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NPR Interviews Art Spiegelman on 60 Years of Work

Updated January 7, 2014


"Interview: Art Spiegelman Reflects On 60 Years Of Pen And Ink"
KOSU News, Sep 14 2013

"It’s axiomatic now that comics have gone from being kids’ stuff to, in some cases, adults only. These days, comics are recognized as a real artistic form, one that can be complex, subtle, pointed, probing and profane.
One of the artists most responsible for this is Art Spiegelman, who drew for Topps Bubble Gum comics, invented the Garbage Pail Kids, created a character who was all head, no body, for Playboy and won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus, his Holocaust comic — a phrase that was once unfathomable.
Spiegelman has edited magazines and has drawn famous covers for The New Yorker. “As an art form, the comic strip is barely past its infancy,” he once wrote. So am I. Maybe we’ll grow up together.”
A new restrospective of his work has been published by Drawn and Quarterly. It’s called Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps, and Spiegelman tells NPR’s Scott Simon that he started copying comics when he was a little kid. “If you copy enough of them … you learn the vocabulary that way,” he says. “So I was doing that, and by the time, I don’t know, I was in third grade — so what’s that, 11? — it was clear to me I was going to be a comics artist.”
Interview Highlights
On his issues with depth perception
It’s served me well — not in baseball, but in drawing comics, because comics seem very real that way. … I don’t really see stereo, so it’s not good for getting in and out of cars, but when I draw something, it looks real.
On his changing interests over the years
I keep finding out what I’m interested in by making this combination of words and pictures, this comics thing, and when I finally started looking at modern art — I’d grown up as a slob snob; if it wasn’t on newsprint, I wasn’t interested — and it took my friend Ken Jacobs, a filmmaker, to drag me to a museum and say, look, Picasso is just another cartoonist, he just works bigger. It changed what I thought comics might be, even though in one sense, comics were always ultramodern — but in the other, there’s all this stuff that happened at that moment of modernism, ranging from Cubism to Gertrude Stein and whatever, that I wanted to find out how that could work inside little boxes with balloons.
On what comes first, pictures or words?
Very often it’s words. I find it’s easier for me to write than to draw — what it actually is is some crazy explosion sign system that can include visual signs and written things, both colliding at the same moment.
On how Maus came about
By accident, as almost everything I end up getting obsessed with happens. I’d been invited into an underground comic called Funny Aminals, and after a couple of really bum starts — and then actually sitting in on Ken Jacobs’ film classes one day, while this was churning around in my head — he showed some very old Mickey Mouse cartoons, when Mickey was still kinda jazzy, and he said, look at this guy! He’s actually Al Jolson with big round ears. And then all of a sudden, this kind of epiphany of, that’s it — I’ll do a strip about race in America with black mice and Ku Klux Kats or something, and it took me 24 hours to realize I knew bupkis [nothing] about being black in America. But another metaphor using cats and mice and racial oppression came to mind and led to that first three-page comic for an underground comic book that was the beginnings of Maus.
On his famous Sept. 11 cover for The New Yorker
All I can say for sure is that Francoise, my wife, who was the art editor of The New Yorker, and I somehow made this thing together, the same way we lived through the day together. She went up to The New Yorker, and I went to my studio and started trying to find an image, and was barking up the wrong tree. … I’ve lived, still do, about eight or 10 blocks above ground zero, and as I would walk from my home to my studio, which was two blocks further north, I’d have to keep turning around to make sure the towers still weren’t there, and that led to this phantom limb cover of the black on black … it was just a direct and real response, and my favorite letter was somebody saying, you’ve finally justified 50 years of modernism. [Copyright 2013 NPR]"
 
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  The New York Times on Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix: A Retrospective

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: Spanning Styles and the Globe
A Broad Selection of Noteworthy Art Exhibitions"
By Roberta Smith
The New York Times, Sep 4 2013

"Here we go again. Another art season, another who knows how many shows. Some to look forward to, some to dread.

As always, the fall’s exhibitions bring a cacophony of mediums, periods, cultures and sensibilities. There is everything from the old masterdom that is “Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting From the Mauritshuis” at the Frick Collection (opening Oct. 22 and including Vermeer’s wildly popular “Girl With a Pearl Earring”) to the surprises and new names (one hopes) of Performa 13, the fifth incarnation of New York’s performance-art biennial, which swings into action on Nov. 1. I’ll accentuate the positive.

One historical survey that will cover a wide stretch of culture and geography on its own is “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (opening Sept. 16), which examines the international cross-fertilization in fabrics and their design that resulted when the world’s primary trade routes shifted from land to sea and multiplied. Displaying some 130 textiles (many exhibited for the first time), along with a handful of garments, paintings and prints, the show will trace how ideas and patterns traveled back and forth among Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, exploring one of the most multicultural of art mediums.

“Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish-American Home, 1492-1898,” opening Sept. 20 at the Brooklyn Museum, promises a similar geographical and cultural scope as well as an equally gorgeous array. It will look at the lifestyles of Spain’s New World elites through a mix of American, European and Asian luxury goods. Its 160 paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and decorative art objects will serve as signifiers of faith, status and taste, perhaps proving that the rich, while not like you and me, may often be very much like one another regardless of time or place.

Naturally the coming season has a slew of monographic exhibitions. The historical ones include a retrospective of the French modernist Fernand Léger, opening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Oct. 10. As implied by their mere titles, a battle of bygone strangeness will be joined this month when “Balthus: Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations” opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sept. 25, and “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938” is unveiled at the Museum of Modern Art on Sept. 28.

Another historical show I would especially like to see is “Wols: Retrospective,” the first American survey of that intriguing German artist, opening at the Menil Collection in Houston on Sept. 13. Born Alfred Otto Walter Schulze in Berlin in 1913, Wols died young, in 1951, but in his last decade he put his own highly personal, if Surrealist-based spin, on Tachisme (Europe’s equivalent of Abstract Expressionism) with intimate canvases that combine automatist scribbles, accidents and radiant washes of color. Like Klee’s, these paintings all but announce bigger is not necessarily better, a useful lesson in this era of outsize art. Wols’s vision was equally distinctive in his drawings, photographs and prints, all of which will be represented among the nearly 90 works in the show.

Perhaps signaling a trend, a survey of another German artist, the contemporary sculptor Isa Genzken, echoes the Wols show by dropping the indefinite article from its title. “Isa Genzken: Retrospective” opening at the Museum of Modern Art on Nov. 23, will feature Ms. Genzken’s most recent assemblages, which sometimes make brilliant use of junk (as well as newer found materials) and sometimes simply, and possibly deliberately, look like junk. But this show of 200 works ranging across 40 years — her first comprehensive survey in the United States — will provide ample opportunity to evaluate her current efforts against the backdrop of the less-well-known paintings, photographs, collages, drawings, books and films that preceded them.

Less routine perhaps is the five-decade survey of the work of Art Spiegelman, the dexterous cartoonist, writer and magazine editor best known for his pioneering graphic novel “Maus.” “Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective,” was organized for the 2012 incarnation of the annual comic-strip festival in Angoulême, France. The Jewish Museum version, opening on Nov. 8, will follow his development from his precocious teenage work and his underground comics to the well-known New Yorker magazine covers of his post-”Maus” years. The hundreds of preliminary sketches, preparatory and final drawings on view will include all original designs, studies and notes for “Maus II,” displayed in a wraparound vitrines.

