Posts Tagged ‘maus’

Well, we’ve reached the end of the line. The end of the rope, more like it. The bell does indeed toll for me, and I figure there isn’t much of a better way to go than to bring it full circle, and evaluate the (sizable) list of graphic novels I’ve chewed through this semester and semesters prior. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on graphic novels by any means, more of an enthusiast. Thanks to Scott McCloud, I know how to analyze them a bit better, and I know a bit more about the components that make them up. Ms. Fish has expressed an interest in writing for graphic novels – I wonder how one breaks into that. Maybe that’ll be my next pursuit of knowledge.

Regardless, I figured after hours of reading, I would go back through the list with my newfound knowledge. Here are my (personal) favorite top 5 graphic novels of all time.

#5: Watchmen by Alan Moore


I struggled with whether or not to throw Watchmen on this list. It’s by far the longest and one of the most difficult graphic novels I’ve read, regardless of having capes in it. It’s some seriously dark, heavy stuff. Watchmen tackles what happens when superhero teams fall out, the United States government bans vigilantism, and is essentially a “whodunnit?” murder mystery between superheroes. Couple that with the constantly recurring theme of “who watches the Watchmen?,” in other words, who polices superheroes, and you’ve got quite a lot going on in this one.

Part of the reason I debated throwing it on the list was sheer length: this one is long from beginning to end. This is by no means a 20 minute breeze. It’s tough to press through. The cast of characters is diverse and infinitely messed up, each “super”hero is a human at the core with problems and dark personal places they are trying to run from. Another reason I considered axing this one from the list is simply because the author, Alan Moore, has said some pretty outlandish and foolish things in recent years about the recent surge of comic books and their popularity. Though, I felt it would be unfair to punish the work for the creator’s flaws, so it made it. This is not for the feint of heart.

#4: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Jen Wang 2

To be honest, I didn’t expect In Real Life to make the list. It had a beautiful and charming art style, but was a relatively quick read. However, the more I chewed on it, the more I grew to appreciate it. In Real Life is about a lot of things: teenage nerdiness, video games, other cultures, economics, social plight, and friendship. There isn’t an overly sexy or overly homely protagonist: she’s a normal, everyday girl who happens to be into some dorky stuff.

In Real Life landed on my list because it portrays real gaming by real people, and doesn’t propagate the “gamer girl” stereotype. Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang have done their fair share of gaming, or at the very least, research on it. There aren’t any complete jumps in logic to make the “video game” segments of the novel work. TV shows and movies are infamous for absolutely butchering any attempts to include video games in a storyline. They’re often unrealistic in terms of actual games, and I can’t stand when some actor sits with a 360 controller and pounds on the buttons like they’re playing a game.

Being a gamer with an MMO gaming girlfriend, I appreciated these details. Short as it may be, In Real Life makes my list.

#3: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman


If there is a literary canon for graphic novels, Spiegelman’s Maus is definitely at the top of the list. The book is both about Art’s as well as his father’s tale: his father retells how he became part of and survived the holocaust, and Art is depicted grappling with the seriousness of the subject and frequently butting heads with his father. Their relationship is somewhat strained, but still loving.

Maus’s art style is simplistic, but highly effective. Different ethnicities are depicted as different animals: Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, the Polish are pigs, etc. etc. The animal characters allow Spiegelman to play with symbolism he wouldn’t have access to otherwise: there are cats wearing mouse masks and things of that nature all over the novel. Obviously, the subject matter is an extremely heavy one, couple that with the tale being true, and you have a must-read for anyone looking to break into graphic novels. Think it’s all superheroes and capes? Think again.

#2: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki


This One Summer is a novel I was introduced to during this semester, and of the new ones I’ve read, it is most definitely my favorite. It’s a coming-of-age tale between two teenage girls at their own little summer retreat, but it’s so much more than the quintessential “both characters learn a lesson and have a happy ending.” It deals with some pretty heavy themes: miscarriage, teen pregnancy, friendship, maturity, societal pressure, and awkward first love. It has its feel good moments, but ultimately, it’s about relationships between people as you age and mature. Friends, parents, etc. People grow apart. They come together, Adolescents discover things about themselves that they aren’t sure how to feel about.

