Spiegelman, The Cartoon: Slides

For those interested in seeing the slides I used for my presentation on Art Spiegelman for the PCA/ACA Annual Conference, I have attached them below. Also included after the jump are my notes for the presentation on the conference. I hope this might provide some introduction to the subject for those interested.

  1. Today, I will be exploring questions of identity, memory and representation through the work of Art Spiegelman. Obviously, best known for his seminal work Maus, which recently was supplemented by the compendium Meta Maus, Spiegelman was introduced to the world primarily as a cipher, a representation as a half-man, half-mouse, always playing with who he is and cultivating a personality throughout his career. He has a career that goes beyond the realm of the holocaust and that novel, though he often claims that it has come to define him.
    1. A personality that is versatile and constantly referencing other forms, pieces of artwork
    2. Interested in the history of comics
    3. Self-Referential
    4. Aware of his public/private persona (vest)
    5. Mention Michael Rogin briefly (Ronald Reagan, The Movie)
    6. Mimesis – imitation in art fiction or fantasy
  2. In order to look at this career I had to revisit Spiegelman’s seminal works, However, this is particularly difficult with Spiegelman, who in his career revisits his own work, re-scripting the texts and himself again and again.
    1. Breakdowns (original) Experimentation
    2. Maus I & II
    3. In the Shadow of No Towers
    4. Portrait of the Artist (A revisit to Breakdowns)
    5. Meta Maus (a revisit to Maus)
    6. Also worth noting that much of this appears in other venues (Virginia Quaterly, Raw, etc.)
  3. Breakdowns – The most conflict, namely in the creation of a clearly defined self. In much of the work, both as he portrays himself and others there is a high amount of experimentation. From an all-too-cartoony mouse in the original Maus to the hyper-realistic depiction of himself on Prisoner on Hell Planet. Complemented his high use of collage and the styles of ‘60s Counterculture of the Underground commix movement. The transient nature of the Breakdowns can be best defined by “Don’t get around much anymore” in which Spiegelman is barely present. What are present instead are the importance of physical objects, those within his apartment. Nothing is him. Even the piece references a Nat King Cole song? He returns to these objects again and again referencing an image in a previous panel through captions create a kind of cyclical poem with the rhythm of a skipping record. In many ways, it could be said that Spiegelman’s autobiographies are reverse ekphrastic poems to his life, returning and celebrating his traumatic real life events through art. However, within Breakdowns, this is lost in the kind of Underground comix experimentation reflecting that ethos.
  4. In Maus this issue of mimesis comes to the fore and his been discussed by a variety of academics from Andreas Huyssen to Marianne Hirsch. While Huyssen has argued that the acts of mimesis portrayed in Maus, create a kind of liminal space . I would argue against that initial contention. In two ways a kind of catharsis comes from Spiegelman’s portrayal of himself and history through a lens of interpretative mimesis. It is true that in Maus, Spiegelman wrestles with how to interpret his father’s story, but while doing this he is able to create a mimetic self that is incredibly successful. He transitions in style from more experimental to uniform pared down, now analyzed in more detail in Meta Maus. Spiegelman also, as has been noted by Hirsch, personalizes and at the same time universalizes others’ images of the Holocaust, but more important is the creation of a codified mimetic self that has a permanence both for Spiegelman and for his reader. He has ostensibly created, through the stylistic choices of Maus a more universal and understandable form of Art Spiegelman. This is particularly true in Spiegelman’s career after Maus. His “Maus” style appears a popular means of communication, using it most famously for New Yorker covers, most notably the infamous Valentine’s Day cover, which bears a striking resemblance to the style of Maus. By contrast, Spiegelman’s more experimental stylistic choices are relegated to advocating for the comics canon, a place they had already existed to some degree anyway, but is used in a more critical, rather than commercial nature.
  5. However, Spiegelman’s depiction of himself changes drastically after 9/11 to which he felt a personal connection, having lived in lower Manhattan for many years and having children who attended school near the towers. Spiegelman’s understanding of the towers is really that of history. He depicts them as a memory, as the Katzenjammer Kids and historical things from his past. However, Spiegelman wrestles with the depiction of himself. As exemplified in his “Weapons of Mass Deception” In this series of panels, Spiegelman recasts himself as both his former mouse character (in the last panel), an oppositional cat (in the third) and then as any number of objects around his room. The picture of the cat in the background even seems to reference a comment about reality that Spiegelman articulates in the beginning of Maus II when Spiegelman assures the reader of the picture’s reality (Maus II, 43). Here, there is no real Spiegelman, his mimetic self is in flux, whereas by the end of Maus II, it had found some finality. However, what is key here is where Spiegelman settles, looking toward the past. In The Shadow of No Towers ends with visiting Sunday Strips of the past. Spiegelman has now tied himself to a comic canon. He now as cipher now not for only his father’s story, but also for the story of comics in general. He now can move from being a comic artist to a professor.
  6. This link is expanded throughout the following years as Spiegelman invests himself into a more academic advocating of comics. He participates in a number well-known exhibits including the “Masters of American Comics” exhibit and the “Krazy!” exhibit. In his own work he starts to take the act of “returning” seriously, re-releasing Breakdowns within the context of the canon through Portrait. Portrait sees a pared down style and one meant for universal communication, so it can be reprinted everywhere. His entire world is imbued with comics, as seen in these panels where his mother becomes the infamous cover of Mad Magazine. He no longer has a particularly stability, but shifts his perspective to any particular end, panel to panel. See how his age changes between each panel. In this way, Spiegelman has become comic history. His mimetic self is all comics, in all styles, for all time. He has plucked his favorite styles to illustrate himself and has found a way of communicating that style clearly and maturely to all audiences.
  7. Since Breakdowns, Spiegelman has seen comics more consistently enter not only into the canon, but into popular academia, the major growth of online comics, etc. Meta Maus, Spiegelman’s latest creation, now tries to situate him within this larger set of commercial comic entities, from films to online comics, etc. Spiegelman does this by revisiting not comics in general (those are now fairly obvious and at the forefront of popular culture and academia), but now looking at the very acts of mimesis that defined him. Take into regard his introduction, in which we see a realistic Maus being held by Spiegelman, along with him ripping off his own face. We see here a Spiegelman questioning the act of mimesis he initially used to bring comics to the forefront. Meta Maus dissects the act of mimesis in the larger context of comics and in this way bringing to full circle Spiegelman’s mimetic character asking whether it was worth changing the landscape of American comics or at least how they are perceived
  8. The idea of Art Spiegelman’s mimetic development, which seems to both parallel and reflect his own life history and intentions is a reflection of a mediated self through popular culture. Spiegelman is able to change who he is in the face of traumatic events. He changes himself visually, iconically and stylistically with each trauma that he experiences. What is fascinating here is that Spiegelman’s avatar seems to contain a clearly defined history, a narrative that can be interpreted to reflect who Spiegelman is. Certainly the changes in Spiegelman’s mimetic self visually tell just as much of his story as his actual words. It is the visual narrative of Spiegelman’s fake self that seems to resonate so much with our current moment. Just as we add versions of ourselves, a basic tenet of new media, we are creating a history not of our lives, but of our mimetic lives, for, in truth, little of what has been said here is truly biographical. Instead, it is a biography of a representation of a man deliberately created by the author. However, what is fascinating is that the reflection seems to overpower, in some ways, real life. In our modern era of New Media, with the many versions that we present ourselves, it is possible that our reflections of ourselves are actually more real than we are. If indeed celebrities like Ronald Reagan and Art Spiegelman are capable of “slippage” between reality and fiction, then perhaps all of us have slipped from reality into a fictional version of ourselves

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