Another retrospective worth seeing is that of the photographer John Divola, known since the early 1970s for lush photographs of vandalized beach cabins on the coast of California. In them trashed furniture, graffiti and ocean views collude to desolate yet beautiful effect, implicating painting, installation art and Conceptualism. They certainly justify a greater familiarity with all of this artist’s efforts, but that will take some commitment. “John Divola: As Far As I Could Get” has already opened at the Pomona College Museum of Art, in Claremont, Calif., and will begin on Oct. 6 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and on Oct. 13 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, three institutions spread over 150 miles of driving."
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Co-Mix Featured in SF Weekly's Comics Roundup

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: Always in the Gutter, Looking Up"
By Casey Burchby
San Francisco Weekly, Sep 4, 2013

"Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps (Sept. 17) from Drawn and Quarterly surveys Art Spiegelman's 45 years as a comics creator, including his designs for Topp's Wacky Packages trading cards, selections from his own underground comix magazine, Raw, and the genesis of his Pulitzer Prize-winning story of his father's Holocaust experiences, Maus. Exploring the breadth of his work, the book shows that, perhaps more than any other single artist, Spiegelman has energized the range of emotional possibility in comics."
 
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  The Miami Herald Comic Round Up

Updated January 7, 2014


"Review: Delights and Rare Treasures"
By Richard Pachter
The Miami Herald, Aug 19, 2013

"Optic Nerve 13. Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly. 32 pages. $5.95.
Each issue is an event, and this latest is no less a delight. The autobiographical stuff is as good as ever, and the antics of an odd, semi-recovering couple is imaginative and true — even if it’s not. Tomine’s fine line art and staging continues to improve, no small feat considering how accomplished he already is.

Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps. Art Spiegelman. Drawn & Quarterly. 120 pages. $39.96.

A retrospective museum exhibition by the Pulitzer-Prize winning Maus creator is abundant justification for this greatest hits collection. A number of Spiegelman’s strips and covers for the New Yorker magazine, sketches, lithographs and stories accompany the more extended narrative pieces. The result is a revelatory and detailed portrait of this visionary artist who invigorated the graphic novel and introduced it to the mainstream cultural world."
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Video Preview of Spiegelman's retrospective exhibit from The Province

Updated June 5, 2013


A glimpse at the the Art Spiegelman Exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery

by Sharad Khare
The Province, June 4, 2013

Digital Producer, Sharad Khare is proud to present the first of his digital interview series for the summer exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery for 2013.

Bruce Grenville, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery (www.vanartgallery.bc.ca) discusses the Art Spiegelman Exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery....

....CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps, is the first retrospective exhibition of the acclaimed comic artist, Art Spiegelman, and includes examples from all facets of his diverse career. Tracing Spiegelman’s considerable artistic output, the exhibition features more than 400 preparatory drawings, sketches, studies and panels relating to his early underground “comix” from the 1970s, his best-known and genre-defying work, Maus, and his more recent illustrations and comic art, including his powerful response to 9/11, In the Shadow of No Towers.

Drawing on a wide range of artistic styles and strategies, he developed dynamic new ideas within the field of comics. For twenty years Spiegelman also worked as a writer, illustrator, art director, graphic designer and general idea man for Topps Bubblegum, producing trading cards, stickers and candy products for the popular Garbage Pail Kids and the Wacky Packages series.

A significant portion of the exhibition is devoted to Maus, the work that in its myriad forms has consumed the artist throughout his career. The exhibition includes research material, preliminary sketches, photographs and storyboards related to the production of Maus, along with designs, pages and publications that reveal RAW‘s legacy. Spiegelman’s narrative and formal innovations in Maus would prove influential to an entire new generation of comic artists.

The final section of the exhibition considers Spiegelman’s production since the publication of Maus, including his commercial work for The New Yorker magazine, his Little Litanthologies for children and his most recent book-length efforts, In the Shadow of No Towers and Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*!.

Co-produced by the Vancouver Art Gallery; the Ludwig Museum, Cologne and the Jewish Museum, New York.
 
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  The Chicago Tribune interviews Spiegelman about his book and retrospective

Updated June 5, 2013


"Art Spiegelman's art obliterates category"

By Christopher Borrelli
The Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2013

"Who's got a gag for me today?"

Early on in "CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps." Art Spiegelman's upcoming career-spanner that's due out in September, we see a drawing of a much younger Spiegelman saying this to four tiny characters on a shelf: a Picasso-inspired woman, looking abstract and pensive; a concentration-camp mouse from Spiegelman's "Maus"; a tiny detective parody named Ace Hole that Spiegelman drew in the 1970s; and Nancy, the classic Ernie Bushmiller creation, black-and-white and afro'd as ever.

The funny thing about that 40-year old drawing — made by Spiegelman for a comics anthology (and playing off a similar drawing that Bushmiller once did of himself asking Nancy and Sluggo "Who's got a gag for me today?") — is how uncannily prescient it seems.

It appears to predict where Spiegelman would end up, five decades into a legendary cartooning career: Nuzzled between art-world provocateurs and underground comics, austerity and childhood. But uncertain.

Similarly, the time seems both right for a gargantuan Spiegelman retrospective — he turned 65 last winter, remains the only cartoonist to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature ("Maus"), will be presented with the Harold Washington Literary Award in Chicago June 7, and without him, you would probably have never heard the phrase "graphic novel" — and kind of wrong, not so much premature as unwanted.

Indeed, whenever I've seen Spiegelman interviewed on a stage — as he will be next month, during Printers Row Lit Fest — he never appears as trapped in amber as we would like to place him.

He looks antsy, plays the role of the certified genius with unease. He curls sideways in his chair, says casually provocative stuff ("I studied Mad the way some kids studied the Talmud"), smokes in public buildings — and seems as flattered by the hero worship as he is ambivalent.

Guess what?

Spiegelman is ambivalent. Deeply. He spoke recently from his New York studio. This is an edited version of our conversation.

Q: You just had a big retrospective of your work in France, now showing in Vancouver. Then there's "CO-MIX," the kind of literary companion to those shows. And yet, you've always appeared resistant to the big swooning institutional treatment. You've never seemed comfortable with praise.

A: Ha! Well, I got dragged kicking and screaming into this! I have always had a tango with that hyphen that exists between high and low art. To some degree, if I can be accepted on my own terms, sure, OK, then it's nice to get a lower-middle class kid to be invited to the Harvard Club. Though as soon as I get invited, I do something to get myself kicked out — as my career at The New Yorker (where he designed some of the magazine's most provocative covers of the past 20 years) has often demonstrated, I suppose.

Nevertheless, ambivalence is how I feel about so many things, and this particular project started after I felt I had done my part in terms of retrospection. Which is what made it so painful. I had a two-book contract with Pantheon, to do a reissue of my first collection, called "Breakdowns," which came out in 1978 to almost no notice at all. It was virtually self-published. But to put it out I had to recontextualize it — which was like taking a log cabin and building a Frank Lloyd Wright house around it — until it had almost as many new art panels as the original book did in 1978.

The introduction, in comics form, showed where I had traveled, childhood reminiscences that led to the strips, various comic-strip manifestoes. The introduction, which was supposed to have made the book much smoother for readers, became as complex as the book itself. Which meant I had to do a postscript in prose to explain the introduction. That was retrospective No. 1.

Then there was "MetaMaus," which was even harder. I had no idea I was wandering into such troubled waters. I thought my calluses from 13 years of dealing with "Maus" were healed, but no such luck. It was incredibly difficult to go back and deal with that work again.

Then, as I was riding that into harbor (in 2011), I get this call: "Could you call Frederic Mitterrand, the minister of culture in France, at 10:30 your time? He will announce, surrounded by like a thousand French people, that you are now the grand poobah of Angouleme." That is the most credible comics festival in the world, now in its 40th year, something like the Cannes for comics.

I didn't know how to get out of it: Could I just call Frederic Mitterrand and tell him I didn't want this? The reason for my ambivalence was (that) it came with a retrospective. The whole thing is covered in France like it actually were Cannes. But now to look at everything I've ever done? It would be seen by 300,000 people over five days, then seen by no one else for six months.

But I didn't want to be one of those Americans who are like "Eh! Eat Freedom Fries, you hairy French turds!" So I promised to be as good a president as the last American president they had, which was a fiasco. That was Robert Crumb, who left the second day of the festival and went looking for old 78 records.