The thing that really sold This One Summer for me besides the unique story, was the phenomenal artwork. This very well might be my favorite artwork in a graphic novel, bar none. The whole thing feels very dreamy, memory-esque, but never bleak or dark. The art style is highly detailed, yet flows effortlessly into simplicity when the moments call for it. The dark color used is a shade of blue, rather than black, avoiding the noir-like flashback feeling. I understand it also made Dr. Elisabeth Ellington’s list of the top books in 2014. I see why.

#1: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Millar, Klaus Johnson, and Lynn Varley


This isn’t your mom and dad’s Batman with Adam West in it. No, no, no. This is a much darker, and a much different take than one we’ve seen in television or movies before. The Dark Knight Returns follows Bruce Wayne 8 years after having given up being Batman. Gotham is more run-down than ever, dominated by gangs and half-witted politicians, with news anchors of FOX News caliber constantly spewing nonsense about whether it’s Batman’s fault crime exists in the first place. When Bruce reaches a breaking point, he’s back in the game, but there’s a problem: he’s old.

He’s old, and his body only has so much left to give to this kind of work. Robin is long gone, and Batman must work his way back into favor with the people. Batman is more brutal than ever in this one, fighting to survive rather than just to dish out justice. He’s fighting a passive public, incompetent police force / politicians, and most of all: his own doubts. Things get even more jumbled up when a teenage girl in a Robin costume saves him from certain death. Batman here isn’t just about beating the bad guys: it’s a social commentary from the 80’s. The president is a grinning fool who sees only his own agenda to forward, the media is filled with fluff and pointless debates, the public either blame Batman for everything or depend completely on him for protection, there is no winner in this one. This is all before “gritty superhero reboots” were all the rage. This one pushed the Bat’s envelope to somewhere it had never been before.

In case you’re wondering, a few familiar faces do show up. In particular, one with a ridiculous grin, and another with a red cape flowing from the back…


Well folks, that does it for me. As I said, this is my list of personal favorites. Pick and choose as you see fit. I would recommend any of these as a read in a half second. I think my list really reflects the diversity that can be found in graphic novels: we’re not living in a world of solely capes and superheroes. There are graphic novels on nearly every subject under the sun. You’ve just gotta look for them. We may have reached the end of the road, but the journey isn’t over for me.

Catch you all on the flip side.



(click ^here^ to download this syllabus as a .doc)

Professor: Dr. Jeffrey McFarland

Office: Admin 666

Office Hrs: Tues Thurs 12-2 or by appointment

Phone: 555-555-5555

Email: (putting your e-mail up online is a good way to get spam)

Class Meets: MW 2-3:15

As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.”

– Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes infamy

Course Description:

Personally, I hated the term “graphic novel”. To me, graphic novel was just a “politically correct” term stuffy literary critics made up in an attempt to mask the fact that they were actually reading something a lot of adults would consider childish: a comic book! After further study, however, I acknowledge that there is a difference between the two – but neither carries less weight than the other! The objective of this course is to take a medium of writing often disregarded by many readers and attempt to demonstrate its ability to stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest literary classics. The graphic novel or comic book consists of the sequencing and melding together of visual images along with writing. The presence of brightly-colored superheroes donning capes and tights often bring the comic book under fire, but with the right material, capes and costumes can stand for much larger issues. Through graphic novels and comic books, we will examine and discuss several diverse themes relevant around the world, including, but not limited to, governmental power and dystopia (V for Vendetta, Superman: Red Son), gang violence and justice (The Dark Knight Returns, Yummy), the complexities of everyday life (Calvin and Hobbes, Everything We Miss), and struggles arising in cultures not our own (Maus, Persepolis). We will take a look at what makes certain comic strips able to stay relevant and endure the test of time while other literature fades (Garfield), all the way up to asking at what point a comic truly becomes a “graphic novel” (Watchmen). We will not only be examining the writing in these novels, but also the artwork. Why do artists position panels in the way that they do? Why are certain colors used in lieu of others? These questions tag-teamed with traditional literary questions provide levels of depth and complexity not offered in some classic texts. We will be asking questions such as, is reading a novel and reading a comic book the same to your brain? Are comic books any worse for you than some novels? By exploring thoughts and ideas often tackled by classic and modern literature alike through the eyes of the graphic novelist, our goal is to not only understand the graphic novel as a serious literary contender, but also to discover an alternative route to the truths that literature can provide us besides just the traditional wall-of-words.

