Russian bookstores remove ‘Maus’ over swastika on cover

Russian bookstores began removing the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” from their shelves due to the large swastika on its cover.

Concerns about raids by the authorities to remove the symbol ahead of May 9, when Russia will observe 70 years since the victory over the Nazis, reportedly led to the move on the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman.

Russia enacted a law banning Nazi propaganda in December. Toy stores and antique shops have been raided for Nazi symbols.

The Respublika bookstore chain confirmed to The New York Times on Monday that it had removed the book because it was concerned about the raids.

Inspectors seeking “book covers with Nazi symbols, in particular drawings of the swastika, led the company to consult with lawyers about the legitimacy of selling this book in our chain,” Anastasia Maksimenko, a representative for Respublika, told the Times in an email.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, while confirming that Nazi and fascist symbols were unacceptable, said that “everything needs to be in moderation.”

“Maus,” which won the Pulitzer in 1992, was first published in Russia in 2013, according to the French news agency AFP. About 10,000 copies have been sold in Russia, the publisher told AFP.

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman reveals his influences in ‘Wordless!’

When cartoonist Art Spiegelman published the first volume of his graphic novel “Maus” in 1986, many hailed it as a milestone in the history of comics. The memoir of his father’s experience in the Holocaust, drawn with Nazis as cats and Jews as mice, sparked a widespread conversation about the distinctions between the serious and humorous, between high- and low-brow culture, and between words and pictures.

Spiegelman delicately balances himself atop the hyphen that separates those tendencies. In a new performance piece titled “Wordless!” with words and pictures by Spiegelman and music by Phillip Johnston, there’s even a drawing of a man teetering on the punctuation mark, with all those binary ideas listed on both sides of him. It’s a powerful message, representing the artificial limitations placed on artists as they try to create new types of storytelling.

“Wordless!” comes to UCLA’s Royce Hall on Oct. 15 as part of an eight-city tour, and it’s just as hyphenated (and de-hyphenated) as the rest of Spiegelman’s work. He stands before a lectern, describing his own personal connection to the history of comics, while images of early woodcut art and Sunday morning comic strips flash above. The presentation is interrupted and sometimes accompanied by acclaimed jazz composer Johnston’s live score.

Phillip Johnston (left) and Art Spiegelman. Photo by Sarah Shatz

“I’ve been calling it ‘intellectual vaudeville,’ but that doesn’t quite do the trick,” Spiegelman said with a laugh. “I think now maybe it’s low-brow Chautauqua.”

Speaking by phone from New York just before leaving on the tour, Spiegelman said the idea for “Wordless!” came after the Library of America invited him to edit, and write an introduction to, its two-volume set of the complete woodcut novels of Lynd Ward. It was a big departure for the publisher of classic American writers such as Melville, Faulkner and Twain, and a testament to the rapid growth in popularity of graphic novels. 

“[Ward] was working in a genre, in a category, that nobody seems to know much about outside of a small cult,” Spiegelman said. “And in the course of doing this, I got to revisit my enthusiasm for him and for other woodcut novelists and silent storytellers using pictures.”
To call woodcut novels the precursor to comics is a misnomer, Spiegelman said. Rather, they were on parallel tracks. The woodcut novelists and storytellers of the 1920s and ’30s identified themselves as “artists, as opposed to working stiffs.” Drawing comics could be a lucrative career, while the early graphic novelists told different kinds of stories. The works might seem similar, Spiegelman said, “but it almost seemed like on another continent.”

The first U.S. retrospective of Spiegelman’s work opened last year at the Jewish Museum in New York and was called “Co-Mix,” as in a co-mixing of words and pictures. In this case, “The hyphen helps de-familiarize the words, so you can see it fresh,” Spiegelman said in “Wordless!”

Last year, he was invited by Australia’s Sydney Opera House to speak at its annual festival of graphic storytelling, animation and music. There he met with Johnston, a longtime friend who had settled in Sydney with his wife, playwright Hilary Bell, and two children nearly a decade ago. Johnston had formed The Microscopic Septet in 1980 (known for performing the theme song for NPR’s “Fresh Air” program) and was a known figure in New York’s underground music scene.

