Art Spiegelman talks career, banning books and rerelease of ‘Breakdowns’


Art Spiegelman has been an artist and cartoonist since he started imitating his favorite comics and zines at the age of 12. By the time he was in his teens, he was a paid contributor to several mediums, including The Long Island Press. He is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphics novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. The work was serialized from 1980 to his 1991 in his anthology of comics, co-edited by Spiegelman with his wife Françoise his Moorie, and published as a book. Spiegelman’s parents were the only Polish Jews in their family to survive the Holocaust.

“Mouse” is based on an interview Spiegelman gave to his father at the time. His mother died by suicide when Spiegelman was 20 years old. The book was banned in a Tennessee school district this year for violence and nudity, sparking censorship controversies across the country, including here in King County. But it remains a pillar of the American literary canon. All of this is in the context of Spiegelman’s re-release of his 1978 graphic memoir, Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young%@&*!, featuring a new afterword from Spiegelman. “Breakdowns” is a portrait of self and other artists that shaped the subversive, underground side of comics culture, Speigelman’s growth as an artist who embraced an art that pushed boundaries and tested norms. This reprint takes place at a time when debates over censorship and moral his policing are affecting American government and education.

The Seattle Times spoke with Spiegelman over Zoom about the memoir, censorship and subversion, and revisiting the multiple meanings of the word “breakdown.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Breakdown: Portrait of the artist in his youth %@&*!”

Art Spiegelmann, Pantheon, 76 pages, $25

How was your re-reading of this book?

I am so grateful to have come out now. The decision to reissue was made long before all the madness began in Mississippi, and now Missouri, and possibly the world of tomorrow. But when it comes to “Breakdowns,” I mean it was the first serious, mature piece I put together. Since the age of 16, he has been writing, publishing and earning comics. But the best thing I’ve done with underground manga is in the works I’ve collected and in the books that have given me a voice I can understand. and not only how to live in a form, how to extend and compress time, how to stop time, how to loop in other ways, but also how if I were doing them today, I would You should either censor yourself or perhaps be censored.

This is not a McMinn County 8th grade book [Tennessee]At the end of “Maus” is a tombstone with the date of the mother and father, and below it Art Spiegelman, 1978 to 1992. “Breakdowns” is work done in the prenatal, embryonic stage, but what led to “Maus” and made it possible for me is absolutely essential work. That includes his 3 page “Maus” which I originally wrote. This is a better scale of the work I’ve done on my mother’s suicide incorporated into that book, but it also contains a lot of counter-arguing work. If I hadn’t done “Maus”, I would still be claiming it’s a work worthy of your attention. And obviously, “Maus” is like a giant juggernaut compared to just his 20-story office building. Still, I’m very happy it came out now.

Is “Mouse” a book that children can read? Well here’s what I was doing. It wasn’t for children. Not only because of the obvious visuals you might come across from an old underground comic book, but also because it requires intelligence and concentration that can be difficult for children.

What are your thoughts on the boundaries of vandalism today? And how do you feel about media conformism today? How has this book changed over time since you first wrote it?

Is it a different time? Underground comics were banned and comic book shop owners were arrested for having “funny” titles. But it was a different moment because a real culture battle was taking place. I believe. To be a young person is to be on the angel’s side. It is impossible to ban ideas that exist in culture.

The 1960s were all about radical politics, cheap thrills and pushing boundaries. Comic books all the way back to McCarthy in the early 1950s. It was the most banned media because of – to the communist witch-hunts of the era, and then the cartoon witch-hunts.

What is happening now is very scary to me. McMinn County is a harbinger of what is happening on a wider scale now, and it is very dangerous. It is almost a dystopian parody of what a culture of censoring books and ideas might bring. It’s about controlling your thoughts and not finding anything that might ultimately give young people as well as adults a sense of the wider world. This is sort of what happened to these abortion laws before the Supreme Court stepped in and took us back to his 17th century. There are a series of state and local laws banning abortion, and they do the same with books.This, to me, is a terrible tragedy.The library was my true education.

Can you talk about the power of memory and imagery in your work?

Part of that is that the basic nature of comics fosters memory as a topic. Because basically, at least in English, there are pages that read from left to right. When you look at the page, you see the whole, including a glimpse into the future, before expanding it to turn it into smaller units that read from left to right. As soon as you look around the page you will see the before and after panels. It’s literally past, present and future, unless you deliberately mix them up. But it’s a natural pattern. Manga turns time into space. As you read, you convert to time, which is spatial. And that power is the power of images. It will come to you before you can defend yourself against it.

I respect school boards in the sense that they understand the power of images, but I don’t understand how that power can really be worked with. picture. It teaches you how to read pictures, how to slow them down, how to understand them, how to make sense of them. It reflected what I learned from Maurice Sendak in a strip I did for The New Yorker. he said. they already know everything. ’ As a child, I knew horrible things, but I couldn’t let an adult know what I knew. And I think that’s the reality. But it’s important to be able to run that freeze his frame and go back and understand what they’re saying.

Comics are a great way to focus on such teachings. This is increasingly necessary to survive political campaigns with harmful misinformation and the like.

What does the word “breakdown” mean to you? What is your relationship with the word’s multiple meanings?

In a way, a breakdown is when you can’t stay focused and move forward, and sometimes you have a nervous breakdown. My mother had it and I had one early on. It makes obvious sense. It also means professional. To create a comic strip, you need to know which part of the past, present, or future to place. How do you interconnect these panels into an overall pleasing pattern shape on the page? As long as there is a story, boxes, actions, all parts of breaking the story down and making something out of it. That is another meaning of this word. And indeed, my work deals with both kinds very intensively.





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