November 28, 2011

Review of METAMAUS

This Review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
MetaMaus is an exhaustive behind the scenes look at the creative process. Through an interview format, it examines in minutiae almost every decision Art Spiegelman made in the midst of creating his graphic novel classic, Maus. It also contains samples from his sketchbooks, photos he used during his research, and the works of other artists that Spiegelman referenced or used in his research.

It would be overwhelming, were it not absolutely engrossing.

MetaMaus is 300 pages long and is accompanied by a “hyperlinked DVD of Maus with an in-depth archive of audio interviews with (Spiegelman's) father, photos, notebooks, drawings, essays and more.” There is just no possible way you can have any questions left regarding the creation of Maus after you go through all of MetaMaus.

And this, apparently, is the point of its publication.

After finishing MetaMaus, I have come to appreciate the genius of Maus on a much deeper level. I have also come to more fully appreciate the craftsmanship and creativity of Spiegelman himself as an artist. The creation of Maus was a herculean undertaking and required constant questioning and revision in order to match the ideals Speigelman set for himself, and MetaMaus captures it all in a fascinating way.

Speigelman lays bare where he feels he failed as an artist and a story teller, as well as celebrates where he feels he succeeded. He is personable, engaging, funny, and profound throughout the entire book. But what he most succeeds with through MetaMaus is providing a clear explanation of how comics can be used to tell a story in a manner that no other media can. Speigelman remains one of the most lucid and encompassing spokespeople for the power of comics, and MetaMaus is his manifesto in this regard.

Maus is currently part of the curriculum in a number of classrooms throughout the world. MetaMaus is the perfect companion for this purpose and should absolutely be part of any unit devoted to Maus. But, as I have said already, MetaMaus is not just an academic exercise. This book is perfect for anyone wanting to work in comics, or even those already working in the field today, as it spends a great deal of its time addressing the creative process of comics creation and points to how comics can be created to their fullest potential.

MetaMaus is also perfect for anyone interested in the process of creating art of lasting value. We live in such a slap-dash society where the tools of technology have made creating things available to almost everyone. But art is not about expediency or ease, it is about decision making and clarity of purpose. And Speiegelman, in MetaMaus, shows us this.

The publication of Maus was a groundbreaking moment in the history of sequential art. It was also a great moment in American Literature. MetaMaus answers so many questions, but fundamentally it explains why this is so.

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