“For the last 20 years, one of the main things I’ve done in my own work is write new scores for silent films and perform them live with the films,” Johnston said. Spiegelman happened to go to one of his performances, a live score set to Tod Browning’s 1927 silent horror film “The Unknown,” and they connected soon after. “Art is also a total music freak,” Johnston said of Spiegelman, “and he’s a collector of obscure recordings, so we just have a lot of interests in common.”

They worked together, between New York and Sydney, for about a year, with Johnston writing new music inspired by the books and artists that Spiegelman picked out. They had to figure out the speed at which the images flashed by and set the music to that speed. “I would estimate that Art and I spoke on Skype that year for about 90 minutes maybe once every two days,” Johnston said. “We did entire pieces and then took them out of the show because it was getting too long.”

The resulting project blurs the lines between concert, lecture and film. It’s a guided trip through the works of artists such as Si Lewen, whose 1957 anti-war book “The Parade” features rows of carbon-copy soldiers, marching with bayonets pointed upward in a silent procession that’s both beautiful and haunting. Other artists represented in the show include Frans Masereel, H.M. Bateman, Otto Nückel, Milt Gross and a new piece from Spiegelman himself called “Shaping Thought!”

“Wordless!” is a chance for Spiegelman to pay tribute to the pantheon of masters who paved the road for him and other forward-thinking, genre-bending comic artists such as Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes and Ben Katchor. Works by many of those artists were included in Spiegelman’s influential art journal, RAW, which he published from 1980 to 1991 with his wife, Françoise Mouly.

“Wordless!” also gives Spiegelman a chance to disclaim some of the credit he’s received for “Maus.” While the multivolume work brought entire new audiences into the world of graphic novels, and earned Spiegelman the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a cartoonist, there are other artists whose work influenced future generations. As Spiegelman puts it in the performance, “I’ve been called the father of the graphic novel. But I’m here today demanding a blood test.” 

In a way, “Wordless!” picks up the thread from public radio programs, like “Radiolab,” “Snap Judgement” and “This American Life,” which also have staged live performances that blend spoken word, dance and music. It’s also a bit like the TED Talks series of lectures, in which academics, entertainers and “thought leaders” present their life’s work in bite-size, easily digestible pieces for rapt audiences. 

One need not be an avid consumer of comics or graphic novels to appreciate “Wordless!” In fact, Spiegelman points out, the general public by now knows a lot more about early comics than people did when he started giving lectures about comics history in the 1970s.

“At the time that I was first doing this, you know, Winsor McCay’s ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland,’ George Herriman’s ‘Krazy Kat’ — this was relatively rarefied information,” he said. “I think now it’s possible to ask somebody who considers themselves educated to know who those people are.”

“Wordless!” comes to UCLA’s Royce Hall on Oct. 15. Tickets are available at

‘The Property’: Graphic in gray areas

Rutu Modan’s recently released graphic novel, “The Property,” is the latest in a long line of works using the medium to express the Jewish experience.

In 1978, Will Eisner began popularizing the long-form comics format with Lower East Side Jewish tales in “A Contract With God.” By 1986, Art Spiegelman legitimized the genre with his Pulitzer Prize winning Holocaust account “Maus,” paving the way for more Jewish book-length comics, such as Joann Sfar’s “The Rabbi’s Cat” (2007).

And yet, unlike its predecessors, “The Property” uses its Jewish themes almost as a prop, an engine humming in the background intended to propel the complex, sometimes dysfunctional dynamics between her characters.

This isn’t the first time that Modan has done this. In 2007, she used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a backdrop — albeit distant — for a brilliant relationship yarn in her critically acclaimed debut, “Exit Wounds.” Now, after some illustrations, short stories and a children’s book (“Maya Makes a Mess”), Modan is back with her official follow-up, released May 14. In “The Property,” Poland’s Holocaust past sets in motion another set of complicated relationship dynamics. 

Modan said she cannot help but react, even indirectly, to situations affecting her country.

“I have a very strong identity as a Jew and as an Israeli,” Modan told the Journal from her Tel Aviv home.

[See a page from the graphic novel at the bottom of this article]

“Identity” has a strong hand in “The Property,” in which Polish Jews and Poles intersect in a tale rife with forbidden love and the heavy burden of the Shoah. Young Mica Segal accompanies her grandmother Regina to Poland, where the latter stands to lay claim to her late husband’s property, which, since World War II, has been converted into a hotel. Of course, ulterior motives abound, from Regina’s reason for visiting Warsaw to Tomasz, the non-Jewish concentration camp tour guide for whom Mica falls.  

