By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Many people have approached me about turning Maus into a film, and I've always resisted. I was offered one thing where I would have final cut, and I said, "I don't want final cut. I don't want to make a movie." And they said, "But if you did want to make a movie, how would you do it?" I said, "All right, I'd use real mice."
It took 13 years for the book to find its proper shape, and all I saw were almost insurmountable obstacles to making it work as a film. There's a kind of smoothing out of textures in trying to accommodate different aesthetics, psyches and personalities and needs that comes very naturally to the pyramid-building project of making a movie, compared to the papyrus-scrawling project of making a comic, where one can remain in God-like charge.
Out of all the critics writing about Maus, Lawrence Weschler wrote one really wonderful phrase that I've held on to - that Mausachieves "crystalline ambiguity." To not simplify that which cannot be simplified, and yet make things as lucidly complex as they are. And using the idiom of comics tends one toward that, because one works with a language that requires efficiency, both visual and verbal. It's an art of essentials.
And yet it's not reductive. There's so much going on.
Well, if you ask about what makes it appeal to people, I can now talk to you as a fellow critic, rather than as the person who made Maus, and say that many of the people reading Mausdid not have parents who went through the Holocaust, but they all had parents. People would come rushing up to me, saying, "My father threw out my coat, too!" I think the fact that comics tend to fly below the critical radar allowed it to get through.
One of the reasons Maus is so powerful has to do with comic-book language. Comic books work on you the way you work inside yourself, much more so than almost any other medium. When you meet somebody and remember them, you tend not to remember them in the form of a hologram. You remember them in the form of a caricature - not necessarily a humorous caricature, but a fictionalized image. And that's exactly how you visualize in your head. It's a kind of streamlined iconography. When I think of what I'm going to say before I say it, I think of it as about seven words, and yet by the time I finish talking, you've got like a $10 phone call.
It has to do with the fact that we think in language, but we don't think in syntactical grammar. We think in essentialized verbal clusters. And by the time that unfurls, it's a lot more language. And this is wonderful for a novelist and not the way one can function as a cartoonist. Because even a densely loaded word balloon can only hold a burst of about 35 or 40 words. So one moves through these sets of signs that are actually articulations of something that echoes very deeply inside our head. And I think that's why it was found in various experiments - before comics began to be seen so negatively in the '50s - that comics were incredibly useful teaching tools. Superman DC Comics in the late '40s did a bunch of phonics workbooks. And the only problem the teachers had was getting the students not to do the entire phonics workbook in one day. That's awesome.
You mentioned that Mausis taught not only in history courses, but in courses on the dysfunctional family. How, as the therapists say, does that make you feel?
I believe that universities and museum cultures are necessary repositories that allow the work to become something other than a passing parade. So I'm very grateful for the various lenses which people bring to bear on it. I was told it was used in a course on the American Indian. Well, this is what moved some professor, and he found through that lens he was able to get at other things he wanted to teach. It's cool. It was used in autobiography courses, courses on postmodern literature. I can only be grateful. I must say that the thing that made me agree to come out to Los Angeles was a lecture called "Comics 101." And as long as I was out here, I figured I'd also try out this thing in talking to my fellow sufferers [at Second Generation] - something I rarely do because it feels like talking to the choir. On the other hand, the image I have in one strip I made a few years ago - it appeared in The New York Times Magazine - has me being chased by a 5,000-pound mouse. I can't live under this large mouse and keep moving forward with my life.
"Representation of the Shoah inMaus" will be presented Saturday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. For information, call (323) 852-1763. "Comics 101" will be presented Sunday, November 15, at 3 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center; call (310) 440-4500; for more information, see the Learning pick in the Calendar
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