I get to meet my hero! (Art Spiegelman, author of Maus)


Art Spiegelman, for those who don’t know, is a Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist  best known for his comic book memoir, Maus. The two-volume graphic novel details the life of Art’s father, a survivor of Auschwitz, and the complicated relationship between Art and his father as a result of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman is also known for being a pioneer in underground comix, pushing experimental comics to their limit. And finally, he is a huge proponent for “comics-as-art,” advocating that comics are more than just pulp superheroes for kids– rather, spun the right way, comics can have reach all audiences and have a huge emotional impact.

A bit of Maus' first pages.

All of these things I admire, and Spiegelman has proved a huge inspiration for me quite directly. In ninth grade, my school required us to submit an entry to the Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition— a regional contest where kids submit art pieces about the Holocaust. I went completely off my nut, and, over a period of two months, wrote a whole graphic novel spanning a little over 100 pages. Yeah. It sounds unreal even now. Better yet, I drew the entire thing with Sharpies, so by the end I looked a little like this:

The weekend before it was due I actually pumped out 40 pages in two days. It was a surreal experience.

This comic will never see the light of day, because I wrote it five years ago and therefore it’s total and utter crap. Terrible art, choppy pacing, underdeveloped story– it’s a bit embarrassing. But it was definitely an achievement for little ninth grade me, and it was completely inspired by Art Spiegelman’s work.

So when I saw a poster announcing that Art Spiegelman was giving a guest lecture at NU, I was more than a little excited.

After confirming that this was actually happening, I proceeded to freak out to all my friends:

The lecture was titled “What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?” and basically featured Spiegelman walking us through the history of comics in North America. He also elaborated on how he got into the comics industry, how he ended up writing Maus, infusing the whole thing with both wit and depth. And I, the whole time, as a comic nerd, was grinning like a fool:

He even put to words what I’ve been trying to figure out for quite a while now. People have often asked me why I like comics so much, and honestly, I’ve never had an answer. Which is a problem when you’re at a college interview, and the intimidating successful woman doctor asks you, condescendingly, why comics are your “thing.”

This is actually exactly what happened at my interview for Harvard. And, in fact, we were discussing Maus.

And then Art Spiegelman comes along and argues that are just as effective– sometimes more effective– as other forms of expression. According to Spiegelman, this is because “comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconographic images, not in holograms, and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So yeah. The lecture was amazing. But the best was the reception. The crowd wandered out of the auditorium, helped themselves to drinks, and waited for the chance to meet Art himself.

Coffee was not a good idea. By the time Art Spiegelman came out, I was positively jumpy:

BUT I GOT TO MEET HIM! AND SHAKE HIS HAND! Mr. Spiegelman was really, really nice and willing to listen to everyone, even jittery ol’ me.

But he was very patient, and politely asked me what comic artists I liked:

IT WAS PRETTY AWESOME. I never thought I’d get to meet one of my cartooning idols. I couldn’t stop grinning for the next hour.

Probably the most memorable moment, though, was when he was talking to a girl who was in line in front of me. She asked the question I actually wanted to say:

He reacted with surprise.

And he said it with a straight face.

And then what he said surprised me:

I was shocked.  I’ve always seen cartooning as a goal, something to strive for. A dream. But for him, a cartoonist of such huge prestige and success, it was not?

But at the same time, I realized, his words reflected my own feelings. I don’t know why I like to read comics. I especially don’t know why I like to draw comics, as it is a time-consuming and often agonizing experience. But it’s something I’ve always done, since age 7. It’s something I’ve just… had to do. That’s why I taught myself how to draw. That’s why, contrary to my parents’ hopeful predictions, I still haven’t “outgrown” comics. That’s why this blog exists. I may get my BS in biology. I can go on and get my graduate degree. A PhD, even. I could work for a company. Or maybe run my own research. Or completely change my major to International Business and work in Yugoslavia, or maybe become an accountant destined for a cubicle. Who knows? The future is totally up in the air. Except for one thing: comics. In no future of mine, in no projections or plans or daydreams or bucket lists, do I ever see myself not drawing comics.

Because comics are a passion that will stay with me the rest of my life. I know that I will never stop drawing.

And the rest will fall into place.