I said I didn't want a retrospective, though. They asked what it would take. And I said I didn't want a retrospective. But I said if they could get one of my friends to curate — a friend who owns a gallery in Paris, who shows comics in a respectful way, the creme de la creme, Chris Ware, Crumb, Charles Burns — then I would do it.

But then I said it's too much to let all this work out of my house for a single exhibit. So they said, OK, how about we give you the Centre Pompidou as the exhibition space? I guess I can say yes to that! Then dates got added on: A curator in Cologne had wanted a show from me, and since this could travel, it went there next. Then to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is where it is until June. Then this fall, it will travel to the Jewish Museum in New York City, which brings this retrospective full circle.

Q: You created the Garbage Pail Kids. How did the French react to those pieces?

A: They loved them! One of the nicest things about having the show in the Pompidou was when you first came in you see this giant sheet of my Wacky Package and Garbage Pail stickers, then over the top of a wall, you could also see this large banner showing the endpaper drawing from "Maus," of these haunted mice looking out at you. So I'm walking into the show with my wife, Francoise (Mouly, the longtime art director at The New Yorker), and she says to me: "If anyone else did this show, it would seem as if they were insane."

Q: Do you see this kind of respect from important people and museums as a deal with the devil?

A: Boy, you nailed it. Yes, definitely. It's a conscious deal, though. I did this magazine called Arcade in the 1970s, and at that time I was reading Marshall McLuhan, and he said that every form, when it is no longer a mass medium, has to become an art or disappear. And that sounded right to me. ... Comics needed to make that kind of deal. Become art or die. Which meant finding a way into libraries, bookstores, galleries. So that cartoonist could get grants the way painters and poets do, thereby subsisting despite the giant sense that the culture is being replaced by TV, now the Internet.

But yes, it is Faustian, because one of the great things about comics was how they go right into your head, how they moved past the critical radar — which they did until I came along. No, no, I'm joking, not until recently, I suppose. Which is a problem. Of course, there is room still for someone to make a comic called "Tommy the Temperamental Tampax," but there needs to be a firm grounding on which that kind of thing can even exist. And so there are comics now that are coming out because they can be sold as graphic novels, which is really just a euphemism for comics.

Q: You mean, the book exists because it is drawn, not because it should have been.

A: Right. Though that was what I envisioned when I was starting "Maus," a long comic book that needed a book mark. But now, something made so that an English professor can feel comfortable teaching it? I always felt comics could be serious, but I never said: Comics should be boring. But by God, the comic that seems to be willfully boring so that it is taken seriously has become a thing. Be careful what you wish for.

Q: Where do you fall on cartoonists who see themselves as a writer and aren't interesting artists?

A: To put it simply, I think what I love about the medium is what happens when words and pictures intertwine. Which is what the title of this new book, "CO-MIX," means, two things, words and art. What's fascinating is it is almost impossible for one person to be equally good at both words and art. Though ultimately, cartoonists like Jules Feiffer, who clearly had an easier time with language than drawing, made something that reinvented comics.

On the other end, I am continually finding cartoonists from decades ago, from the great golden age of comics, that read like they were written by someone with an IQ of 40 and drawn by someone with an IQ of 250. That spectrum is exactly what interests me. Still, in our culture, if you are an adequate drawer and a great manipulator of language, it's easier now to grab the brass ring than vice versa.
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Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly interviewed by the National Post

Updated June 4, 2013


"The king and queen of comics: In conversation with Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly"

BY David Berry
National Post, May 17, 2013

Though I doubt it, it’s possible you’d be able to find two people who have done more for modern comics than Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly; you will certainly never find another couple. Since coming together in 1970s New York, they have been at the forefront of comics’ rise from the magazine racks at head shops to the front pages of intellectual magazines, to say nothing of the walls of museums.

The seed of their fruitful contribution to comics was Raw, a magazine that changed the definition of what comics were and could be. Hand-printed by Mouly and edited by both in their New York loft, it managed, in a mere eight issues spread across the first six years of the ’80s, to: serve as the launching ground for Maus, Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning book that basically invented the graphic novel as we know it; propel Mouly into an art directorship at The New Yorker, where she has brought to life some of the most striking magazine covers of the last 30 years; and launched the careers of, among others, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns and Chris Ware.

Spiegelman and Mouly were in Toronto last weekend for the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, launching Spiegelman’s forthcoming career retrospective, Co-mix. The National Post had a chance to sit down and talk to them about their partnership and the role of Raw in the modern comics landscape. Below are some selected words of wisdom from the first family of comics.

On meeting and the comics scene in the 1970s:
Françoise Mouly He was unique: there was nobody else who knew that much, or was that passionate, or had work that was that coherent. He was like a lone prophet. There wasn’t anybody else who seemed to share the sense of possibility, of what had been done and what could be done.
Art Spiegelman To me, it seemed like there was some interesting energy in that underground comics thing, but it had already gotten to the point where if it wasn’t like an underground comic that existed in 1968, publishers weren’t interested, because there wasn’t an audience for it outside the head shops. So if it wasn’t about sex, drugs, cheap thrills, radical left politics or pornography, it didn’t have a real niche. The overground, which is what I was calling it at the time, was pretty inert in the mid-’70s, so I couldn’t really find a place.

On mistrusting the art world:
FM My roommate was trying to get paintings in galleries, so I had a good example of someone who functioned in the world of art. I wasn’t confrontational, but I would ask her, “Can you explain to me what this painting is?” And then she would launch into this 12-minute discourse about the history of art as she had done it, but it told me nothing about the art itself. It was sort of like a deaf man’s dialogue.
AS At that point, art had become a branch of philosophy. You couldn’t really talk about something like, ‘Why are we alive?’ … So comics were never a choice for me. In fact, if anything, I was a slob snob: I didn’t trust it if it was in a museum. It took, actually, [filmmaker] Ken Jacobs to drag me into a Picasso show in upstate New York, and there was a eureka moment: They’re just large comics panels, a bit plusher, but he’s a cartoonist. So then I could sort of drag him down to my level.

On choice early work:
FM My favourite piece [in Breakdowns, Spiegelman’s first collection of work] was Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Which was, I mean, I love the fact that it was all in one page, and that there was so much articulated in something that seemed so nothing at first — so straightforward, but when you unpacked it, it was like an Escher drawing: multiple staircases kept bringing you back to the same places. The elegance of it was really exciting.
AS I’ve never heard it put that way before, but if that’s the strip that won Françoise, it totally justifies the three months of drawing it, ripping it up and drawing it again that I went through. I was really trying to find something there that I didn’t have the language for.

On what they wanted Raw to be:
FM Basically, there were no venues for comics, and I just thought, “Well, I can do it myself.” The idea was to show people what actually could be done … that it wasn’t so much a style that was one answer to where comics should go, but was more that each person had their own voice.
AS It was like building a Potemkin village, pretending that there was an international comics scene. Most of the people didn’t know each other, we were just finding things we thought were great. And it was only after we were making this Potemkin village that we realized it had turned into a real city. What’s great, looking back, is not only that these artists are great artists, but that they have a whole school following them. There was something in their cocktail of words and drawings that made others want to follow them.

On their own digital divide:
FM It’s like writing: if you write with a word processor, it looks like a finished text even when it’s just a rough draft. If you sketch it out, you have a physical difference in all the different steps, and the finish is the finish. I try to discipline the artists when they send me sketches to The New Yorker: I want black-and-white thumbnails. The number of times I make them rewind the clock and get back to the original idea is just … The essence of the idea is in your thumbnails.
AS We disagree on this. I think it’s amazing that this new technology that exists makes the most beautiful books since the Middle Ages possible. In the course of getting there, I don’t admire my drawings that much: I just do what I need to do to get the damn thing done. There’s a line in Fanny Hill that I remember reading when I was 13: There’s some sort of love scene where a sailor is grabbing her and screams out, “Any port in a storm” as he enters the back door. I feel sometimes the same way: Anything that will get me there is fine.

