The Haus of Maus

by katiclops

Today is another one of those brilliantly sunny days: cool, clear and a little breezy. We went for a long walk, and I think I gave myself a bit of a burn on the way back. I thought I would backdate the first few of these posts, by re-capping what I’ve been reading, but I started a new book last night, Art Spiegelman’s MAUS: A Survivor’s Tale and I’m so thoroughly engrossed I couldn’t help but resist.

MAUS has a pretty comprehensive Wikipedia post-the abbreviated version is that it is a retelling of the creator’s father’s experience (Vladek Spiegelman) and survival of the Holocaust, through to it’s lasting impressions that are transmuted to his son and family.  The defining feature of the novel is that (in addition to it being a comic) it is entirely told using animals. Mice, in the true spirit of the Third Reich, are chosen to represent the Jews.

A quick word about comics:

I have been intending on delving into a “graphic novel” for years. One of my housemates wrote her undergrad thesis drawing heavily from Persepolis in 2008, and since 2001 another one of my favourite friends and authors has been averaging one or two a day.  Yet for whatever reason or another, I have never made it through. Never even purchased one.  I have been trying to reason this out over the past several weeks.  A growing percentage of my friends and discussions are now comic-related. A picture is worth a thousand words right? So a novel, plus 400-500 pictures must be…? I adored Archie novels as a kid, but I feel like the connection is a little tenuous…The main issues I think I’ve had to work through are…

       1. Format.

I love leafing through a magazine as much as anyone else. Throw in a half-decent Americano and some leisure time, or even just get me a captive moment (read: airplane) and I’m as happy as a clam. Nice glossy pictures, information, plot lines…But the second I have to transport the issue farther than Terminal 3 to seat 23F and it is demolished. Crumpled into something unfit for much else beyond kindling or packaging breakables up from the store. Comics in this way scare me. Anything that people collect and keep in individual plastic envelopes and look over with tweezers indicate that I would probably fail at consuming the medium.

        2. “Getting into” comics is like getting into music

Where to start? I’ve been reading books for almost the entirety of my waking life. I have read dozens of bad books, life changing books, hundreds of mediocre ones. I *can* to some extent, judge a book by it’s cover (or at least the dust jacket and first three chapters).  Comics…!? I never watched Saturday morning cartoons. Pop culture, broadly, has not been kind to the area, and for some reason, there seem to be some stigmas surrounding comics and women in North America (though I must say, I *did* read quite a lot of TinTin as a seven year old).

3. Learning how to read

I just finished working as an analyst. I am in the process of finishing a Masters degree. I have easily average 1000 hours of reading a year for the past decade (or two…). I have trained myself to skim through, read quickly, look for key points and pertinent details, follow-up questions and points of discord.  In the past few weeks I have tried to relax, retrain my brain to slow down. To enjoy the ride. To run over words and poetic turns of phrases like water over stones, rather than a piece of sand paper.  Comics not only involve reading slowly and creating a flow of dialogue, playing with timing of the story, but also looking. Understanding what the pictures are telling you. It cuts to the very chase of “show don’t tell.” Understanding how to follow this takes some time. It’s like only listening to radio programs for years and then watching a movie. Suddenly there are characters interacting, scenery, and actions to absorb, points of diction and expression to envision, different panels to time. This takes awhile to get the hang of and a lucid, limber, energetic brain.

        4. Geting ahold of them

Until recently, you couldn’t just walk into anywhere and pick-up a comic. That’s the irony of the whole thing. What started as the most accessible medium, (more about this soon!), has turned into a bit of a niche market.  To boot, comic readers are down XXXX since XXXXX. Now, although Chapters and some of the larger local bookstores have started carrying “graphic novels” I still feel that some of the elite collector mentality clings to section.  It is an unknown realm, a bit overwhelming and difficult to navigate. If I wander into that section by accident, surely someone will sniff me out.  Kind of like going to that cool indie music store in highschool…you could never know enough bands or albums to fit the part.

But now they are here!! Solutions to all my woes!!

Issues are bound: behold the heartier hardcover “graphic novel.” It can take just as much flak as my batter copy of Anna K.

MAUS (and a whole genre of comics actually) is a historical retelling of an era I am interested in. A place to start!

I have time. (Alot of it).  I’ve also just spent a full month rehabituating my brain to do fun things, like process art, create complex non-policy-related sentences, cook real food and detox from caffeine.

I now live with an excellent collection of comics (and a personal curator and creator). Not too mention MAUS is easy to find, and my local comic shop is owned by a total sweetheart who puts non-intimidating little signs and jokes everywhere.


I’m fast approaching my word count of death (not to mention encroaching on pumpkin-time). MAUS part two, stay tuned.

Go visit your local comic shop and give yourself some brain gymnastics! Your right hemisphere will say thank you 🙂