow. Spiegelman spent 13 years working on "Maus". The book grew to more than 300 pages and tells the story about his mother and father, Vladek, who were forced to live in Nazi concentration camps. It also includes his personal experience as a cartoonist and recording conversations with his father, aiming to capture the unimaginable in pictures. In 1980, Raw published the first chapter. It was then serialized for ten years. The manuscript was rejected by many publishers when Spiegelman attempted to publish it in a book. Pantheon eventually took the manuscript on. Spiegelman had no idea that the manuscript would be such a cultural and historic giant, or that it would become, decades later, "cannon fodder for culture wars." "The only person to whom I wanted to impart any knowledge was me." He said that he wanted to know how I was born and when my parents were supposed be killed before I could be conceived. It was a complicated project to try and reconstruct their history. "Maus" has been a topic of controversy for a long time. Critics were offended at Spiegelman's use of animal imagery in exploring such a serious subject. Others said Spiegelman used animals to draw Jews as mice. This was because Nazi propaganda had compared Jews to vermin. Spiegelman was merely making his point. Because of the cover's swastika picture, it was banned in Russia. It was banned in Russia in 2001 after it was published in Poland. Protesters were furious that Spiegelman had depicted Polish gentiles being turned into pigs in the cover. Spiegelman was asked by a German reporter whether a cartoon depicting Auschwitz was bad taste. Spiegelman responded, "No, I thought Auschwitz wasn't in good taste."

Spiegelman felt often oppressed by the success of the book overshadowing all of his other work in the years that have followed its publication. "Ever since 'Maus


"I've been having trouble dealing with a 500-pound mouse that chases me," he stated.

Spiegelman hopes that readers who are only familiar with "Maus", could be introduced to more of Spiegelman's work by the revival of "Breakdowns". Spiegelman, when reflecting on the artist he was at the time he created the works in "Breakdowns", feels both pride and affection for the things he accomplished and the work he has made. "I was on fire."