A great interview with Art Spiegelman

On the 25th anniversary of Maus, The Guardian has run an excellent interview with the writer.

Parts I particularly liked:

My favourite part of the book, though, is the section in which Spiegelman reproduces the rejection letters he received when his agent, Jonathan Silverman, first sent Maus out to publishers. Oh dear. This is embarrassing. Behold New York’s literary taste-makers acting like a bunch of cowardy custards. “Thank you for letting me see Maus,” says Hilary Hinzmann, of Henry Holt. “The idea behind it is brilliant, but it never, for me, quite gets on track.” Gerald Howard, at Penguin, is a little more up front, but still, he won’t quite take all the blame for turning it down: “In part, my passing has to do with the natural nervousness one has in publishing something so very new and possibly (to some people) off-putting. But more crucially I don’t think Maus is a completely successful work, in that it seems in some way conventional.”

At St Martin’s Press, Bob Miller admits that he found the book “quite affecting” (hell, he even managed to read right to the end). But what on earth would he tell the sales department? “I can’t see how to advance the thing into bookstores.” Even the great Robert Gottlieb of Knopf, publisher of Catch-22, doesn’t get it. “It is clever and funny,” he writes. “But right now, we are publishing several comic strip/cartoon type books and I think it is too soon to take on another one.”

On surviving the holocaust:

But unimaginable suffering, Spiegelman wants us to understand, doesn’t make a person better; it just makes them suffer.

On ebooks:

“The books that have a right to be books make use of their bookness. Graphic novels – who knew that term would stick! – continue to do well because they use their bookness.”

On people’s response to his being a Jew:

“The only parts of Jewishness I can embrace easily are the parts that are unembraceable. In other words, I am happy being a rootless cosmopolitan, alienated in most environments that I fall into. And I’m proud of being somebody who synthesised different kinds of culture – it is a fundamental aspect of the diaspora Jew. I’m uneasy with the notion of the Jew as a fighting machine, the two-fisted Israeli.”

Go read.


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