On where comics are now:
AS I am kind of confused by a world in which all of our projections have been realized, in a certain sense. If you look back on those Raw artists, though there are others, they’re the core group you’d point to to see how comics have matured. Ben Katchor, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry: all of these things were, at that time, like wandering through a desert and discovering a well with water in it. Now we’re just drowning in an ocean of comics.
FM At a panel a little while ago, I made the point that it’s not all comics that are interesting, or that can help kids learn to read or are somehow worthy of the good comics. And I thought I was going to get lynched, because most of the people in that room were the ones who were eager for the validation … so they could justify their love for a different kind of comic that, up until now, was considered genre literature. They felt that they don’t want to separate good comics from bad. That’s a confusion: I think it’s important to open up and say that the medium has many possibilities, including producing crap. That means it’s a full medium: not everything that’s written is by definition worth reading.
 
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  An Essay on Art Spiegelman's Retrospective Exhibit

Updated June 4, 2013


"The Black and the White: Maus and the Art Spiegelman Exhibit"

By Charles-Adam Foster-Simard
The Millions, May 9, 2013

1.

In the late 1960s, Irving Layton, a Montreal Jewish poet who had risen to international fame a decade earlier, began to write poetry about the Holocaust. Like other Jewish artists of the period, his avoidance of the subject before then was almost conspicuous. Perhaps he was finally spurred to address the elephant in the room when he saw a new generation of poets do so, including his protégé Leonard Cohen, whose first collection, Flowers for Hitler, was published in 1964.

The Holocaust is so massive a subject that it can easily overshadow everything else in an artist’s work. When Layton began to acknowledge it more openly in his writing, he soon found it difficult not to write about the holocaust. Massacres and dead animals began to crop up with frightening regularity in his work; the loud, intractable violence choked every other topic and made them seem banal in comparison.
The poster for the Art Spiegelman exhibit currently showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps,” illustrates a related sentiment. The image is taken from a Spiegelman drawing from 1989 entitled “Self Portrait with Maus Mask.” In the foreground there’s the human Spiegelman with his usual shirt, vest, and cigarette, seated at his drawing table. An expressive mask of a mouse covers his face. His hands are pressed against his cheeks in a gesture of despair as he stares despondently at whatever he is trying to draw. In the background there hangs the covers of Maus I and an issue of RAW, the magazine thought up by Spiegelman’s wife Françoise Mouly, in which Maus was originally serialized. More ominously, a Nazi cat sharpshooter from the pages of Maus stands on a guard tower outside the window with stripes of barbed wire and a brick chimney belching black smoke.

In this image, we see the artist struggling to write and draw the subject he feels compelled to turn into art. We see Spiegelman dreading the inescapably difficult path he has set himself on.

The mouse mask echoes not only the mouse and cat metaphor Spiegelman uses illustrate Jews and Nazis in his book, but also the animal masks that characters wear when trying to pass off as members of groups there are not (so that Vladek Spiegelman is shown as a mouse wearing a pig’s mask when he is trying to pass as a non-Jewish Pole). By wearing the mask, Spiegelamn may also be showing us that he sees himself as a fraud when telling this story, because it isn’t really his to tell.

The self-portrait also represents Spiegelman’s very real struggle to finish writing Maus after the publication of the first volume in 1986, which garnered great acclaim. Spiegelman deals with this dilemma in the second chapter of Maus II, “Time Flies,” when he pulls a Cervantes and steps back from the narrative to address the reader and discuss the publication of the first volume. In the images, Spiegelman shrinks to the size of a child under the aggressive questions of journalists and businessmen who try to turn his book into a commercial product. The writer finally retreats to the home of his wise but eccentric shrink, who happens to keep framed photos of his dogs and cats.
Finally, “Self Portrait with Maus Mask” is an artistic manifestation of the struggle that was to come after the publication of Maus II in 1991, when Spiegelman found himself unable to take off his mouse mask and write a narrative about anything else. The black stain of the holocaust had spilled onto his drawing table.

2.

The Art Spiegelman exhibit, which collects decades of material from the artist’s personal collection, makes the artist’s struggle visible on the curated walls of a museum. One of the most enlightening aspects of the exhibit for me was its ability to portray Spiegelman’s chronology. There’s the explosive, variform comix of his youth, some of which was eventually collected in Breakdowns, in parallel with his hilarious work as art director of Topps, including the infamous Garbage Pail Kids, which gave him the income necessary to work on his personal projects. There’s the decade of scandalous New Yorker covers (not all of which were accepted) which followed Maus in the ’90s: a Hassidic Jew kissing a black woman, a presidential press conference with all microphones turned towards Clinton’s crotch, a haggard-looking concentration camp prisoner holding an Oscar to mark the success of Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful. And then came the recovery of Spiegelman’s voice as a narrative comic artist in the wake of 9/11 with In the Shadow of No Towers, his intensely political, satirical, personal account of the attack on the World Trade Center and its aftermath, printed as a board book to avoid the image-splicing seams of usual bindings.

The room devoted to Maus in the exhibit hushes visitors when they walk in. It is darker than the other rooms, and the walls are more cluttered: the finished pages of a few chapters are spread out horizontally at eye level and preliminary sketches extend above and below them. Historical documents, mementos, and source material are displayed in a handful of glass cases in the center of the room, while overhead the frank voice of Spiegelman’s father Vladek can be heard recounting his experience during World War II in one of the recordings which were the basis for the book.

The depth of Spiegelman’s talent and craft is immediately obvious from a glance at any page from Maus. He employs a dark, heavily striated style that replicates something drawn quickly, furiously. Yet the draft pages for Maus demonstrate that, in fact, Spiegelman slaved over each image to find just the right framing, the correct length of eyebrow to create the desired expression on his characters’ anthropomorphic faces. The highly energetic technique displayed in Maus only serves to make individual drawings more compelling — clear enough to be immediately recognizable, cramped enough to demand careful attention. At the same time, there is a fluidity in the drawings that helps each panel meld into the others and create a powerful impression that goes far beyond the punch of its constituent pieces.

I was also amazed, looking at the variety of pictures hanging in the other rooms of this exhibit, to discover the breadth of Spiegelman’s work. His drawing and narrative style is surprisingly flexible, adapting to the requirements of the story he is telling. He was once commissioned to design covers for the German editions of Boris Vian’s books. He drew lurid, sexy collage images with sharp lines and bold blocks of color, inspired by 1950s comics and cubism; he also took advantage of the book’s spine for mirroring effects between the front and back covers and the placement of elongated objects. In The Prisoner on the Hell Planet, Spiegelman uses stark contrasts and an expressionist style in both his text and drawings to express the deeply personal impact of his mother’s suicide.

In the exhibit, I also discovered with a great pleasure a short graphic piece Spiegelman made to commemorate the retirement of Charles Schulz. Spiegelman draws himself as a simplified mouse ruminating on the roof of a doghouse in honor of his subject’s work; even the font he uses for his characters’ speech is borrowed from Peanuts. “At its best, which was often,” Spiegelman writes, “the strip had the simplicity and depth charge of a haiku…only easier to understand.” In the next panel, Snoopy has appeared and is surprised to find another animal sitting on top of his doghouse. Spiegelman adds: “…and cuter.” Spiegelman’s work, in spite of the animals, is rarely cute — and yet here, to honor his subject, he too has made his own style as light and pleasant as a Peanuts strip.

