I was reminded by Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones last week of a name that I had last been aware of back during my final year of university. Jones’ article examined the underground comics and influences behind the current flourishing Occupy movement and amongst the V for Vendetta mask discussion was a nod to the work of artist and writer Art Spiegelman.
I was studying Holocaust literature and film when I found Spiegelman’s Maus, A Survivor’s Tale on my reading list. Based on his own family’s experience as Jews during Hitler’s reign, it was described as a Holocaust comic strip (this made me slightly nervous) with the many victims depicted by mice and the Nazis as vicious cats. The fact that it was the only comic book to have ever won the coveted Pulitzer Prize only intrigued me more and it proved to be intensely moving and evocative beyond the lens of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List or the reams of concentration camp footage that has played out since the liberation.
Art Spiegelman also turns out to be the mind behind many other celebrated and diverse pieces of work. Long before Maus and his stint at the New Yorker, Spiegelman was employed by Topps Bubble Gum where he created sweet treats such as mini rubbish bins filled with candy but left due to not being paid his fair share of the substantial profits.
As well as depicting his own father’s plight as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor within the two volumes of Maus, Spiegleman found himself with another incredibly difficult task when producing the iconic September 24th 2001 New Yorker cover. The cover art was created by Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly and it was voted one of the top ten magazine covers of the past 4 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Here’s how they described the haunting piece: “New Yorker Covers Editor Françoise Mouly repositioned Art Spiegelman’s silhouettes, inspired by Ad Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings, so that the North Tower’s antenna breaks the ‘W’ of the magazine’s logo. Spiegelman wanted to see the emptiness, and find the awful/awe-filled image of all that disappeared on 9/11. The silhouetted Twin Towers were printed in a fifth, black ink, on a field of black made up of the standard four colour printing inks. An overprinted clear varnish helps create the ghost images that linger, insisting on their presence through the blackness.”
I mainly wanted to write this post to hopefully introduce a few more people to his career and the diversity of his work. The way that he has used his own deeply personal experiences to create such incredible and innovative pieces is what art and expression really means to me and from his success, what it truly means to many others.
Written by Ruth, our copywriter.