After working on it for three years, Modan wrapped “The Property” last November. She researched the Warsaw Uprising, traveled to Poland and hired actors to photograph posing as her characters to help her storyboard out her graphic novel.

“It made the story better,” the 40-something artist said of the latter. “Cartoonists are like monks. It’s solitary work. With comics, it’s like a movie or play, but you don’t have to be around anyone.

You are the director, actor, scriptwriter. Letting strangers [give life] to the characters [was rewarding].”  

Visiting Poland, Modan found dealing with the country’s past complicated: “I felt that the Poles have a different story about what happened in World War II than the Jews. Even in Germany, people my age know Nazis were evil, Jews were victims. It’s easier to communicate, they have the same story. We can make a relationship based on starting a new page. 

“In Poland, it was really difficult for me to accept their story: The Jews live happily in Poland; then, suddenly, the Nazis came [and] killed Jews. The Poles helped the Jews, they tried to hide them. There was no anti-Semitism, everyone loved the Jews. The pogroms were in Russia, not Poland. It was even better for Jews than in other countries. I wanted to ask everyone, ‘OK, what really happened?’”

With Tomasz, an aspiring cartoonist, Modan keeps his intentions during his tryst with Mica ambiguous, even suspect: Is he sincere or a con artist?  

“We are suspicious of the Poles,” she said. “At the same time, he is me! It’s also a joke about me being a cartoonist.”

Like Regina, Modan’s grandparents came to Palestine before the war.

“I didn’t want to make Regina a direct Holocaust survivor or a victim,” Modan said. “When you say Holocaust survivor, you can’t say bad things about this person. I didn’t want to make anyone too bad or too good. Jews and Israelis are experts in being victims. Their reaction to the whole world, if someone criticizes Israel, is that they are anti-Semitic. If someone is a victim, they cannot be an oppressor, but the truth is, you can be a victim and an oppressor at the same time. Polish people also feel as if they were victims of World War II.”

In most of her work, including her 2008 collection “Jamilti and Other Stories,” Modan acknowledges her heritage. However, she said, “I’m interested in the drama in between people. I’m just a confabulist, and I have a very safe life. I sit in my room in Tel Aviv, and I have my kids.”

Comics-industry critics have attributed her aesthetic to the influence of “Tintin” creator Hergé, who cast the largest shadow on European comics. But Modan rejects the suggestion that she is a disciple of ligne claire (a clean, graphic style employing bold outlines).

“It’s really overstated,” she said, crediting Americans her mother collected when Modan’s parents lived in the United States in the 1960s: Charles Addams, Jules Feiffer, Shel Silverstein.

Long active in Israel’s comics-creating scene, she became an editor of the Hebrew version of MAD magazine in the mid-1990s. Soon after, she helped found Actus Tragicus, a group of Israeli comics artists in the spirit of Spiegelman’s RAW anthologies and German and French cartooning groups. For the past decade, Modan has taught cartooning and children’s book illustration at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. 

Promoting “Exit Wounds,” Modan made her first extensive North American tour in 2008, capped by Comic-Con International in San Diego, where she inspired a spotlight panel and long lines at publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s booth. Predictably, her nationality made her a magnet for political discussions.

“Because I write not just for Israel but for a foreign audience, I don’t feel it’s easy for me to play this part,” she said. “I want peace, and my political views are from the left. Because I’m critical, it’d be phony for me to just be the good Israeli.”

Modan fancies herself an observer, not an ambassador.

“In politics, you have to choose an opinion,” she said. “When I go to vote, I have to decide who is bad and who is a good guy, but when I write I can support the Poles and the Jews. I’m much more interested in the gray areas. They’re more closer to reality.”

A page from Rutu Modan’s graphic novel “The Property.”

Israel in the eyes of Harvey Pekar

Ever since Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” won a Pulitzer Prize, no apologies need to be made for the aspirations of comic book artists to enter the realm of literature.  R. Crumb, for example, recently rendered nothing less exalted than the Book of Genesis as a graphic novel.  And Marjane Satrapi applied the same techniques to a best-selling work of memoir in “Persepolis.”

“Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me” (Hill and Wang: $24.95) is a ” title=”J.T. Waldman draws on Harvey Pekars Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me” target=”_blank”>J.T. Waldman draws on Harvey Pekar’s
‘Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me’

Pekar, however, does not.  He acknowledges the role assigned to God in Jewish texts and tradition, but he’s not buying it.  Indeed, he challenges most of the pieties and true beliefs of Judaism and Zionism, and he frankly shows us how and why he was booted out of Hebrew school because of his oppositional ways. “Harvey, there’s a thin line between genius and crazy,” his exasperated teacher scolds him, “and you’ve crossed it.”

For Pekar, as for Abraham, Jacob and Moses, struggling with higher authority — and even the highest authority — is itself an authentic Jewish tradition. “I guess we’ve always been a thickheaded people who enjoy disagreeing with one another,” says Pekar, and Waldman is shown to correct him: “I believe the term is ‘stiff-necked,’” says the young man, putting air-quotes around the word.

The qualms and quandaries that afflicted Pekar, of course, are neither original nor profound, and the experiences he describes are common to his entire generation.  But Pekar and Waldman express themselves with a striking visual inventiveness that deepens and sharpens the story. When Pekar shows us the history of Judea during the Roman era, the illustrations are rendered in mosaic patterns; when he describes the emergence of Islam, the panels are drawn to resemble illuminated pages from the Koran, decorated only with calligraphical and geometrical patterns. And when he depicts his abortive effort at aliyah — he never actually makes it to Eretz Yisrael — the faces are blurred out as if to show how alienated he felt when he showed up at the Israeli consulate in Chicago.

“Well, maybe I could work on a kibbutz,” says Pekar. The consular official confronts him with the harsh truth: “They wouldn’t take you, and if they did, they’d throw you out.”  Explains Pekar, no less harsh and no less truthful:  “What the guy was saying was that I was a loser, and Israel had no time to rehabilitate shmucks.”

Pekar may not believe in God and Torah, but he definitely shares the Jewish habit of mind that allows many of us to see both sides of every question. “The Arabs have a legitimate beef,” he insists. “Ben-Gurion admitted it. Dayan admitted it. Sure, the Jews tell everyone that God provided them the land because they are his people. But every ethnic group thinks they are his chosen people.”

By the end of “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me,” Pekar readily confesses that he is clueless about practical solutions — “Yeah, I know I’ve never been to Israel, but…that doesn’t mean we’re not entitled to an opinion” And he insists that he knows the difference between right and wrong. “I’ve got no idea how to resolve this thing,” he says, “but if the main issues — like Jerusalem, the right of return, and possible reparations — aren’t discussed, it’s hard to imagine any progress being made.”

So the book fits neatly into the literature of hand-wringing resulting from the current stalemate that has stalled the peace process and gridlocked the governance of Israel.  “I do not hate myself,” Pekar announces to those who pronounce him to be a self-hating Jew, “and Jews who criticize Israel aren’t necessarily mentally ill.”

Indeed, as he catches the reader’s eye from within a cartoon panel, Pekar comes across as thoroughly and authentically Jewish, a man who knows the weight and volume of tragedy that afflicts the history of his people but insists on aspiring to a better world than the one in which he finds himself.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal.  His next book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan, will be published under the Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton during the 75th anniversary year of Kristallnacht in 2013.  Kirsch blogs at

‘MetaMaus’ revisits, expands upon Pulitzer-winning graphic novel

Art Spiegelman shattered the conventions of comic books and Holocaust literature with the publication of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel

that depicts the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice.  Now, a quarter-century after the publication of “Maus,” Spiegelman allows us to glimpse the origins, making and enduring impact of his courageous masterpiece in “MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus” (Pantheon: $35). 

Spiegelman credits Hillary Chute, an English professor at the University of Chicago, with inspiring and “enabling” him to create “MetaMaus,” which draws on four years of interviews by Chute and what he calls “my rat’s nest of files, archives, artwork, notebooks, journals, books and dirty laundry.” The result is an eye-catching and highly kinetic book-and-DVD package of art and text, conversation and reminiscence, photos, drawings and audio clips, all of which add up to an intimate family memoir, a detailed account of how a great work of art and literature came into existence, and a lively version of the kind of literary deconstruction that is ordinarily conducted in the dry prose of academic journals.

“Why comics?” asks an unseen interlocutor in one cartoon panel. “Why mice?!”  “Why the Holocaust?!”  The author, depicting himself as a skeleton in a mouse mask, answers: “Yikes!” And then adds: “… Or to quote my forefathers: Oy!”

