Art Spiegelman is best known for his masterful graphic novel, Maus, a two-volume Holocaust narrative that portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, telling the story of his parents’ survival as Polish Jews in the Nazi death camps and of their troubled lives in America after the war. More about this author >
Art Spiegelman is best known for his masterful graphic novel, Maus, a two-volume Holocaust narrative that portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats, telling the story of his parents’ survival as Polish Jews in the Nazi death camps and of their troubled lives in America after the war. In 1992, Spiegelman won a special Pulitzer Prize for the completion of Maus, which, at the time, didn’t fit into any of the Prize’s standard categories. In 2009, Maus was chosen by the Young Adult Library Association as one of its recommended titles for all students. And in 2020, the New York Public Library voted Maus one of the 125 most important books of the last 125 years.
Having rejected his parents’ aspirations for him to become a dentist, Art Spiegelman studied cartooning at New York’s High School of Art and Design and began drawing professionally at age sixteen. He went on to study art and philosophy at Harpur College (now SUNY Binghamton) before being expelled in 1968. He received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the university in 1995. His comics are best known for their shifting graphic styles, their formal complexity, and often controversial content.
Spiegelman became part of the underground comix subculture of the 60s and 70s, and was a creative consultant for Topps Gum Co. from 1965-1987, where he created Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and other novelty items. In 1975-1976, he co-founded Arcade, a quarterly “Comix Revue” with Bill Griffith, presenting some of the most sophisticated underground work being produced in that decade. And in 1980, Spiegelman co-founded RAW, the acclaimed international avant-garde comics magazine that originally serialized Maus, with his wife, Françoise Mouly. He and Mouly also co-edited Little Lit, a series of comics anthologies for children published by HarperCollins, and the anthology The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics published by Harry N. Abrams.
Spiegelman taught courses on the history and aesthetics of comics at the School for Visual Arts in New York from 1979-1986, and in 2007 he was a Heyman Fellow of the Humanities at Columbia University, where he taught a Masters of the Comics seminar. In his lectures, Spiegelman takes his audiences on a chronological tour of the evolution of comics, all the while explaining the value of this medium and why it cannot be ignored. He believes that “comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconographic images, not in holograms, and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.”
Spiegelman’s 1978 anthology, Breakdowns, was published by Pantheon in 2008 with an autobiographical comix-format introduction almost as long as the book itself, entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!.” McSweeney’s has published a collection of three of his sketchbooks entitled Be a Nose!. His work has been published in many periodicals, including The New Yorker, where he was a staff artist and writer from 1993-2003.
In 2004, he completed a two-year cycle of broadsheet-sized color comics pages titled In the Shadow of No Towers, about the 9/11 attacks, first published in a number of European newspapers and magazines including Die Zeit and The London Review of Books. A book version of these highly political works, published by Pantheon in the US, appeared on many national bestseller lists, and was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2004. In 2011, Pantheon published MetaMaus, a companion to The Complete Maus. It is the story of why he wrote Maus, why he chose mice, cats, frogs, and pigs, and how he got his father to open up (the book is built around conversations with comics scholar, Hillary Chute, and includes transcripts of Art’s own interviews with his father; it is not a graphic novel, but it is populated with illustrations, photos, and other images). MetaMaus won the 2011 National Jewish Book Award for Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir.
In 2005, Art Spiegelman was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. That same year, a major exhibition of his work was arranged by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, as part of the “15 Masters of 20th Century Comics” exhibition. In 2006, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and in 2007 was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. In 2008, he played himself on an episode of “The Simpsons.” In 2011, Art Spiegelman won the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, marking only the third time an American had received the honor. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2015, and in 2018 he received the Edward MacDowell Medal, the first-ever given in comic art.
(Photo credit: Nadja Spiegelman)