MetaMaus

I’ve talked about Maus before, and any who has ever expressed an interest in visual storytelling has hopefully already read and appreciated the masterpiece that is Art Spiegelman’s Maus.  The complete Maus – until now – has been the two volumes first published in 1986 and 1991.  I believe I can say, without fear of reprisals, that the complete Maus must now include what is ostensibly the third volume of Spiegelman’s work: MetaMaus: a look inside a modern classic, Maus.

To the uninitiated, a book about a book – written by the same author of the original book – might seem unnecessary.  Yet Maus is one of the most important graphic novels of all-time, and one of the most poignant works on the Holocaust ever to be written.  Spiegelman has spent the years since 1986, and since his special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, answering questions like, “Why mice?”  “Why comics?’ and “Why the Holocaust?”  This book, that contains interviews with the author, tons of images and drawings, and – most fascinating to me – transcripts from Art’s original interviews with his father, Vladek, that began in 1972.  As the story of Maus is the story of his father, this was an amazing thing to read.  But to be honest, every page contains information that is simply fascinating.  Spiegelman talks about how the book was received in various countries around the world – for instance, Germany and Poland – how he designed the characters, the page layouts, everything!  The detail here is almost unheard of in the study of visual storytelling, and the literary and comic world is incredibly fortunate that the author took the time to put this book together.  It is truly a treasure trove of information, and I would recommend everyone make a space in the “must read” list for this title.  And if you somehow haven’t read the orignal Maus.  Do it.  Now.

Super Gods

For those of you who are really into comics, this post will be nothing more than another advertisement for this book.  For those of you not as deeply involved in the medium, this should prove an enjoyable and fascinating title.  One of the most popular, controversial, and simply widely known comic book writers of the last 20+ years is Grant Morrison.  He is known not just for his work, but for his life, his vision, and his view on all things comics.  It comes as no surprise, then, that he has crafted this opus to superheroes and the mythic properties they both embody and represent for the reader: Supergods.  This is not a superficial examination of the genre, but a detailed and literate study of the archetypes of comics and what they continue to teach us about ourselves and our world.  I am not the biggest Morrison fan, but this is an exceptional look at comic history, and an in-depth analysis of the last few decades of comic writing, as themes became darker, more realistic, and more honestly reflective of our society.  If you have any interest in comics or superheroes, this is a must read!

The Photographer

I have always been fascinated by Doctors Without Borders, and that interest is what first drew me to Didier Lefevre’s graphic novel The Photographer.  What held, sustained, and demanded my interest, however, is the sense of perseverance in the face of deepest adversity faced by the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan as featured in this book.  What’s truly stunning about this book is the juxtaposition of Lefevre’s photographs with the art of Emmanuel Guibert.  The images in this book date from a trip Lefevre took in 1986 to document a Doctors Without Borders mission, and the images are both touching and intense.  It is an amazing document of a place, a purpose, and a people.  This is the kind of book that everyone should read, so I hope you do.

The landmark testimony of Maus

Whenever anyone talks about the evolution of comics and the graphic novel, one title you are bound to hear in conversation is Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986-1991).  Aside from being a Pulitzer Prize winning work and an exceptional example of the power of graphic storytelling, it is also recognized as one of the finest works on the Holocaust in any medium, period.  Publishing his story in two parts, My Father Bleeds History and And Here My Troubles Began, Art tells the story of his father Vladek’s experience in Hitler’s Europe, his time spent in Auschwitz and – just as interesting as the historical information – the strained relationship between Art and Vladek.  There is not just significant context to this work, but deep emotional resonance, which is particularly interesting as the characters are all drawn as animals.  The Jew’s are mice (the title is german for mouse), German’s are cats, and other nationalities exist as pigs and frogs.  This choice by Spiegelman somehow helps to distance the reader from the absolute horrors of the Holocaust, while simultaneously bringing one closer to the emotional tragedy of the tale.  I don’t know how he did it, obviously, but neither does anyone else, as nothing has ever come close to the universal appeal of this amazing and harrowing tale.  Yes, many of you have probably read Maus before, but for those who haven’t, this survivor’s tale is one for the ages.

French Milk

This is an absolutely lovely little book by Lucy Knisley called French Milk.  In essence, it’s nothing more than a diary of a six-week trip to Paris Lucy took with her mother in 2007.  In reality, it’s a loving tribute to the city of Paris, Lucy’s mother Georgia, and the ever-changing state of mind of a 22-year old woman.

For most of us, getting to spend six-weeks in Paris might sound like a unique dream come true, but Lucy had been to Paris before, she was just finishing up college, looking to what came next in her life, and making the still mighty leap from school-life to… whatever we should really call what comes next.  Not “real life,” because it’s all real.  Maybe “self-sustaining life,” where the decisions are as tough as ever, but they carry much greater consequences.

I think the beauty of this book comes from Lucy’s particular viewpoint and eye for detail – expressed in a delightful style by the combination of her artwork and photographs – and the enviable blend of excitement and melancholy that is only possible when you’re 21-22 years old.  I’ve already recommended this book to about five people, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy so I can revisit it whenever the mood strikes.  Which may be often.

Now you can finally read Darwin!

Okay, I’ll admit it… I consider myself somewhat well-read, but I’ve never read On the Origin of Species.  Always wanted to – felt I ought to, really – but it never happened.  UNTIL…

Michael Keller and illustrator Nicolle Rager Fuller have produced a wonderful adaptation of one of the most famous books of science and evolution in human history.  We follow Darwin as he begins to develop his theory and then – the key element of this adaptation – visually follow the discoveries he made and ideas he postulated.  Much of the text comes straight from Darwin, himself, so the content is impeccable, but the marriage of the text and the beautiful illustrations are what make this book a perfect entry point for younger readers who have an interest in science.  Frankly, I would give this to anyone interested in Darwin, especially those who may be turned off by reading the original Origin (as I was).

This is a wonderful addition to our collection, and I hope it helps ignite an interest in the sciences in others the way it did for me.

Thoreau at Walden… a new experience

For those of you who have read Thoreau’s Walden, for those of you who have visited Walden Pond and imagined the days and nights of Thoreau in his tiny yet perfect cabin, and for those of you would like your children to experience the profound life and ideals of Henry David Thoreau, I offer as a reading suggestion, Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino

As part of The Center for Cartoon Studies series, John’s impeccably clean and simplistic art provides an intriguing companion to Thoreau’s words (all of the text in this book is from Thoreau’s original text).  For adult readers, this is a wonderful way to revisit the spirit of Walden; for younger readers this is a perfect entry point to one of the most revered works of philosophy and early environmentalism our country produced.  It is truly cartoonish in style, which oddly enough brings more focus onto Thoreau’s words.  It’s a perfect pairing, and an example of what can be done to illuminate classic texts for younger readers.

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