Required Reading:

Brosgol, Vera. Anya’s Ghost. ISBN 1596435526

Busiek, Kurt. Marvels. ISBN 078514286X

David, Peter. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born. ISBN 0785121447

Davis, Jim. 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna. ISBN 0345503791

Hinds, Gareth. Beowulf. ISBN 0763630233

Hinds, Gareth. The Odyssey. ISBN 0763642681

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. ISBN 006097625X

Millar, Mark. Civil War: A Marvel Comics Event. ISBN 0785121781

Millar, Mark. Superman: Red Son. ISBN 1401201911

Miller, Frank. The Dark Knight Returns. ISBN 1563893428

Moore, Alan. Watchmen. ISBN 0930289234

Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta. ISBN 140120841X

Neri G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. ISBN 1584302674

Pearson, Luke. Everything We Miss. ISBN 1907704175

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. ISBN 0375714839

Siegel, Mark. Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid Of The Hudson. ISBN 1596436360

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. ISBN 0141014083

Watterson, Bill. The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. ISBN 0836218051

Attendance/Participation Policy:

You guys are adults and should be responsible enough to show up to a class that you signed up for. Whether or not I take attendance points will depend on the frequency of absences. You are the ones paying to take the class, not me. I expect you to show up to class, have the material read, and be ready to participate in in-class discussions. This class will be fun, we want you and your input there! That being said, more than 2 unexcused absences will incur my wrath, and your grade will most likely begin to reflect this. I understand that things come up – so long as you e-mail me and don’t have a grandma who’s sick every week, I can be pretty lenient.

Weekly Assignments (Blogging):

Besides just having to read the material, each week you will have for an assignment a blog post (on reflecting upon the reading material. Any thoughts, connections, concerns, or questions you had raised by the text will be brought up in your blog. I had originally considered making you maintain a weekly reading journal, but I think it would be better if you were able to see and comment on each other’s thoughts.

These weekly assignments are to make sure that you are in fact doing the reading you claim to be doing, and so that we may get some decent use out of the internet besides cat videos and Facebook walls. One word of caution – read the material. I will be able to tell if you’ve read or if you’re flying by the seat of your pants: you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

Weekly Blogging Requirements:

  • 600 words at the least.

  • Each post must contain 2 links you found interesting or relevant to the material

    • These can be anything: another blog, news articles, quirky youtube videos

    • Links can be either included in the post or attached at the bottom

  • Comment on at least three fellow classmate’s blog posts (*groan*)

    • These responses have no requirement, but “great post” probably won’t cut it.

NOTE: A blog is a public medium. Once your thoughts are out there, they can’t be reeled back in, so be at least a little wary of what you say. Preferences can be set to restrict people’s comments, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost anyone can see what you have written: employers, authors, professors, students, etc. etc.

