Before the ground-breaking comic-based Holocaust narration by Art Spielgelman, the Mause, use of comic characters was considered children oriented a fun literary pastime. Spielgelman went ahead and won the Pulitzer prize of literature for his work (Kincade 5). It was the first comical novel to ever win the coveted prize. Spielgelman’s works were both exemplary and evolutionary in representing historical facts in new literary form that deviated from the norm. Mause comical graphics in I and II, as noted by Kohli (1), “ is very poignant, striking and creative”. Spielgelman in an attempt to retell the terrible ordeal his survivor father faced during the Holocaust, expands on the ability of comic characters’ to present history in a clear and effective way. To fully appreciate the comical evolution in the twentienth century, an examination on the effectiveness of Spielgelman’s characters has to be understood. Spielgelman must have taken note of the ability of comic tales ability to make the reader to be completely absorbed in reading even against their will (Ravelo 9). Comics, according to Ravelo(10), besides presenting to the reader entertainment in a non-conventional way, they also employ use of texts and images in communicating their information. It is evident that, Spielgelman’s use of comic characters in the Holocaust, was an effective and evolutionary way of presenting historical facts in the twentienth century.
In order to fully understand the effects of the graphical comical representation of the Mause, it is important that the author’s intention be understood. Spielgelman, sought the most effective and honest way of representing the Holocaust. Kohli (4), Spielgelman, while discussing the holocaust, has reheightened the interpretation of the once lowly held graphic-comical into a “a form that is highly expressive, multi-faced, critical, and psychologically layered.” It is through this complex narrative graphic that Spielgelman achieves to express the sacredness of Auschwitz by depicting the suffering inflicted to his survivor father.
The use of graphic images in a comical way in the Mause, was an effective way that diverted from the mainstream way of representing serious and non-fictional works. Earlier on, comical graphics had been viewed with less interest and maturity. They mainly dwelled on mythical superheroes and other fictional works. Spielgelman must have found it to be a controversial and effective way to bring out the reality of the holocaust through the graphics. According to Kincade (1), Mause, extensively uses the graphic medium to convey symbols that are difficult to convey in literature. The graphics don't only appeal to the reader, but also engage their perception (Kincade 1). The overall effect of the graphics is the ability to be perceived without the need for literacy. Kincade (1), views Spielgelman’s works on the Mause, has an effort to engage the reader vividly in the Holocaust large scale atrocities by taking them back in time and experience the feeling first hand without having been there. The graphical images in the Mause, balloons with conversations paired with narratives, is presented in minute drawings which evoke pathos with the reader (Kincade 1). The combination of these detailed graphics contain much information to get the reader emotional as the narrative as well (Kincade 1). This is evident in the first scene where Vladek is riding an exercise bike. According to Kincade, the exercise scene prompts to make the reader overlook Vladek’s concentration camp tattoo, as seeing it visually evokes much emotion, not achievable through the mere reading about it (3). It is very possible, that the reader's attention is carried away from the tattoo on Vladek’s arm by the more emotional father-and-son conversation (Kincade 3). This has an effect of drawing the reader from the dominant Holocaust theme to a more personal one between the characters involved.
The graphical use of masks on human bodies is an attempt to indicate to the readers, the hidden truth about certain circumstances. According to Kolar (245), Spelgelman uses masked human beings in an attempt to uncover historical truths about the Holocaust. Spielgelman tries to avoid falsifying the truth through all means by ensuring his graphics convey the very information he intends to communicate to the reader (Kolar 245). Spielgelman while discussing the Holocaust, he gives the incidence a highly expressive approach that is multi-facet and psychologically layered (Kincade 5). When Spielgelman was personally interviewed on his choice of animal characters (humans masked with animal faces), his response was an attempt to move away from the already created notion about the Holocaust (Kincade 7). Spielgelma’'s deviation from use of human beings was an attempt of being authentic in a new unbiased way of representing characters not with a goal to attract sympathy. According to Kincade, Spielgelman use of animal characters was an attempt to involve the reader in the events of the Holocaust and their memory by not showing the events happening in the narrative (Kincade 8). This facilitates the maintenance of attention between the relationship between the character and the memory of the reader.
The comical graphics “... Not only force the reader out of complacency, but also compel the reader to decipher and question the constructed notion that these ‘persons’ are regarded as different species.” (Kincade 8). Spielgelman uses the animal characters as a way of deviating out of the normal perceptions of people. He presents an opportunity for the reader to rethink on the value of using animal characters in the Mause, by allowing them to question of the suitability and appropriation of the same. Kincade, argues that the use of animal characters serves the role of ignorance identification among the characters (9). A good example is Vladek, who, while in the mask, “... The other Polish pigs recognize him as such.” (Kincade 9). The point brought out is the subjective perspective that is a characteristic of human beings.
The use of the mouse and the cat metaphor is a powerful tool in explaining the relationship between the Nazi and the Jews. It reveals the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. It points out the inhumane treatment the Jews were subjected to that led to the Holocaust while at the same time depicting the inhumane and animalistic behavior of the Nazi (Kincade 9). Spielgelman avoids the use of human characters in preference of animal characters displaying human characters. His characters find much use in depicting the animalistic character of artifice and irrationality (Kincade 9). Hitler is depicted as such throughout the Mause.
In conclusion, it is evident to assert that Spielgelman’s use of comical animal characters through the Mause, was out of the unbiased originality in presented to a reader’s interpretation of the Holocaust. It also shows how comical characters can be used to effectively present historical facts owing to their effectiveness in communicating facts.
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