Holiday Gift Bag: Maus

Only a few shopping days left before Santa’s Birthday, so let’s get one more gift recommendation out of the way so you’ll have time to make it out to the mall.

Today, let’s talk about Art Spiegelman’s Maus (available in two volumes). Although most of the characters are either mice or cats, it’s not a kids’ comic. It’s a no-punches-pulled biography of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, with emphasis on his experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. At times, it’s a funny work — Spiegelman has a good eye for satire and the madness of everyday life. Sometimes, it’s a frustrating work — Spiegelman spends much of the story writing about his interviews with his father, and Vladek often comes across as a vastly infuriating man.

But on the whole, it’s a story about the Holocaust, and so it’s a very human and very sad horror story. The brilliance here is that Spiegelman draws you in with a seemingly simple story of Jewish mice and Nazi cats, and then all of a sudden, you’re neck-deep in Nazi oppression, in hidden bunkers, in Aushwitz. Vladek makes hair’s-breadth escapes from death squads, repeatedly buys his way to freedom only to get recaptured, gets betrayed by people he thought he could trust, and loses vast numbers of friends and loved ones. It’s a harrowing story, and it’s completely engrossing, and you should read it.

A lot of y’all are probably already familiar with this one — it’s one of the most famous graphic novels out there, and it even won Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992. A lot of comics fans haven’t read this one, partly because it’s got a reputation for being a really depressing story, so ask the comics fans in your life if they’ve read it before you buy it for them. In fact, you might also consider it for the history buffs you know — it’s an extremely accessible story, with lots of historical details, and anyone interested in WWII history should enjoy it. Even more than Alan Moore’s Watchmen, this comic is just about the best proof out there for comics and sequential art is literature, not mere throwaway reading.

This probably isn’t the merriest gift you could get someone. It doesn’t come decked out in candy canes and pine garlands and festive songfests. But the people you get it for will thank you for it.

Maus by Art Spiegelman. Go pick it up.

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