Welcome to another installment of our newest monthly segment, Comics to Spite Fascism!
The aim here is to give comic readers great titles to read and turn to in their day-to-day reflections during these times of political upheaval — radical and diverse comics that will empower people to resist, to open a fuller discussion amongst folks. Check out last month’s look at V for Vendetta here.
Next up on this reading list of resistance narratives is Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.
“No darling to die, it’s easy…but you have to struggle for life! Until the last moment we must struggle together! I need you! And you’ll see that together we’ll survive.” This I told her always.
Maus follows Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and the slow rise of the Nazi regime that forever changed the world. This is a must read, because in this title we get a very different tale than the ones that we are exposed to. The main difference is the pacing of the events that transpired. Whereas most other narratives jump right into the point this title is of an affluent family and so they slowly fell into the death traps of the Nazi regime.
The topics of discussion are also remarkably close to those that we are seeing today. The only problem is that American memory isn’t the best, and we also can’t seem to find the connections unless explained by Fox news. Hopefully Black Ship Books can help a little. The connections that are relevant to today’s current context are many, but the ones that stood out the most to me in this latest reading are:
It’s OK to punch a Nazi!
“I at least did something” is what Vladek states when finding the Nazi soldier that he killed. There were no tears, nor does the title indicate that he felt remorse over it. Rather it is clear that Vladek felt he made his contributions against the Nazis. This is important to keep in mind in a time when we may be debating whether or not punching a fascist is a correct course of action.
Not all refugees are Middle Eastern, Asian, or from Latin America.
It’s easy to forget that the Jewish people were refugees fleeing war and terror. We are told to empathize with these, but told to hate others. Maus illustrates how frighteningly fast a resident can go from citizen to exile and the compounding problems of being ostracized by a zealous government. The frustration conveyed during the revocation of Vladek’s citizenship papers is all too close to the perils of migrants today. Vladek’s fear is a fear known to all refugees; the systemic prejudice that Vladek lived through is but a variation of a sorrowful tune.
It’s not abandonment, it’s a lack of options.
Backed into a corner, parents in Maus were sending their children abroad in hopes that the next generation might survive to live a better life. Children fled countries without their parents trying to make it to a land where they could be children, a land where they could live free. Years later we’re now seeing children who’ve fled different but nonetheless horrific situations. One of the saddest parts in the story is when Vladek explains what happened to his first-born son. He had wanted to send him away to be safe after a friend had found a family granting shelter in Poland but the Spiegelman family felt staying together was best. While Vladeck declined to send his son, his friend sent his own child away to the Polish family alone. Vladeck reflects on it, “Ilzecki and his wife didn’t come out of the war, but his son remained alive; ours did not.”
Classism is real
One sad point that was clearly made in the title was that the Spiegelman family was an affluent family. They boast to have millions, and so this is the reason why Vladeck and his wife are able to survive so long, able to watch the story as it unfolds, because sadly it unfolded fastest against the lower class Jews who didn’t have enough money to survive. So in today’s climate, please don’t tell everyone that things will be OK. That might be your own personal privilege giving you that confidence. They might be on the first train out.
There are surely many other reasons to read the title, like the art which is some of the darkest and emotionally charged that you will find. The simplicity of it, along with the soft-spoken nature of the narrative make it compelling. It’s a great piece of work all around, and trust me I only touched on the topics lightly. That’s it for this month. I look forward to discussing this title and hearing recommendations on the message board. So, as always, all hands on deck and let’s keep this Black Ship of ours sailing.