No intimate detail is left out.  Spiegelman reveals that he discovered the Holocaust at the age of 13 when he was searching out a copy of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in his mother’s private collection of books and happened upon “Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story.” His parents only reluctantly revealed their own experiences as survivors of the Holocaust, and his mother later took her own life, but he succeeded in extracting the real-life story that is played out in “Maus.” The theme of his reminiscences is the restless search for a safe place in which to encounter his parents and their horrific experiences and, at the same time, a way to define himself as an artist and a writer.

“The irony is just that the safety zone in my relationship with my father took place in discussing the moments when he was least safe, and where there were just such high stakes and disaster everywhere,” Spiegelman explains. “My impulse to become a cartoonist had something to do with finding a zone that was not my parent’s zone. It was my assimilation into the American culture that was closed to my parents, and it gave me a zone of safety from them.”

Spiegelman is brave and candid about the risks he took in using the tools of the cartoonist to depict the events of the Holocaust and about his own motives in doing so. “I didn’t think in terms of making a text about the Holocaust,” he explains. “The book was a text about my … my struggle, ‘mein kampf.’ And, within that context, I was just trying to tell the story without falling into the two pits on either side of the project: either coming off as a cynical wisenheimer about something that had genuine enormity, or being sentimental, a form of trivialization on the other side of that road.”

The impact of “MetaMaus” owes much to the artifacts that are displayed on its pages — bar mitzvah photos, early sketches from “Maus,” and the source material he consulted in his research, among much else. For example, he reproduces the rejection letters he received from America’s most important agents and publishers, most of whom managed to miss the point of the book in ways that should embarrass them. “It was very clever and funny,” wrote one famous figure, then at Knopf, “but right now we are publishing several comic strip-cartoon books, and I think it is too soon to take on another one.” 

Spiegelman, by contrast, is an acute observer of the culture in which he lives and works, which helps to explain how he was able to navigate so deftly through the minefield of a comic book about the Holocaust.  His editor at Pantheon, for example, feared a backlash from the Jewish community and recommended that he “just move to the country for a while and lie low,” but it turned out that America — if not Israel — was ready for a Holocaust comic book.

“If anything, I guess my fellow American Diasporists could accept the self-deprecating image of Jews as cute, fuzzy rodents,” he observes. “But I think that one of the reasons Israelis were never quite comfortable with the book is that the image of mice contains the stereotype of Jews as pathetic and defenseless creatures.”

The author acknowledges that the critical and financial success of “Maus” changed his own life, but he also discloses the moral burden that came with the honors and the royalty checks: “I’d incurred an obligation to the dead.” In “MetaMaus,” he has discharged that obligation and, at the same time, he has enriched our experience of his important work in a rare and significant way.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs on books at

Art Spiegelman: Behind the Mouse Mask

Wearing a three-piece suit and looking more elder statesman than the artist he is, Art Spiegelman addressed an audience of about 100 at the high-toned Soho House on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood late in the afternoon of Oct. 9. The occasion was the taping of a conversation with book scholar Michael Silverblatt, host of the KCRW public radio program “Bookworm,” who on this occasion was recording for a new online-only program, “UpClose,” which KCRW will edit and then post on the Web on Oct. 19.

This conversation was, according to a media release, to be one of only three such public interviews Spiegelman plans to submit to on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his Pulitzer Prize-winning series, “Maus I” and “Maus II.” And in honor of this anniversary, Spiegelman has just published “MetaMaus,” subtitled “A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus,” a new book and DVD that includes exhaustive material explaining the making of the autobiographical books about his relationship with his Holocaust-survivor father and the telling of his father’s story, where Jews are drawn as mice, Poles as pigs, Nazis as cats and Americans as dogs. (Journal Book Editor Jonathan Kirsch’s review of “MetaMaus” can be found

“Breakdowns” & The “Maus” that roared (or Art Spiegelman through the looking glass)

Art Spiegelman, the cartoonist whose graphic memoir, “Maus,” won a Pulitzer Prize, was in town recently to promote a reissue of “Breakdowns,” a collection of his underground comics work first published in 1978.