It is through pieces like this that Spiegelman has continued to help nudge comics into rich new territory. After showing that it was possible to write a graphic memoir that couldn’t work in any other form (unless as a kind of doomed hybrid between Elie Wiesel’s Night and Brian Jacques’s Redwall), he began to experiment with essays in graphic form, like the piece on childhood he made for the McSweeney’s special “San Francisco Panorama” issue. On display at the exhibit is the original of another non-fiction piece on the same subject called “In the Dump,” co-written and drawn with Maurice Sendak for in the The New Yorker in 1993. In the piece, Spiegelman goes to visit the reclusive Sendak to discuss the realities of childhood and the nature of imagination. This piece is also impressive because it’s a full-on collaboration: Sendak and Spiegelman worked on the panels at the same time, each drawing himself and then working together on the background.

Born from universal ideas, crafted by the hands of artists, written with passion, the comic strip has become the medium for narratives that can be read again and again and images that can be stared at pensively in the hushed space of a museum.

3.

Discussing his famous graphic novel V for Vendetta, Alan Moore once stated that he always preferred the original, serialized version of the book because it wasn’t in color. “The images were entirely in black and white,” he explains, “but the whole story, in moral terms, had only shades of grey.”

Something similar occurs in Maus, where the drawings often fall into a thick chiaroscuro and hard hatching turns page space into almost solid black. Arguably, no other story has been made to express absolute black and absolute white as clearly as World War II. So how can an artist integrate the textures of grey that make a story truly poignant?

Spiegelman allows his book to transcend its own purpose as a holocaust survival tale by crafting it as a metafiction. This was something I did not expect before I began to learn more about Maus and its writer. At first, I thought the book was just (although that’s not quite the right word) a story about holocaust survivors in which the Nazis are cats and the Jews are mice. But that story is only the core around which the other elements gravitate.

Maus is also very much about a son trying to come to terms with his father — it is an exploration of their relationship, in which the father’s story creates a bridge between them, a reason for them to get together and talk. Spiegelman was very clever in framing his father’s story in the war years with material from the present day: visiting his father, giving us a portrait of his life in old age, mulling over ethical questions, asking his father about specific details. The back and forth between past and present makes the story he tells all the more real.

But there’s still more. On a foundational level, Maus, like every work of literature that admits to being one, is a book about the process of writing a book. It explores not only the meaning of surviving the holocaust and managing a difficult father, but also the difficulties of drawing and writing about this father and telling his story. The fact that the reader is privy to Spiegelman’s questions, comments, and process within Maus, especially in the second volume, is essential to the book’s agenda.

4.

One of Spiegelman’s most admirable qualities, expressed by both the man and his art, is an honest form of moral rectitude. He experienced the success of Maus with considerable discomfort, a discomfort he folded into the book itself: Is this his story to tell? Is he disrespecting the memory of the millions of people who died in the concentration camps by telling it? To this day, Spiegelman believes one of his greatest achievements is to have resisted attempts to make a film version of the book.

I believe his peculiar strength lies in his resolve not to go down the path of artists like Layton who, once they started, were unable to leave behind the subject of the holocaust. Spiegelman refuses to become a figure of authority on the holocaust, another Elie Wiesel. (The closest he has come, admittedly, is in his Life is Beautiful cover for The New Yorker.) Despite his struggle to find another narrative thrust for his graphic art after Maus, his decade of so-called silence was in fact one of his richest — most of his truly arresting shorter work and many pieces I used in this essay to illustrate his genius, were produced in this period. Besides, as Françoise Mouly has said, a decade is not really so long to find your voice again as a storyteller. And Spiegelman has proven that he has many more stories to tell.

“CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps” is open at the Vancouver Art Gallery until June 9, 2013. It was originally shown at Angoulême and Paris, France, and then at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany. It will move to the Jewish Museum in New York later this year
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Art Spiegelman talks with the Toronto Star

Updated June 4, 2013


"Toronto Comic Arts Festival: Art Spiegelman reluctantly reflects"

By Laura Kane
The Star, May 10, 2013

The creator of the famous comic Maus is among the featured guests at this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival and will promote his new retrospective book, Co-Mix.


Art Spiegelman is not the first artist to say, “Never have a retrospective while you’re alive.”

The 65-year-old graphic novelist and cartoonist quotes now-deceased painter Willem de Kooning when asked about his new gallery show and book, Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps.

Spiegelman is aware of an ominous, epitaph-like quality to reflecting on one’s life and career, as de Kooning was. But both artists, thankfully, have broken the rule on retrospectives at least once.

A featured guest at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Spiegelman will appear in conversation with fellow cartoonist Seth at the Marriott May 12 at 11 a.m. The festival features over 100 comic book creators, plus gallery shows, film screenings and readings across the city.

Spiegelman will also sign copies of Co-Mix, which looks back — albeit reluctantly — on his diverse career spanning nearly four decades.
“The last thing I wanted to do was more introspection,” sighs Spiegelman, who was tasked with creating a gallery retrospective after being named president of France’s prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2012.

Of course, he was flattered by the request, but he had recently completed MetaMaus, an “exhaustive, if not exhausting” behind-the-scenes look at his most famous and personal graphic novels, Maus I and Maus II.

The two volumes of Maus, published in 1986 and 1992 to stunning critical and commercial success, are retrospectives in themselves — perhaps illuminating Spiegelman’s complex relationship with memory and history.

Maus is a biographical tale set in two timelines: in 1970s New York, Art interviews his irascible father Vladek about surviving the Holocaust; in 1940s Poland, we witness Vladek’s harrowing journey to Auschwitz.

But the aspect of Maus that makes its story all the more alarming is Spiegelman’s approach of drawing humans as anthropomorphic figures. Nazis are depicted as cats, Poles are pigs and Jews, of course, are mice.

Creating Meta-Maus required Spiegelman to sift through old notebooks and listen to taped interviews with his father, who died in 1982. He was surprised by how painful the process was.

“You develop a certain kind of callousness,” he says. “When working on Maus, I had to get to a place where I could think of the great calamity of my life and the century as ‘material.’

“I didn’t expect to have to do that all over again with Meta-Maus . . . in which the first job when I came to my studio consisted of crying for a few hours.”

His reluctance to create Co-Mix subsided when the French organizers of Angouleme offered him a show at the Pompidou. The exhibit has since travelled to Cologne and Vancouver and will move to New York’s Jewish Museum in the fall.

“I’m still interested in where comics sit culturally between literature and art,” he says. “There is something about being on museum walls that is not the natural fit for the work I do, but I’m interested in what it looks like.”

The gallery show is essentially reproduced in the book version of Co-Mix, a rich collection of original sketches, obscure comic strips, process drawings, excerpts and covers.

It spans Spiegelman’s entire catalogue: including early favourites like 1977’s Breakdowns and the avant-garde comics magazine RAW, which he created in 1980 with his wife, celebrated graphic artist Françoise Mouly. (Maus was first serialized in RAW between 1980 and 1991.)

Co-Mix even includes the first original cartoon Spiegelman drew, a four-panel joke comic titled “The Cop and the Drunk,” scrawled in India ink at age 12.

“I wanted to create comics as soon as I learned humans were behind them, that they were not natural phenomena like trees and boulders,” he says.

Also reprinted are Spiegelman’s provocative New Yorker covers, which he began drawing in 1993 around the same time Mouly became art editor. His first cover, a colourful Valentine’s Day image of a Hasidic Jew kissing a black woman, sparked outrage as some New Yorkers were still stinging from the 1991 Crown Heights race riots between the Jewish and black communities.

“The magazine didn’t have a history of being too pointedly political or social in its observations,” he says. “I knew it was outside their norm, but I didn’t realize how big of a ruckus it would make.”

The most astonishing thing about Co-Mix may be how different each page is from the next. Spiegelman has intentionally avoided developing a trademark style, instead adapting form to content with each new project.

“I think I succeeded in that I’m hard to pin down,” he says. “I don’t know that anyone would know that the same person who drew Maus also drew those New Yorker covers and bubble gum cartoons and soft-core porn for Playboy.”

