March 28, 2001

Famed Maus Author Explores Power of Comics

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Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy and Snoopy drew a crowd at Ithaca College last night, where Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman spoke on Comix 101, a two-hour history of the unique art form.

“Comics, once scorned as mere commercial entertainment for adolescents, have been recognized as a crossing point for both text and image,” said Gary Wells, chair of the Ithaca College Department of Art History, as he introduced Spiegelman, the school’s distinguished speaker in the humanities.

“Comics have been shifting into another zone of recognition,” Spiegelman said. “My being here tonight is somehow an acknowledgment of that.”

A co-founder and editor of Raw magazine and a contributing editor to The New Yorker, Spiegelman is best known for Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, the two-volumed story of his father’s Holocaust experiences rendered in comic book form.

In the books, Jews are depicted as mice, Nazis as cats, Americans as dogs, Poles as pigs and French as frogs.

“The more accurate I tried to be, the less accurate I was,” Spiegelman said, explaining his decision to depict the real people of his father’s memories as cartoon animals. “By opening up to this degree of abstraction, I could do my visualization of what I understood.”

Throughout the lecture, Spiegelman explored the roots of his style, as well as the history of the medium.

“I think everything I know I learned from comic books. I learned to read, I learned that tough guys smoke … I learned to look at art,” he said. “The Maus faces are essentially Little Orphan Annie eyeballs that you can project emotion onto.”

Despite his successful experiences, Spiegelman acknowledged that there are negative realities of his art form.

“The problem with comics is that they are dangerous