Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler

hitlerShigeru Mizuki’s Hitler begins with terrified Jews, concentration camps, and cornered members of the French resistance; the story then turns to the man who set this tragedy in motion. Mizuki starts Hitler’s tale with his quest to become an artist in Vienna before moving into his military service in World War I and his rise to power with the Nazi party. The narrative then explores Hitler’s public and private actions before and during World War II, right up to the fall of Germany.

Hitler is a dense yet fascinating work. Mizuki’s narrative slowly unfolds from an impersonal perspective that tracks Hitler’s actions throughout the course of the war. Hitler’s political dealings are fascinating—in particular the early political struggles in Germany and the party’s infighting—but Mizuki develops the story further by including details from Hitler’s private life. For example, Mizuki examines Hitler’s relationship with his niece Geli and his reaction to her suicide. The inclusion of personal details does not necessarily make Hitler sympathetic—as he often behaves poorly in his personal life—but the combination of the personal and political results in a portrait that is both weighty and thought-provoking.

Mizuki portrays Hitler and his world in black-and-white images. Backgrounds are drawn realistically and in great detail, yet Hitler and other major historical figures are drawn in a cartoony style. Although famous individuals are easily recognizable, minor players are a little harder to distinguish and the cast page doesn’t always help to clarify identities. That being said, the caricatures take nothing away from the story’s significance: the characters’ faces are expressive and contribute to the storytelling, while the contrast in realistic and cartoon styles strengthens the impact of key parts of the story.

Because this follows World War II from the German perspective, there are frequent references to events and individuals that are not always addressed in world history classes. Fortunately, there is an excellent notes section of which I made frequent use; although my constant referral to the notes slowed me down, it did not take away from my enjoyment. However, readers will still need to be familiar with the events of World War II in order to fully appreciate the work.

This book was a great opportunity to learn more about the social climate of Germany and the political actions of Hitler and the Nazis. Readers will appreciate the perspective it provides on Hitler’s actions and the Nazi party’s inner movements. World War II buffs especially will gravitate toward Hitler, so this book will be essential for adult and university graphic novel collections.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler
by Shigeru Mizuki
ISBN: 9781770462106
Drawn & Quarterly, 2015

Classic Fantastic: Of Maus and Metamaus

Maus is a framed memoir – a survivor’s tale told to and by the survivor’s son.  The primary subject is a man (Vladek Spiegelman) who lived through the Holocaust and had a son (Art Spiegelman) who went on to write his biography Maus.  In Maus, the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis are depicted as cats.  Other Nationalities are also anthropomorphized.  There is more to the comic than extended metaphor however.  In fact, Art Spiegelman won a Special Pulitzer Prize for it in 1992, and it is widely regarded as a seminal work in comics.

In MetaMaus, the author of Maus revisits this work that has come to define him.  It is primarily structured around a series of taped conversations between Spiegelman and Hillary Chute that read like one long interview in the book.  It is broken up by other short pieces, such as interviews with Art’s immediate family (wife Françoise, daughter Nadja and son Dashiell), short comics previously published, and remarks made at various other times (such as when receiving an award in Germany).

My recollection is that I first read Maus while high school, probably as a freshman or sophomore,  and was immediately struck by the aforementioned overarching animal metaphor.  The text sat in my head percolating, (there is a weight to it – the first impression of Maus, possibly due to the subject matter) and when I got back into comics after college it began to recede and was perhaps superseded by other comics that more fully represented my experiences.  I wanted to re-read Maus and did so before starting MetaMaus. Maus holds up.

Due to its framed structure, Maus cannot be seen as only a Holocaust story, it is also very literally a survivors tale (the subtitle of the first volume).  Anja and Vladek the younger lived through the Holocaust, and had Art who is surviving Vladek the elder who survived the Holocaust.  It is a remarkable story.  How many couples, who married before the war, and were then sent Auschwitz, made it out alive?  Just contemplating that is enough to give a child an existential crisis.  In reading MetaMaus we find out that on one level that is what Maus is all about – coming to grips with being the child of survivors.  This is perhaps why the story’s art seems so intimate, so personal.

Spiegelman himself at times describes it (the cartooning of Maus) as done in somewhat of a confessional style.  He chose not to downsize the art, but rather Art drew Maus at the size he chose to publish it at.  This was deliberate, he wanted the imperfections of his drawing hand to be on display.  In other places in MetaMaus we can see Art draw and redraw individual panels and scenes – this gives a sense of the work and deliberateness that went into the construction of the seemingly “rough” and imperfect drafting.

Art often calls himself a technically poor artist.  In that he feels like he can’t really draw all that well.  While I am not equipped to judge the technical mastery of his lines, I will say that it is fascinating to read the more general thoughts of cartooning that Spiegelman has.  Most of these are viewed through the lens of Maus and his career in general, nonetheless they illustrate what thought and struggle the artist has put in his pursuit of cartooning.  I very much liked his analysis of Harvey Kurtzman and the three panel beat, which he then shows an analogous panel in Maus.  It shows very directly what has influenced him.

MetaMaus does a phenomenal job of contextualizing Maus.  Reading through it enhances any previous or subsequent reading of Maus.  In this way MetaMaus must be seen as a wildly successful publication.