Your blog is yours, so make it your own! Almost any personalization, any thought, idea, question, comment, concern, complaint is up for grabs. Think of this less like homework and more like a chance for you to spill the innards of your brain! (gross)

Final Creative Project:

You will have a creative project due the week before finals that can entail almost anything so long as it is relevant to a work or a theme that we have discussed at some point during the semester. I’ve seen it all in my day: YouTube trailers and movies, Minecraft models of locations in books, songs written, cakes baked, pictures taken.. your imagination is the only real cap on this. If you’re unsure about a project or a topic, run it by me and I’ll try to get the ball rolling. This is your chance to do something cool with the subject matter we’ve dealt with. Seeing as how I’m being pretty relaxed about what this project entails, please don’t half-ass it. Why would you ever want to half-ass self expression? This project can be worth up to 10% of your final grade, and you have all semester to decide on what it is. Fair enough? We will present our final projects the week before finals, using whatever time is remaining to review for the final.
Wait, what final?

Mid-Terms and Finals:

There will not be a mid-term in this class. I don’t feel like putting one together, and you don’t feel like taking one. Take the free time to read ahead (or do some independent reading!) The final will be composed of a single, 5-page essay question asking you to identify the presence and the relevance of a theme or themes found in multiple works we have read this semester. More details will be made available to you in class and online as we continue down the line. We will not meet in-class on the day of the final. Instead, your essay will be due by the end of the regular time window in which we would have taken a final exam.

In-Class Behavior:

Turn cell phones off or on vibrate only. Don’t spend the entire class period looking at your crotch – either you’re texting or doing something far worse, and either way, it shouldn’t be happening in class. If you need to take a phone call or a message, step into the hall in an incognito fashion. Laptops, Kindles, and other digital devices are allowed, and as much I would prefer that you use them for strictly educational purposes, if (when) you’re going to use them to browse tumblr, please be discreet and don’t disrupt the class.

If the digital devices get out of control, colleagues of mine have suggested an interesting idea: giving students extra credit when they catch others goofing off with their devices. As much as I don’t want to resort to that, it would be interesting to see how well you all mesh as a unit – don’t test me!

Getting a Hold of Me:

My (fictional) phone number and e-mail address are available at the top of this syllabus. I would prefer if you insist on using my number that you text me, unless it’s a life or death situation, in which case feel free to call me. No drunk calls or texts. I will not bail you out.

Late Work:

Weekly assignments are due preferably by Friday at midnight, but no later than Monday at class time. All I’m asking is a blog post and a handful of related links, blogs posted later than class time on Monday will be rewarded with an “Incomplete”. If you have a (damn) good reason to need more time to complete an assignment, you can contact me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due and ask for an extension. Catastrophic failure of the internet connection due to a snow storm is acceptable. Partaking in a Game of Thrones marathon and completely forgetting about your homework, however awesome, is not.

Escape Clause:

If for whatever reason you are not totally enthralled by my hilarious sarcasm or are not prepared for the reading load this class entails, the class can be dropped and taken again at a later semester. Word of warning: the required reading list will most likely be jumbled around in future semesters. Information about dropping a course and deadlines can be obtained at or call the Registrar’s Office.

Academic Honesty:

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I’m not going to give you examples of what plagarism is and is not. If you truly don’t know what encompasses plagarism, Google is your friend. As they say, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Plagiarized work will be returned to students marked “Unsatisfactory” and students will be placed on a probationary period of grading. Students who plagiarize more than once are in danger of failing the course. Students caught plagiarizing will be subject to discipline, as per campus policies outlined in the CSC Student Handbook. Cite your sources, don’t steal other people’s work, don’t reuse old work of yourself or another. Simple.

Nondiscrimination Policy/Equal Opportunity Policy:

Chadron State College is committed to an affirmative action program to encourage admission of minority and female students and to provide procedures which will assure equal treatment of all students. The College is committed to creating an environment for all students that is consistent with nondiscriminatory policy. To that end, it is the policy of Chadron State College to administer its academic employment programs and related supporting services in a manner which does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, or marital status. Student requests for reasonable accommodation based upon documented disabilities should be presented within the first two weeks of the semester, or within two weeks of the diagnosis, to the Disabilities Counselor (Crites 338).