In 2004, Spiegelman released In the Shadow of No Towers, a graphic novel about his experiences in post-Sept. 11 New York. Its style draws on early 20th-century newspaper comic strips, which Spiegelman has said provided him comfort after the terrorist attacks.

“No Towers was a completely different process (than Maus),” he says. “Maus was made with the reader in mind . . . No Towers was not about talking to anybody. It was about me being the kind of glazed-eyed, half-out-of-control lunatic that I became after Sept. 11.”

Of course, it is Maus that is always mentioned in the same breath as Spiegelman’s name, a reality he admits he feels “deep ambivalence” about.
Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992 and is often credited with creating the literary graphic novel genre — or at the least, winning comics mainstream recognition as an art form.

“I’m the creator of a very large . . . one-hit wonder that makes my life much more comfortable and gets me respect wherever I go,” he says.
“But it leaves me with the confounded feeling of being an outsider in my own culture looking in.”
 

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  The Province on "iconic cartoonist" Art Spiegelman's CO-MIX retrospective

Updated April 4, 2013


"Art Spiegelman blazes colourful trail"

Dana Gee
The Province, 14 February 2013

Iconic cartoonist Art Spiegelman will be celebrating his 65th birthday in style today.

The New York artist and the mind behind the graphic novel Maus will be ringing in the big day with the private opening of his show Co-Mix here at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibit opens to the public Saturday.

“A retrospective of comics, graphics and scraps,” the exclusive Canadian show, which runs until June 9, examines almost 50 years of work.

“This is something he has kind of avoided because it feels so final,” said the show’s curator Bruce Grenville about the show which an electric cigarette puffing Spiegelman toured media through yesterday. “At the same time there is something extraordinary about the opportunity to look back over time.”

Included in the show are over 400 drawings, sketches and panels dating back to his very early underground career, his cover work for The New Yorker magazine, this very personal response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York and of course his most famous work Maus.

“He has a massive archive. He also keeps all of his work. He doesn’t like to sell it, which makes for a perfect opportunity to show this kind of thing in-depth,” said Grenville. “So, in fact what you see especially the work around Maus is a real kind of depth.”

Published between 1978-1991, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus chronicles his father’s Holocaust experience and the strained relationship between Spiegelman had with his father.

“There’s a kind of shock in people’s minds when they hear that this story is a comic strip,” Spiegelman has said. “Somebody did a comic strip about the Holocaust?”

The VAG show is packed with Maus insight. There are sketches, photographs, audio recordings, storyboards all related to the project that took 13 years to complete and grew out of over 7,500 sketches and drawings.

A long labour of discovery Maus was a hit from the start something Spiegelman said shocked him at the time.

“I got whiplash of a certain kind. I was walking by a 5th Ave. bookstore by the (Museum of Modern Art),” said Spiegelman referring to seeing his work displayed prominently. “Then there was a scary onslaught (People Magazine, Time to name a few) that made it so hard to do the second book.”

The show starts with the colourful and crazy work Spiegelman did during his 20 years working for the Topps Company. Included in this portfolio are such famous projects as the Garbage Pail Kids series of trading cards.

“They were my Medicis,” said Spiegelman comparing Topps to the famous Italian power family that was a patron to Michelangelo among other famous Italian artists and architects.

Another signpost in Spiegelman’s long successful career are covers he has done for The New Yorker magazine. One of those is given prominent placement as it not only marked a tumultuous time in the city but marked a change in tone for the venerable magazine.

Feb. 15, 1993 Spiegelman waded in on the Crown Heights Brooklyn race riots between blacks and Jews by delivering Valentine’s Day a cover that had a Hasidic Jew kissing a black woman.

“It was more genteel until then,” said Spiegelman about this evocative cover.

“This is rough and tough work. It’s not kid friendly. It’s about a subculture that takes on challenging and problematic ideas. That’s been at Art’s core from the beginning, to ruffle those feathers, to use art as means to offer social commentary and participate culturally,” said Grenville.

Another of those times happened after a fateful and world-changing September day in 2001.

The New Yorker was trying to figure out what to put on their cover. The plan was just a black page but then Spiegelman suggested to his wife Françoise Mouly, who is the magazine’s art editor, the idea of the black on black cover that depicts the outline of the World Trade Center towers.

“We were there. The towers came down around us,” said Spiegelman, who along with Mouly rushed to near Ground Zero to collect their daughter from school. “It was unhinging.”

From there Spiegelman stayed with the topic.

“I was waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Spiegelman who at the time was convinced New York was going to be obliterated by other terrorist acts.

Those works ended up in the book In the Shadow of No Towers, his first new book of comics since Maus.

As for the future the birthday boy wasn’t too sure.

“That’s hard because I’m trying to find out what is left of me after a retrospective,” he said laughing.

For the record Spiegelman is working on turning a lecture on the relationship between words and pictures into a performance piece.
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Art Spiegelman in the Dallas Morning News

Updated April 4, 2013


"'Maus' creator Art Spiegelman: Comics can be literary; it comes down to story"

Chris Vognar
The Dallas Morning News, 3 March 2013

Art Spiegelman chuckles as he looks back on the days when comics weren't considered cool. He sounds a little like an older kid telling a younger sibling how easy they've got it now.

"I tell young people about the old days, and they don't understand," he says. "It's as if I'm saying we used to have to go out and kill mastodons for dinner. You couldn't go into a bar and try to pick up a woman by saying you draw comics. You'd be much better off saying you were a plumber or a carpenter."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the groundbreaking "Maus" realizes his role as evangelist is much easier than it once was. With all manner of comics and graphic novels garnering critical acclaim and comics courses proliferating at universities, the battle for mainstream acceptance has been won.

"At this point it's sort of like a glamour thing, like being part of an indie rock band," says Spiegelman, 65. "The status has changed, and the kind of work that's coming out now is a really wide swath of independent creation."

He's hesitant to take credit, but Spiegelman played a significant role in his medium's triumph. The two volumes of "Maus," published in 1986 and 1991, showed a mass audience of general readers and cultural arbiters that comics could tackle the most serious of stories with narrative and illustrative daring.

On one level it's the story of how his Polish parents survived the Holocaust, with Jews portrayed as mice and Nazis as cats. But "Maus" is also a heartbreaking study of memory and intergenerational communication, structured around Spiegelman's interviews with his father.

"I just thought I was making a long comic book," he says. "I'm astonished at how well it landed. I knew I could possibly find some audience if I followed that basic notion of what a comic should do."

It comes down to story, as Spiegelman learned the hard way. In 1978 he published "Breakdowns," a large-format collection of expressionistic and intensely autobiographical short works (including an early run at "Maus"). The book, re-released in 2008, now reads like a rare glimpse inside the soul of an innovative young artist. But it flopped when it was first published, and Spiegelman rededicated himself to the art of narrative.

In the process, he became a pioneer in blurring the lines between comics and literature.

Dennis Foster, an English professor at Southern Methodist University, teaches "Maus" as well as comic book writer Chris Ware in his literature courses. He sees no need to qualify the inclusion of the once-maligned format.

"They have a depth and complexity that makes use of all the techniques I have developed to read literature," Foster says by email. "If I can get my students to pay attention to such graphic details as the way a writer arranges panels on a page, the often ironic relation of words to the underlying images, or the allusions in a drawing that bring in references from a larger context, I think those students will know how to read everything more attentively."

The introduction to "Breakdowns" shows Spiegelman as a child, falling in love with the early Mad comics. Flip a few pages forward and he's musing on the intersection of form and content in art. Just as the medium's great artists create literature from comics, they also erase barriers between high and low culture.

Spiegelman credits his friend Ken Jacobs, the avant-garde filmmaker, for helping him see that light: "He got me to try to think of Picasso as a cartoonist instead of a sacred figure of modernism. Then I found out what modernism actually was."
 