As Spiegelman pointed out to me, his name in German means “Mirror Man” (mine means “Pond-wood”) — and revisiting “Breakdowns,” now subtitled, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!” was like finding a letter you’d written 30 years ago. For this new edition, Spiegelman spent two years drawing an introduction in comic book form, a series of vignettes that Spiegelman described as “a demo of how memory works” as well as a prose afterword — an elaborate consideration of the most fundamental of questions — “Who am I? How did I become this way? How did I become an artist and what inspired this work?”

Spiegelman was born in 1949 (in Sweden, of all places). His parents, Polish Holocaust survivors, were making their way to the United States, en route to landing in New York City, where they lived in Washington Heights and Rego Park. As he renders in the new introduction, Spiegelman started drawing early and as a child became besotted with newspaper comics and with Mad Magazine. He published his first cartoons at 13 in a local newspaper, and by the time he was 18, he had landed a summer job working for Topps Chewing Gum (which included cartoons in the gum wrappers) under the legendary Woody Gelman, where he met some of the now-celebrated early comic strip artists, as well as some rising talent, among them Robert “R” Crumb.

Spiegelman attended Harpur College in Binghamton, N.Y. (now part of Binghamton University). It was the ’60s! Sex, LSD and combinations of both blew his mind, while trips to San Francisco, the East Village and a Vermont commune put flowers in his hair, or at least in some of his drawings.

Although his parents wanted him to be a dentist, a breakdown (of the mental hospital kind) made clear that was never going to happen. That same year, 1969, Spiegelman’s mother committed suicide. In his comic book depiction of her death, Spiegelman dubbed it “the perfect crime,” saying that in killing herself she murdered a part of him and at the same time left him “to take the rap.”

After his mother’s death, Spiegelman returned to Binghamton, where filmmaker Ken Jacobs inspired him to think of himself as an artist. Studying the way early cartoons anthropomorphized animals in one of Jacobs’ classes gave Spiegelman his “Eureka!” moment. He decided to create a comic in which the victims would be drawn as mice, and the persecutors as cats. It would be about … race in America! Imagine Ku Klux Kats lynching black mice! It seemed genius — that is until Spiegelman realized he knew, as he put it, “bupkis about being black in America.”

Justin Green, one of the cartoonists Spiegelman had befriended in San Francisco, had asked him to contribute a short strip to an underground comic to be called, “Funny Animals.” Spiegelman decided to apply his earlier idea to a different tack — his own life. The three-page cartoon Spiegelman produced in a month’s time in 1972 was called “Maus.” It was about a father who tells his young mouse son “bedtime stories” about his time in Mauschwitz. He drew it in a very simple black-and-white direct style, as he called it, “conventional in form, radical in content.” Later that same year, Spiegelman would draft a German Expressionist style narrative called, “Prisoner on Hell Planet” about his mother’s suicide.

Over the next six years, Spiegelman experimented with a variety of comic book forms, incorporating elements of pulp detective fiction and porno films, referencing everything from the Sunday funnies of the early 1900s to Cubism and riding a “New Wave” in his work that, much like the movies or music of the time, mixed high art with low to find new forms. This was the work collected in the 1978 “Breakdowns,” the title of which is a play on words alluding both to the artistic term break-down, to Spiegelman’s own mental anguishes and his breakthrough artwork.

Much like Norman Mailer’s “Advertisements for myself,” “Breakdowns” was meant to make the case for Spiegelman’s art. “For me,” Spiegelman notes in his new afterword, “Breakdowns” is “a manifesto, a diary, a crumpled suicide note and a still- relevant love letter to a medium I adore.”

ALTTEXT Spiegelman then decided to expand “Maus” into a book-length work. When people asked him how long it would take to finish “Maus,” he would answer “two or three years,” which he now says was “idiotic because I was saying that for years and years.”

In 1982, his father died. During our conversation, I suggested that perhaps one of the reasons “Maus” took so long was that Spiegelman couldn’t finish it while his father was still alive.

Spiegelman admitted that although he had hoped to finish the work while his father was still alive, his death, “may have made certain things easier.” “My relationship with my father improved a lot after he died,” Spiegelman explained. “I bristle when people ask if I think of my comics as therapy, but I will say that to act out [Vladek’s part] in this, which is what you have to do in order to draw any decent strip … was a kind of gestalt thing to see it from his point of view.”

“Maus” was first published in book form in 1986 (in part to beat out Spielberg’s animated movie about a mouse, “An American Tail”), and “Maus II” came out in 1991. “Maus” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 — requiring a special category since its form was considered so unconventional.

