Art Spiegelman gave a hilarious and deeply personal lecture Saturday on his relationship with comics and his family, what to expect of MetaMausâ€”his follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Mausâ€”and his love-hate relationship with the iPad.
The talk, titled What the %&*! Happened to Comics? was presented by the SBC Gallery, Drawn and Quarterly, and POP Montreal.
Spiegelman took his place behind the podium in a buttoned shirt and vest not unlike his Simpsons outfit after a brief introduction outlining his distinguished career.
“I feel more like I’m extinguished,” he said. “Certainly my cigarettes have been.”
He continued to blame his smoking habitâ€”not the packed crowd that filled the H-110 auditoriumâ€”on the lecture’s brief delay. The smoking bylaws forced him to smoke 20 cigarettes outside before entering, he said holding an unlit pipe that he kept with him throughout the speech.
And what a speech it was! Running later than even what the delay accounted for, Spiegelman’s lecture elicited roaring laughter and awed silence, sometimes from the same sentence.
With a comfort that must only come after years spent detailing his family’s experiences during and following the Holocaust, Spiegelman managed to cover topics ranging from his mother’s suicide to his aunt’s poisoning of herself and her children to avoid the Nazi invasion of the Zawiercie ghetto.
One such story, in the form of one of the several original comic strip style montages that introduced the sections of his speech, detailed his uncle’s conflict between working for the Nazis by feeding his friends and family into the crematoria or being burned himself and ultimately why people don’t sit with him at family gatherings. It got big laughs.
Maybe you had to be there.
While Spiegelman did not ever explain what the %&*! did happen to comics, he did explain the effect they’ve had on him and why he feels they excel as a medium for expression.
“Comics recapitulate the way the brain actually works,” he said. “We think in icons and simplified images; we think in little bursts of language, the kind that can fit in one speech bubble.”
For that reason, Spiegelman says comics are an excellent medium for memoirs, which is why he feels Maus was the most suitable way to tell his father’s story.
Spiegelman has been focusing lately on publishing children’s readers and comics, a collaboration with his wife FranÃ§oise Mouly, and is not sure he has another work like Maus in him.
“I tried,” he said, “and now all I can say is ‘once a philosopher, twice a pervert.’”
He has instead dedicated his efforts to detailing the creation of Maus and its aftereffects in his new book MetaMaus, which contains his family’s reaction to the work, the influence of comics on his life, and allows his father to finally “talk for himself and talk back.”
The lecture closed with a recording of Spiegelman’s father overlaid with panels from Maus describing the same events, more of which is available on the DVD packaged with MetaMaus.
On the future of comicsâ€”and books for that matter, Spiegelman explained he feels books have a “future as a book that can justify its existence as a bookâ€”a physical book.”
“Anything you do on an iPad will be invisible in five years,” he said. “It’s like performance art.”
“There are things that these iPads are great for,” he conceded, “but ultimately, the physicality makes a difference. I’m perfectly content to read Rudolphe TÃ¶pffer’s work on an iPad if that’s the only way I can get it.”
“Yet the book is not just a visual object,” he continued. “It’s not like a nostalgia for vinyl. There are things a book makes possible.”
MetaMaus will be released in stores Oct. 4, and will contain a digital copy of Maus on DVD.