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  Art Spiegelman on CBC's The Current

Updated April 4, 2013


"'Maus' cartoonist Art Spiegelman on finding art in disorder"

The Current, 15 February 2013

When Art Spiegelman started looking for a home for his ground-breaking graphic novel Maus, most publishers just didn't get it. Rejection letters came pouring in. They said things like, "the idea behind it is brilliant, but it never quite gets on track" ... or "my passing has to do with the nervousness of something so new and possibly off-putting."

To be fair, Maus is an illustrated narrative, a comic book really, about Spiegelman's father and his experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. It mixed historical accounts with personal stories. And it did it all using cartoons. The Germans were cats, the Jews were mice. In the end, Maus was published in 1992 and promptly won the Pulitzer Prize. It is now considered one of the most important graphic novels ever made. Over the years, Art Spiegelman has written other graphic novels, illustrated countless covers for The New Yorker magazine, as well as the satirical collector card series, Garbage Pail Kids.

The first-ever retrospective of Art Spiegelman's 40-year career opens today at the Vancouver Art Gallery. And Art Spiegelman was with us from Vancouver.
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Vancouver Sun promises "many surprises" from CO-MIX exhibition

Updated April 4, 2013


"Art Spiegelman, Co-Mix at the Vancouver Art Gallery"

Shawn Conner
Vancouver Sun, 15 February 2013

There is something fundamentally challenging about viewing comics on a gallery wall. It’s not that the artwork itself isn’t worthy of the honour. It’s that the eye is always tempted to read rather than just look.

Happily, Art Spiegelman’s work defies these limitations — at least in the way CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps covers the New York City cartoonist’s career.

Preliminary sketches and roughs, actual comic books, enlarged pieces and even a wall devoted to the Topps bubblegum series stickers that paid Spiegelman’s bills for several years are presented, along with the original finished pieces of art.

New Yorker magazine covers, book covers, child-aimed comic strips from the Little Lit anthology series he co-edited with his wife Francoise Mouly are also on display at the show, which runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until June 9.

The sheer variety of Spiegelman’s work guarantees that even the most casual viewer won’t be bored. From the relatively straightforward narrative of his Holocaust memoir Maus to his earlier one- and two-page experiments in deconstructing the medium, to comic-strip response to 9/11, In the Shadow of No Towers, the artist has explored an ambitious range of ideas in comics art and illustration. Even if, as he says, “I’m not a very good drawer.”

CO-MIX presents examples of all of the above, including a wall devoted to Topps’ Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids stickers. A visitor could spend hours perusing these unabashedly satirical, Mad Magazine-like images, many of which were conceived but not necessarily drawn by Spiegelman.

Outside of the Topps wall, and a room devoted to the Little Lit stuff for kids, CO-MIX takes the viewer on a more-or-less chronological tour of Spiegelman’s 40-year career. In what senior curator Bruce Grenville referred to as the “junvenalia” section, we see the teenage Spiegelman’s initial forays into creating comics.

Nearby, pages from The Malpractice Suite and other formalist experiments that would eventually be collected in his book Breakdowns lead to covers and other images from Raw. The ’80s comics anthology series published by Spiegelman and Mouly helped revive the dying underground comix scene.

A room devoted to Maus includes page after page of original art. These are no larger than the format in which they first appeared (that is, approximately 5”x7”; Spiegelman chose to draw the pages in the same size they would be published, in a bonus pamphlet included in issues of the large-format Raw). In some instances, notebook pages covered by preliminary sketches and dialogue accompany the finished work, so we can see what Spiegelman calls “thought made visible.”

In a vitrine, the passports of his parents — both concentration camp survivors — are displayed.

In the decades following the publication of Maus, Spiegelman has had a second career as an illustrator. Despite feeling “I just wasn’t made for the Harvard Club,” as he put it at a Thursday media preview for the show, he has done numerous covers for The New Yorker. These include the famous image of a black woman and a Hassidic Jew kissing that was published 20 years ago Friday, on Feb. 15, 1993. Spiegelman credits the cover for helping make the magazine “less genteel.”

The show also features his illustration work from a 1994 reissue of The Wild Party, a lengthy prose poem from 1928. Spiegelman chose the project to follow Maus “as a way of reinventing myself,” he said. The art he did for Joseph Moncure March poem “was everything that Maus wasn’t — decorative, sexy, playful.”

For those who know Spiegelman only from Maus, it’s one of many surprises CO-MIX has to offer.
 
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  Art Spiegelman's CO-MIX exhibition featured in The Globe and Mail

Updated April 4, 2013


"Art Spiegelman retrospective: A look back on a career that’s been all about looking back"

Marsha Lederman
The Globe and Mail, Vancouver, 16 February 2013

There’s an episode in Art Spiegelman’s autobiographical and Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus in which Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, has a dream. Imprisoned as a slave labourer during the Second World War, working for a big German company, Vladek dreams of his dead grandfather. “Don’t worry, my child, you will come out of this place – free!” his grandfather promises. And it will happen, he says, on Parshas Truma.

The reference is to a section of the Torah. A different segment – called a parsha in Hebrew – is read each week. In the Parshas Truma (spellings vary), read once a year, God instructs Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert to construct a tabernacle, a temporary sanctuary, with various materials including gold, silver, colourful wool and precious stones.

In Maus, and in his life, Vladek was indeed released from that labour camp on Parshas Truma – finding sanctuary in the desert of Nazi Germany, but it, too, was only temporary. There were many more troubles to come – including Auschwitz. Still, he survived, and after the war, he had a son, Art, born the week of Parshas Truma. When Art turned 13, this was the Torah portion he recited at his bar mitzvah.

And this is the Torah portion that will be read in synagogues this Saturday, the day after Art Spiegelman turns 65, and as a retrospective of his extraordinary career opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“That’s auspicious, having an opening like that,” said Spiegelman this week, during an interview at the VAG (conducted on a rooftop deck so he could smoke).

But wait, there’s more: It’s also exactly 20 years since his first New Yorker cover – Feb 15, 1993. A shocker of a Valentine’s Day illustration early in the magazine’s Tina Brown era, it featured a Hasidic Jew kissing a black woman, inspired by New York’s Crown Heights riot two years earlier. “That cover entered the DNA of the New Yorker and changed it,” says Spiegelman, who should know: His wife, Françoise Mouly, is the magazine’s art director.

The illustration is one of more than 400 works that form Art Spiegelman CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps.

Spiegelman was born in Stockholm in 1948 and immigrated with his parents, both Auschwitz survivors, to the United States in 1951. As a child in New York, he devoured comics, and started his own fanzine in junior high. He was 15 when hired by Topps Bubble Gum Co., which became, he says, his “Medici” for 20 years. The steady work, including creating the parody series Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids, allowed Spiegelman to focus on his first love, comics.

He began in the underground scene, and founded the comics magazine RAW with Mouly in 1980. But it was Maus that changed everything – for him, and the art form. “Art hates it when we call him the first graphic-novel artist, but of course he invented the genre,” says Bodo Von Dewitz, CO-MIX coordinating curator in Cologne.

Maus, which was initially serialized in RAW and published as Maus I in 1986 and Maus II in 1991, can only be described as groundbreaking. Portraying Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs, Maus was rejected by many publishers, but was ultimately an enormous critical and commercial success. The work not only brought new attention to that horrific chapter in history but mainstream literary respect to the art form. In 1991, Spiegelman had a solo exhibition, Making Maus, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It took the “visceral shock” of his Holocaust comics for graphic art “to move into another zone,” Spiegelman says. “So that’s been useful to the world and to a degree useful to me, although I’ve been left with the aftershock of that.”

That aftershock has meant acclaim and financial freedom. But it has also meant everything else he subsequently created would be compared to Maus. “I feel like … a blues musician who had one crossover hit, so they just ask you to play that at every concert,” he says.

In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious grand prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, an award that entailed the creation of the retrospective now visiting Vancouver. The exhibition opened in Angoulême just over a year ago and travelled to Paris and Cologne. After Vancouver, it will move to the Jewish Museum in New York.