“Maus” also became a tough act to follow. In a comic strip called “Pop Art” that is part of the new intro to “Breakdowns,” Spiegelman draws himself fleeing from a giant Maus-like mouse monument, saying “No matter how much I run I can’t seem to get out of that Mouse’s shadow.” The success of “Maus,” he now says, was “constricting.”

Then came Sept. 11.

For Spiegelman, who lived in lower Manhattan with his family, the event was profoundly affecting. Having spent much of his life living with the specter of his father’s cataclysm, he now found that “something one might call history was intersecting with my story in a direct way.” (I suggested to Spiegelman that this was like the scene in “Hannah and her Sisters” where Woody Allen plays a hypochondriac who visits his doctor and is shocked to find out that he might indeed be deathly ill).

“One of the things I felt that morning [was]… ‘Schmuck, you should have done more comics.’ I feel it’s like what I can do best. Even though it’s hard.”

Spiegelman started to draw large one-page panels, which a friend who was editor of Germany’s “Die Zeit” offered to publish with a “no editing” clause (The New Yorker, where he had worked for many years, passed). Over the next year, Spiegelman drew 10 pages. Publishers from England, Italy and France carried it — “A coalition of the willing,” as Spiegelman called it, and eventually it was published in the United States in The Forward, which had also published “Maus” in serial form. It also came out finally in book form with the title, “In the Shadow of No Towers.”

Keeping his vow to make more comics, Spiegelman has several works forthcoming: He just did a volume for Toon Books (, whose editorial director is Francoise Mouly, Spiegelman’s wife and frequent collaborator (he’s listed on the Web site as “series advisor”). He’s also done a collection of three different sketchbooks to be published by McSweeny’s, as a well as “Meta Maus,” an update of the 1994 “Maus Voyager” CD-ROM, to be published by Criterion. And he is working on a new comic that, he says, “I refuse to talk about what it would be, because that would sure kill it.”

As much as “Maus” owes to the legacy of his father, Vladek, Spiegelman feels equally that “all of my work before that and after that [owes] a lot to the fathers who made the Sunday comics from 1900.”

“Maybe that’s the way I am Jewish,” Spiegelman said. “I was lecturing somewhere on Yom Kippur, and I explained that I didn’t observe the High Holy Days, since I haven’t gotten high since about 1980. [However]… in many ways the Jewishness has to do with carrying a history.”

“The irony for me is that I am involved in this Oedipal struggle, and now here I am this patriarch of comics who’s in a kind of Oedipal target position for younger comics, who might think I’m taking up too much oxygen.”

Reflecting on the way comics have changed since he first published “Breakdowns,” Spiegelman said, “When I was growing up, if you went into a bar and told this woman that you drew comic books, it wasn’t a really surefire pick-up line…. Now it seems to be as good as saying that I play bass in some punk band.”

The current comics explosion that has birthed Comic-Con and made graphic novels hot literary properties for the movies, is “part of the trifecta that just happened to comics.”

“Now comics can be anything,” Spiegelman said, “that includes a literary or visual arts comic that could find its way into bookstores or museums easily.” Much as that makes Spiegelman happy, it also concerns him.

“I’ve been fretting recently [that] I placed my bet on this when it was an unusual place to be. It seems I’m living in a Phillip K. Dick world — like I willed it into existence somehow. Now, in the last eight years, is when it’s really flourished. Comics can now be a serious medium — as opposed to ephemeral garbage. I’m worrying perhaps that I used up the seriousness quotient for the planet and it ended up being in comics; so now the world of political and social arena has no adults left in it.”

One could say it was as if from “Maus” to now, the Mirror Man and the comics he begat had passed through the looking glass.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Oct. 11-17: Mr. Maus in the haus, Yiddishkayt, Sita Sings the Blues


Before “Maus” won him the first and only Pulitzer Prize for a graphic novel, Art Spiegelman was a “drug-addled youth cartoonist” honing his talent and battling inner demons during the ’60s. He compiled his formative experiences into a ” target=”_blank”>

