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November 21, 2003 - Image 36

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-21

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Tomix 101 '

EMU lecture brings Art Spiegelman to speak about the power o comics.

Special to the Jewish News



rt Spiegelman stood on stage
at Eastern Michigan
University, calmly smoking in
the non-smoking Pease Hall
as he told the crowd of 850 his story and
the story of comics.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author,
known for Maus and Maus II, comic
books that expose readers to the
Holocaust, spoke Nov. 11 about the
insight contained in comics "that are as
complex as any novel."
His lecture, "Comix 101," was part of
the Campus Life lecture series and co-
sponsored by EMU Hillel, and the
English and Art departments.
Spiegelman traced comics and their
characters through history, discussing the
comics' implications in times of war, in
representing and encouraging values and
in serving as a form of expression for
ideas and perspectives people might shy
away from if they were expressed in any
other way.
Comics have functioned as propagan-
da, as catalysts for change, as icons of
popular experience and also as a space to
address issues out of the norm, he said.
When he was a child, Spiegelman
became interested in "picture writing"
and worked to "learn the language" to
see how he could make himself under-
stood in the medium.
"Comics are words and pictures that
function the way your brain functions ...
When you think in language, you think
in bursts of language," he said.
The word bubbles that appear in
comics lend themselves to people's
understanding, as do the images that
match the icons people think in, he said.
"It's one way comics work, by making
things clear.
"One works with these primitive
images that are deep inside your head,"
he added, explaining that comics often
play on stereotypes to get their messages
across, which also makes them a plausi-
ble space for exaggerating enemies and
dehumanizing the "other."
In his Maus books, for instance,
Spiegelman characterizes the Nazis as
cats, the Jews as mice, the Poles as pigs.
These stereotypes add another layer of
meaning in this story of Spiegelman's



Art Spiegelman lecturing in Pease Hall.

father's Holocaust experience and his
son's grasping to understand his family.
Spiegelman also spoke of how real life
often plays into the comics. A New
Yorker, he said he was strongly affected
by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and
found himself finding the profound in
comics. "When I thought I was going to
die, I thought, 'I should have done more
comics,''' he said.
Concentrating on the structure of his
work helped him deal with Sept. 11,
especially after seeing the tower fall
behind him as he and his wife ran
through the city trying to get to their
Thinking about the way he represent-
ed the events of Sept. 11 in a comic,
about the direction the comic moves the
reader and the order in which the comic
is read, gave him a way to "deal with the
fragmentation in my head — trying to
reconstruct what I'd experienced that
morning," he said.
In comics relating to Sept. 11, he also
brought back older characters, he said,
because they worked their way in. "The
early American comic strips, the inven-
tion of the comics as we've come to
know them, took place very near
Ground Zero," he said. "It was my
notion that these characters from the
early days of comics got disinterred by

the explosion and began to haunt me."
Spiegelman addressed the changing
role of comics in today's society as well,
saying that their place in society is some-
what in flux. Comics, which can serve as
a "gateway drug' to inspire young peo-
ple to read and as a means for a variety
of types of social commentary, are now
being offered in graphic novel sections,
he said.
"Comics have reached some kind of
tipping point — for comics to survive
another hundred years you need to have
the cultural apparatus that will support
it," he said.

Student Reactions
For Scott Fishel, 21, an EMU senior
from Oak Park, Spiegelman's comics are
about stating history.
"They are about using symbolic mean-
ings to say what happened," he said. "The
stories (in Maus) are all stories about his
father, not made up ..._ it's amazing that a
fantasy land could be drawn and bring that
much power forth., emotional power to the
reader, it gives them something to acknowl-
, makes you think about what people
went through."
Having a prominent Jewish speaker
come to campus was meaningful for
Jodie Friedman, 19, a sophomore from
Farmington Hills who said she felt

bringing Spiegelman in was good for
EMU, which has a Jewish population of
about 1,000 out of 25,000 students.
"I think it was good for the students
to come out and see someone talk about
dark subjects through humor and to
show students that it's OK," she said.
Spiegelman drew a markedly larger-
than-usual crowd for a public forum,
said Jeffrey Bernstein, an EMU associate
professor of political science.
"It showed the university that if we do
Jewish things, students will come, the
community will come and there's an
interest," he said.
Bernstein and others are involved in
trying to establish a Judaic Studies pro-
gram at EMU. They are interested in
passing along to students, many of
whom will go on to become teachers, an
"accurate, reasonable portrayal of Jewish
people and of the Jewish experience."
"Spiegelman's work is very much
informed by these Jewish themes and I
think that's an important message that I
think came across loud and clear," he
"He is the fourth significant Jewish-
related speaker we've had 'here in the last
year and all four them have gotten good
crowds and put on great programs, and
that's what we're about doing here,"
Bernstein said. [1]


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