The instructor reserves the right to make changes in the syllabus at any time (but will not be so imposing as to not let you know about said changes). Any changes made will not modify the objectives (or expectations) of the course.

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Ladies and gentlemen, this week I decided I was going to cast off the cape and begin digging into what else the wide world of graphic novels held in store for me. Given my literally limitless options, I decided to jump off with the first graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, the ever-popular Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. Despite the resounding swastika on the cover of (both) books, I was not prepared for the ride that ensued. That being said, both parts of the novel were page-turners from start to finish, with my favorite being the second. I thoroughly enjoyed “Maus” as a whole, and if one is prepared for some heavy-handed subject matter, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get into graphic novels (and anyone already initiated!)

So, what’s going on here?

Maus consists of two separate but connected main storylines: Art Spiegelman’s estranged relationship with his stingy (and of poor health) father, Vladek, and Vladek’s recounting of his life up to and during the Holocaust. Art, a cartoonist (in some crazy breaking-the-fourth-wall-style) decides that he wants to tell the story of his father’s life in a comic strip format. But this requires rekindling a tumultuous at best relationship with Vladek. Art’s mother and holocaust survivor alongside Vladek, Anja, has died sometime ago, having committed suicide without leaving any note or last testament. In between his father’s tales of WWII and trying to keep Vladek’s new wife, Mala from tearing her hair out, Art comes face to face with not only horrors of the past, but the ghosts that haunt his present.

The washed-out and destitute look of Maus is no accident.

So, it’s a graphic novel about the holocaust? What makes it special other than that?

Maus’s art style is strictly in a black and white that sometimes feels like a noir tone. The title “Maus” comes from the fact that very rarely are actual human beings depicted in the book at all: different races of people are depicted as different animals. Jews are mice, Polish are pigs, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, Gypsies are moths, and of course, Germans are cats. There are certain panels or scenes, however, where the characters do in fact have human bodies and even human heads – but wear animal masks that hide their faces. Some have accused Spiegelman of blatant racism with some of his animal choices – Polish people being depicted as pigs when the Jewish belief is that pigs are unclean creatures being an example. What these people ignore are the portions of the book where the animal divisions blatantly break down: what about the people who are both German and Jewish simultaneously? Not all mice are good, not all cats are evil. Mice often have to wear cat or pig masks to disguise their true selves. Some crazy allegorical stuff starts going down here.

Above: historically accurate depiction of WWII

This is, of course, a Holocaust story, but instead of some piss-poor textbook representation of “-blank- million people died”, the reader gets a real story from a real survivor. These are things that really happened, these are real people that are dead and gone. There were moments where I felt my gut wrench because I couldn’t believe people got away with this behavior. This, Emmett Till, Stalin’s Soviet Union(that they don’t teach you about because they’re too busy telling you about the Holocaust), sometimes it seems as though a totalitarian regime led by Superman doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. But even eliminating the WWII aspect of the story, there is still Art’s struggle with what is essentially survivor’s guilt. He didn’t have to face the struggles that his mother and father did. He outlived his younger brother, who didn’t survive the Holocaust at all. He wonders if he would have had the strength to survive, or how things would have fared if his parents and his brother had escaped altogether. There’s more going on here than the re-hashed atrocities of WWII.

So, the verdict?

Read Maus. Read it, read it, read it! And for you teachers-to-be looking to infuse some graphic novels into your class, but you aren’t so much digging my idea for Watchmen, definitely use this. For Watchmen, I felt as though I had to step up to the plate and defend the superhero genre from the criticism of “it’s too campy, it’s not capable of being serious, it’s just comic books”. Maus makes no bones about it’s seriousness. As desperately as these people needed a Superman, one never came. There’s enough historical relevance and social significance here for classroom gold: everything from racial stereotypes to genocide and back again.

Somewhat Related: in episodes 24-26 of the Justice League, the League goes back in time and fights for the Allies in WWII. Special cameo appearance by none other than a cryogenically frozen Adolf Hitler.