It’s election night in 2004, and Jake, a recent NYU grad, is hosting a Kerry-Edwards rally at his home. He also plans to win the affection of the girl he fancies. There’s only one problem: She and her family have voted for George W. Bush. A hip take on the political movement among young voters, playwright Suzanne Bressler, a Milken High School graduate who teaches writing at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Sunday school, presents “Asses and Elephants,” about the challenges that ensue when bipartisanship and romance commingle in the same living room. Sat. 8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20. Through Nov. 3. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (323) 960-7711. ” target=”_blank”>


Gay marriage. Abortion. Alternative fuels. These are only some of the controversial topics that voters will be expected to tackle this November. Need help deciphering it all? L’Dor Vador, the Simi Valley/Moorpark Hadassah group, is lending a hand by hosting a speaker from the League of Women Voters. In the Hadassah Voter Speaker Event participants will have the opportunity to “find out what the bonds, props and measures on the ballot really mean.” Sun. 2-4 p.m. $5. Ziegler Morasha Center, 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley. (818) 489-4880. ” target=”_blank”>

Relive the songs and sounds of your Eastern European ancestors with the help of Los Angeles’ Yiddish Culture Club. The organization is kicking off their cultural season with “Yiddish Folk Songs in Word and Sound.” Fan Magid Shalin, cantor at Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim, will be part of the program, as will Lilke Majzner, a concentration camp survivor and president of the club. Sun. 2-4 p.m. Free (members), $4 (non-members). The Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 454-3687.


” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>first feature-length film, “Sita Sings the Blues.” Spanning continents and millennia, Paley’s remarkable work parallels two women, an American and an Indian, who are unfairly dumped. Set against the backdrop of the ancient Sanskrit epic “Ramayana,” which the artist once dismissed as “misogynist propaganda” but upon closer examination found “a blueprint of human suffering,” she has told her own story through the vibrant visuals of 2-D animation. Variety called her flick “a delightfully subversive feminist musical … a viable, vibrant low-budget arthouse medium for adults.” Sounds like she won’t be unknown for long. Mon. 8:30 p.m. $5-$9. REDCAT, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles. (213) 237-2800. ” target=”_blank”>

“L Word” star Mia Kirschner, an actress often cast as the ingénue, digs deeper with a book that reveals the powerful struggles of women and children around the globe who are desperately in need, yet too often ignored. In “I Live Here,” her first book, Kirschner describes the humanitarian disasters women and children have to face: the war in Chechnya, ethnic cleansing in Burma, globalization in Mexico and AIDS in Malawi. With the help of renowned comic artists like Phoebe Gloeckner and Joe Sacco, Kirschner tells their stories with both pictures and words. Get your copy signed when the actress/author appears at Book Soup. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>


Hang your hat and your fruit in the sukkah at the JCC at Milken’s communitywide “Sukkot Picnic Under the Stars.” After all those interminable High Holy Day services, this holiday is an opportunity to connect with community in the ” target=”_blank”>

CNN, FOX, PBS and NPR are only some of the news outlets citizens can choose from, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell whom to trust. “Understanding the Media to Understand Our World” is intended to combat that problem by making us smarter and more sophisticated interpreters of the news. American Jewish University’s University Women presents the six-part lecture series taught by Jon Dobrer, which will use current events — think Election 2008 — to make its points. Thu. 10:30 a.m. $18 (single class), $75-$90 (series). Through Nov. 20. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1283. ” target=”_blank”>


Sink into the sultry sounds of Russian-born jazz vocalist Sophie Milman, who has been widely praised as the most promising jazz chanteuse since Sarah Vaughan. At the tender age of 25, the blonde beauty has traveled the world singing and songwriting, and sold more than 100,000 albums. And it was after immigrating to ” target=”_blank”>

Artist and scholar Ruth Weisberg, famous for her Jewish-themed art, unveils a startlingly different concept for her newest work: a 20-plus painting meditation on Mary Magdalene. Weisberg, whose education included studying Italian biblical art, examines Italian baroque painter Guido Cagnacci’s “Martha Rebuking Mary for Her Vanity,” an important work housed in the permanent collection of the Norton Simon Museum. “Ruth Weisberg: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image” traces her three-year exploration of the ancient painting and its themes of repentance and anger, as seen through the context of her own family history and ancestry. The result is an exhibit of paintings, drawings and monotypes that reflect the connection between Weisberg’s and Cagnacci’s narratives. Fri. Noon-6 p.m. (every day except Tuesday). $4-$8 (free on the first Friday of every month from 6-9 p.m.). Through March 2. The Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-6840.