Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pen and Ink

While reading Maus, I often stopped to linger on the images and drawings presented by Spiegelman. The effect of only having dialogue and drawings resonated for me, and it served to bring the story to life in a unique way. I still think that the format of Maus, the graphic novel is odd; but I also think this enables the novel to function in ways that a traditional one could not.

I have previously discussed how many of the visual devices within Maus work towards unwritten implications. Whether it be the shrinking of Art himself, the anthropomorphizing of the characters, or the strange adornment of a mask—the visuals in Maus dually and paradoxically illuminate and confound. Spiegelman’s drawings display a sort of nervous energy to me, an anxiety. From the panels in the past featuring Art smoking cigarettes and shouting in to the memories of Vladek’s past, they feature contrasting images in stark black and white, with backgrounds often consisting of crosshatched black ink.

While this is a traditional black and white inking technique, it lends a chaotic look to the panels—especially the ones taking place in Vladek’s memory. They convey an ominous sense of desolation in their darkness, it creeps up and overtakes the images. Often we see the Nazi’s faces large, catlike and terrifying, screaming at a mass of smaller, nondescript mice. The mice in their depiction lose their identity—they are featureless and uniform. Spiegelman is able though, in such small figures, to convey a sad look of despair in their eyes. Perhaps it is because they are large and black in small white faces, they appear as orbs with shadows beneath them, creating haggard and tired look. It is almost shocking at the end when we see an actual photograph of Vladek, how different he looks from the mouse version.

The disparity between Spiegelman’s depictions and reality reflects the difference found in the actual concentration camps. The Jews became stripped of their identities in places such as Auschwitz and Dachau. They lost their families, possessions, past even. They physically changed as they became starved and beaten. At one point, Vladek says something to the effect of, “I didn’t survive the holocaust.” The man who entered the camp did not leave, he left as someone completely different. Spiegelman’s representation of Vladek’s tale works so well as a graphic novel because it attempts to show the reader the realities of the holocaust—often highlighting subtleties that may not be expressed through words alone.

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