Tag Archives: Graphic Novel

Book Review | Maus

Book Review | Maus

When I was doing my degree, we had a module called Popular Culture and part of this was formed of graphic novels. Maus by Art Spiegelman was not required reading but as it was the first (and only) graphic novel to win a prestigious Pulitzer Prize, it was highly recommended. So it’s a bit embarrassing that it’s only now that I have read it.

Published in 1991, it is the serialisation of Spiegelman’s comic strips dating from 1980 to 1991. The story is of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek’s experience as a Polish Jew during the Second World War. The narrative is split between Spiegelman’s life and Vladek’s story as he is recounting it to his son for his work. This is interesting as it means the book is very meta – it’s referred to constantly, even depicting a conversation Spiegelman has with his wife were they debate what animal she should be depicted as.

The animal depictions are somewhat controversial as Spiegelman re-appropriates propaganda and racial caricatures – Nazi’s as cats chasing the Jewish ‘vermin’ mice, the French as frogs, Poles as pigs etc. In graphic novel form this clearly shows the absurdity of the way people are labelled, categorised and segregated, and how these labels can remain, even out of war-time.

Book Review | Maus

The illustrative style is a stark monochrome. It largely allows the story to be told by text, but the bold visual style allows for flexibility in the storytelling. It can be literal (as much as the animal characterisation will allow) or abstract.

What is quite surprising about the book is the honesty in which Spiegelman depicts his father. He is an elderly man, a holocaust survivor, a widower, transplanted to the US as he could never face returning to Poland, but Spiegelman does not allow sentimentality to cloud the story. At times, he is harsh, getting frustrated, even irritated or bored by his father. However, even in recounting the horrors of Auschwitz, Vladek himself asks for no sympathy – he is telling his story focussing on the practicality and resourcefulness that got him through. It is only when he is transferred to Dachau that we begin to see Vladek’s spirit breaking with the immortal line “And here my troubles began”.

Maus is a devastatingly powerful book. It is a key text in Holocaust literature and a deeply important book. And, it shows what a graphic novel can do. Even if you never read another graphic novel again, Maus should be on your must-read list.


Book Review | Lighter Than My Shadow

Lighter than my Shadow Katie Green

I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels so when I was thinking about my reading goals for his year I knew I wanted to change this. I read a review of Katie Green’s Lighter than my Shadow towards the end of last year and I knew that I had to read this book.

Lighter than my Shadow  is the true story of Green’s struggle with eating disorders, anxiety and sexual abuse. She chronicles how she went from being a picky eater as a small child to becoming someone who need to control every calorie and then completely losing all control.


You get a real sense of catharsis when reading Lighter than my Shadow. Hand illustrated, Green has poured her memories out on the pages. She revisits painful experiences, but also small incidents, phrases, and interactions and wonders if this contributed to her illness.

Her illustrative style is simple but deeply effective. The illness is displayed as a mass of frantically scribbled black lines, a dark cloud that descends and takes over. Green also demonstrates a real talent for capturing expressions and feelings with a few strokes of the pen. It eloquently communicates the reality of an illness that for people who have never experienced it, can be very hard to understand.

Katie Green will be joined by Matilda Tristram at Edinburgh International Book Festival do discuss the subject of graphic novels that help to heal on Saturday 9th August. You can buy tickets here. It will definitely be an interesting discussion.