The exhibition is a comprehensive career retrospective – from Spiegelman’s juvenilia to RAW to other comic works such as Breakdowns and his post-9/11 stunner, In the Shadow of No Towers. There is his graphic work, his New Yorker covers (including a 1993 one featuring schoolchildren carrying guns, which has received a lot of attention post Newtown), his children’s literature, and of course, a strong focus on Maus – walls of studies and finished pages; artifacts related to his family; audiotape of interviews with his father, who died in 1982.

“I wanted to show this process of work that I found very important,” said curator Rina Zavagli-Mattotti, from Paris this week, “the fact that to make one image that will be printed, he maybe does the work, the sketches, 100 times.”

VAG senior curator Bruce Grenville, who had worked with Spiegelman on the 2008 VAG show KRAZY!, contacted Spiegelman after the 2011 publication of the author’s book MetaMaus to congratulate him, and asked if he would consider doing something else at the VAG. Spiegelman suggested bringing CO-MIX to Vancouver. “It was really just the right moment, because he swore up and down he would never do a retrospective,” says Grenville.

“Disaster is my muse,” Spiegelman declares in the introduction to In the Shadow of No Towers. So how does he continue to create when life is so good? “Fortunately,” he quips, “disasters can include hangnails for me.”

He’s quick with the joke, but it seems that dark thoughts are never far from his mind.

“I was realizing I’m thinking about death a lot these days, because turning 65 is a big deal. But then I’m looking back over my journals, [and I realize] I’ve been thinking about death since I was 15 or something.” He continues, ambivalent. “There is something epitaph-like about a retrospective. But here it feels like an interesting coincidental confluence to have it happen on my birthday. And I’ll take it as a gift, rather than as a curse.”
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Inside Vancouver takes a look at Art Spiegelman's CO-MIX exhibition

Updated April 4, 2013


"Art Spiegelman At the Vancouver Art Gallery"

Shawn Conner
Inside Vancouver Blog, 15 February 2013

Best-known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, Art Spiegelman is one of the most respected comics artists/illustrators in the world.

In CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps, the Vancouver Art Gallery presents a retrospective of Spiegelman’s 40-year career. The show marks the North American premiere of the exhibit, which has traveled from Angouleme to Paris to Cologne before landing here, where it will run Feb. 16 – June 9 2013.

The exhibit’s Vancouver stay has its origins in KRAZY!, a 2008 exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery co-curated by Spiegelman. Thanks to the artist’s relationship with the gallery and senior curator Bruce Grenville, visitors to the VAG will be treated to this first retrospective of the cartoonist’s work. CO-MIX isn’t limited to finished pieces; sketches and rough drafts of Spiegelman’s work will give a glimpse into the artist’s process at work.

Spiegelman’s career spans the underground comix movement of the ’60s and ’70s to the anthology Raw to the Holocaust memoir Maus to covers for New Yorker magazine and his response to 9/11, In the Shadow of No Towers. Along with his wife Francoise Mouly, he’s also edited the “Little Lit” series of anthologies of comics for kids.
 
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  Slideshow of Art Spiegelman's work on Globe and Mail website

Updated April 4, 2013


"In pictures: A selection of Art Spiegelman's work"

The Globe and Mail, 15 February 2013
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CBC: Art Spiegelman is "subject of a major new exhibition in Vancouver"

Updated April 4, 2013


"Art Spiegelman's boundary-stretching comic art in Vancouver"

CBC News, 15 February 2013

Art Spiegelman's dark, powerful and boundary-smashing comic artwork is the subject of a major new exhibition in Vancouver.

Spanning the pioneering graphic artist's diverse, decades-long career, the Vancouver Art Gallery's CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps is the first retrospective devoted to the Swedish-born American.

The show brings Spiegelman back to the VAG, where he served as a curator as well as a featured artist for the 2008 exhibit Krazy: The Delirious World of Anime, Comics, Video Games and Art.

"It was such a wonderful opportunity to work with a man who has such insight into the history of comics and insight into his own work, which doesn't always go hand in hand," said VAG curator Bruce Grenville.

"I couldn't believe it when he said there was a possibility for a retrospective and that we could bring it here."

CO-MIX features more than 400 preparatory drawings, sketches, studies and panels, from fanzines Spiegelman created in his teens through his pioneering underground comics of the 1970s to his acclaimed later work, including children's books. And there are excerpts of his landmark, Pulitzer Prize-winning opus Maus, based on his father's experiences as a Holocaust survivor.

Over the years, Spiegelman has published influential work for very different settings.

He's had success in the commercial world through his long association with Topps (where he created his satirical Wacky Packages and gross-out Garbage Pail Kids trading card series). He's created controversial and political editorial covers and comic strips for publications ranging from The New Yorker to Playboy. He's also won acclaim for his autobiographical creations, such as Prisoner on the Hell Planet, a response to his mother's suicide.

The New York-based artist has long explored the boundaries of his art.

"What happens when you move as far away from narrative as you can? At what point does it stop being a comic and just start being a graphic? These were concerns for me," he told reporters in Vancouver on Thursday at a media preview of CO-MIX.

Studying modern artists and writers (such as Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce) as an adult helped him approach his cartooning in a different way, he added.

He explained the unusual approach he took in a set of panels on display in Vancouver.

"It has almost no movement — it's a completely still comic that only has one movement in time, which is a ball bouncing outside a window," he said.

"Everything else is an uncoupling of the words and pictures to make something else happen, to make you move around the room that the protagonist is in, in a certain way. It just doesn't use the same operating system [as other comics]. It's just not what comics do."

The piece was subsequently republished in Marvel's Comix Books series and, with a laugh, Spiegelman recalled his favourite criticism of it.

"In the letters column, someone said: 'I liked most of the pieces and Spiegelman's piece was OK, but it didn't go anywhere.' And it's true. It didn't go anywhere except way off the page and into a dialogue about high and low art when it wasn't part of the conversation."

CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps opens Saturday and continues through June 9 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The international exhibit, which originally debuted in France and has also been shown in Germany, will then travel to New York's Jewish Museum.
 
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  Jewish Currents profile on Art Spiegelman

Updated April 4, 2013


From "Art Spiegelman"

Lawrence Bush
Jewish Currents, 15 February 2013

(...) Comic book artist and comic history meyvn Art Spiegelman (Itzhak Avraham ben Zev), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his Holocaust chronicle, Maus, was born in Stockholm on this date in 1948. The son of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors (temporary survivors, anyway; Spiegelman’s mother committed suicide when the artist was 20), he was inspired as a kid by the intensity and insurgent spirit of MAD magazine, and joined the underground comix world in the 1970s with autobiographical strips that presaged Maus. Published in two volumes in 1986 and 1991, Maus was an international sensation that finally established the comic book as literary genre, richly artistic and worthy of adult and critical attention. Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly also produced Raw in the 1980s and early ’90s, which helped launch several writer-artists in their careers. From 1992 to 2001, he was a contributing artist for the New Yorker and saw twenty-one covers published, including his wonderful, notorious Valentine’s Day cover of a Black West Indian woman and a khasidic man kissing (in the wake of the Crown Height black-Jewish tensions of 1991). Spiegelman has also created several New Yorker strips celebrating comic book history. He received his second Eisner Award and was inducted into the Comic Books Hall of Fame in 1999.

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.” —Art Spiegelman (...)
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Ilium Gazette: Art Spiegelman featured in non-fiction book on comics

Updated April 4, 2013


From "Book review: “Superman is Jewish?” by Harry Brod"

Ilium Gazette, 2 February 2013

What really makes this book worth reading is Brod’s description of Jewish comics creators deploying all of their talents to tell Jewish stories. He makes a convincing argument not just for the literary merit of Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew or Art Spiegelman’s Maus, but also describes the importance of the graphic novel medium to the structure of those works.
 
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