One of the most outstanding features of the book “Maus” is its graphics. It is quite peculiar that Spiegelman uses only the black-and-white color – perhaps, this is another means to emphasize the gloomy atmosphere of the Nazi invasion and the reign of the anti-Semite ideas. With help of the shades of black, white, and grey, the author managed to reprint the exact spirit of World War II, with all its despair and suffering.
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It seems as though the sun stopped shining, and the entire world is hiding in the shadow of fear now – the fear of being trapped into the Nazi machine and being tortured, beaten, and killed. With every single gesture, phrase, or facial expression of his characters, Spiegelman makes it clear that each creature under the impact of the Nazi regime turned into a miserable, petrified terrorized nothing – hardly anyone who passed the ordeal and stayed alive managed to preserve his/her personality and stay complete. Because of the specific graphics, each piece of the comic book is filled with pain and sorrow.
The grief-stricken characters, their helpless gestures, and their fragile bodies are the despair itself. Piled on each other, the corpses scare the reader out of his/her wits – the realistic pictures make one forget that the lead characters are not even human being, and make people focus on the key idea of the comic book. Another remarkable feature is how the characters move. Due to the sharp, almost chaotic graphics of the book, the author creates an impression of a true Apocalypses erupting. There are no calm scenes in the book, even the relatively quiet ones contain the element of tension within, expressed either with a gesture, or with a pose, or with a facial expression.
It seems that even the words in the cloud are torn apart by this intense feeling of something frightening and inevitable coming. Concerning the words, one must mark that the air of tragedy in the comics does not affect the style of the letters – they are never the same, their size and color changing depending on the emotions of the speaker. Another peculiar way to communicate the incredible violence of the Nazi regime, this manner of writing in the clouds sets a striking contrast to the overall mood of the book. With help of the shifting from lower case to the higher and vice versa, Spiegelman manages to convey the emotions of the lead characters, which is as important for the book as the narrative part.
Setting special emphasis on certain words, and making them stand out from the rest of the speech, the author manages to convey the essence of the Nazi regime. “His name was Jan… and I knew that I killed him. And I said to myself: ‘Well, at least I did something’” (Spiegelman 50). Setting emphasis on the keywords of the book must have been the second most important reason for Spiegelman to choose this genre. With help of the specific, out-of-order style of writing that is so usual for comic books, Spiegelman managed to express the entire palette of feelings of the Jews in the concentration camps at the time of the Holocaust.
Considering the controversy of the novel, one will inevitably mark that the characters are depicted in a rather stereotyped way, the Nazi being cats, the Jews visualized as mice, and the Poles drawn as pigs. However, when speaking of such an event as the Holocaust, one can hardly consider the issue of clichés as the most appropriate one. Thus, the choice of Spiegelman is completely justified. Yet there is another thing to consider about the book.
Shaping the story of his father’s life and experience in the concentration camps, Spiegelman decided to tell it as a comic strip, which caused a surge of indignation. Indeed, on the one hand, the seriousness and the tragedy of the events of the Holocaust cannot be compared to the lightness of a comic strip, no matter how witty it can be. Yet even the most shocking photos of the Holocaust victims would not make the impression that the book makes. Perhaps, it is the contrast that the story of life at the time of WWII and the light genre of the comic strip that creates an even more dreadful impression than all the archives of the World War.
Though how the story is told might seem childish and somewhat deprived of its histrionics, it still proves extremely stirring and moving. Reading between the lines of the book, one can see the true story of Vladek and Anna, filled with grief and despair, and yet – amazingly touching. Offering a true story, a mixture of pain and suffering of Holocaust and the reward of true love, this book is more than a typical comic strip – for this is the book of Spiegelman’s ancestor’s life – and death. “They made us sing prayers while they laughed and beat us,” (61) Vladek confesses as he tells his story. Yet the prayers sounded even louder – until they turned into the song of triumph, the anthem of the victory over the Nazism regime.