J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NYJFF ’13: The Art of Spiegelman


After the release of his Pulitzer Prize winning Maus, Art Spiegelman was dead set against becoming the self-appointed Stephen Spielberg of the graphic novel world.  Such a problem would be unimaginable for a comic artist when Spiegelman began his career.  Clara Kuperberg & Joëlle Oosterlinck profile the graphic novelist in the European television documentary, Art of Spiegelman (clip here), which screens during the 2013 New York Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Spiegelman’s tragic family history has been his greatest source of inspiration and depression.  The son of Holocaust survivors, Maus is almost entirely based on a series of interviews he conducted with his father.  It just happens to feature mice and cats, much like An American Tale (Spielberg rears his head again), which is why Spiegelman rushed out the first six chapters, lest he be accused of copying his suspected copycat.  Whether the director of E.T. was really looking to magpie the work of the co-editor of RAW seems rather debatable, but it is clearly a subject to avoid Spiegelman.

Even before Maus, Spiegelman produced the intensely personal Breakdowns, which directly addresses his mother’s suicide. Casual comic readers may also be surprised when they recognize some of Spiegelman’s work-for-hire projects, including the original Topps Garbage Pail Kids trading cards and some of the more controversial New Yorker covers (including the hot button Hasidic Jew and West Indian couple kissing), commissioned by his wife Françoise Mouly, the magazine’s art editor.

Aside from a lame throwaway joke aimed at President George W. Bush (that now sounds painfully dated), Kuperberg & Oosterlinck largely steer clear of Spiegelman’s politics.  This is a wise strategy that serves the interests of their subject.  As a result, Art of is a reasonably pleasant portrait/survey of the artist and his work.  However, real indie/underground comix fans will be disappointed it leaves out all the early naughty bits.  Mainly of interest to Spiegelman fans and those looking for further context on the Maus books, The Art of Spiegelman screens with Castaways this Monday (1/21) and Tuesday (1/22) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s 2013 NYJFF.

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