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“Maus”, the comic that made history – and is banned in the USA

“Maus”, the comic that made history – and is banned in the USA

The decision, which was removed from the Tennessee school curriculum, is now sparking a surge of support for the genre’s defining work.

The book won a Pulitzer in 1992

Art Spiegelman was born after the end of World War II, but he felt the effects of one of the greatest tragedies in modern history. The illustrator and cartoonist was only 24 years old when he decided to create a work reflecting his parents’ experiences in the Holocaust.

His mother’s suicide, a nervous breakdown and a troubled relationship with his father did not prevent him from putting the whole story down on paper. The small three-page cartoon depicted Jews as mice being chased by cats, which were the Nazis. He called it “mouse”.

The first attempt failed, but years later he decided to reunite with his father in order to record and revive his memories of the conflict. “I went to see him with a tape recorder in hand, thinking this could be the start of something.” And it was.

From the interviews with his father, a new “mouse” emerged, in the form of a comic that first appeared in 1980. – designed to a new level.

It became the first work of its kind to win a Pulitzer Prize, while also debunking the notion that comics were for children and young people.

“Mouse” is back in the news after it was removed from the list of eighth graders’ reading curriculum in the state of Tennessee. The government decision had national and international implications and has already been dubbed Orwelliana by the author himself.

“I’m stunned by all of this,” Spiegelman told CNBC. For the 73-year-old author, and contrary to what the commission that makes such decisions defends, the removal of the “mouse” happened less because of the profanity and more because of the issue it raises.

“I met so many young people who learned from my book,” he notes. “I realize that everything is crazy in Tennessee. Something is very wrong there.”

It is part of the National Reading Plan

According to the board of education, the book “was withdrawn because of the unnecessary use of profanity, nudity, and the depiction of violence and suicide.” “Overall, the committee felt that this work was too adult-oriented to use in our schools.”

“Maus” is not only a cartoon, but also a dramatic memoir of the Holocaust and the experiences of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz. But it does it in an unusual way.

In Spiegelman’s imaginary metaphor, Jews are represented as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, French as frogs, and Americans as dogs. The story includes accounts of the family life of Spiegelman’s parents in the years leading up to the war and German invasion, their escape and imprisonment at Auschwitz, and their rescue and arrival in the United States.

The family drama had another dark episode involving the mother’s suicide when Art was only 20 years old. Another family trauma stems from the Holocaust: the loss of the Spiegelmans’ first child, Rysio, who was left in the care of an aunt to try to save him from Nazi danger.

In 1943, the aunt will have committed suicide, giving poison to Rysio and two children in her care. After the conflict ended, the couple refused to acknowledge their son’s death and sought him out in hundreds of orphanages. The trauma remained alive until the end of her life.

The explosion of “Mouse” came with rave reviews published in The New York Times. “1986 was an exemplary year when newspapers wanted to write and know everything about comics. But almost all of them had the same headline: “POW, BAM, ZAP, comics are no longer just for children”. And that’s because ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ came out in the same year,” he told Penguin.

“From the beginning there was this idea that it was some kind of superhero, and all of a sudden I show up, from that group, from somewhere else. Suddenly there was room for all genres.”

Through the years, Spiegelman continued to write and publish the story of the “Mouse” until 1992, when it received unexpected recognition: in Pulitzer format. “At the time, I thought that was a lie.”

In Portugal, “Mouse” is part of the list of books recommended by the National Reading Plan for third-cycle students from the seventh to the ninth year.


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