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Honoured at Angoulême, Spiegelman tries to turn the page on ‘Maus’

The guest of honour at this year’s Angoulême Comics Festival is renowned US comic book writer Art Spiegelman, whose new book looks back at the process of creating “Maus”, the work that brought him worldwide fame – and a bit of discomfort.


It may not be known for its bustling cultural scene, but this weekend the southwestern French city of Angoulême is the envy of comics fans everywhere.

The 39th annual Angoulême International Comics Festival, the largest event of its kind in Europe, kicked off Thursday for a four-day festival expected to draw approximately 200,000 attendees to an extensive slate of international exhibitions, talks, signings, and display stands.

This year’s edition is garnering particular attention for its guest of honour: world-renowned US comics author, Art Spiegelman, winner of the 1992 Pulitzer for his groundbreaking graphic novel “Maus”. He is also this year’s recipient of the festival’s special Grand Prize -- making him, at 64, only the second American in the festival’s history to receive the award, following Robert Crumb in 1999.

Art Spiegelman: the man behind Maus

The centerpiece of this year’s festival, then, is a retrospective of Spiegelman’s work, accompanied by a special exhibition of his personal comics collection.

The festival finds Spiegelman -- who was born in Sweden but grew up in the US -- at what he has described as a defining moment of his career.

After self-publishing edgy, satirical works during the 1970s “underground comix” movement, Spiegelman was catapulted into the global spotlight with “Maus”, an account of his father’s Holocaust experience, featuring Jews depicted as mice and Germans as cats. Twenty-five years later, the author is back in the public eye with “MetaMaus”, an interactive look back at the process of creating “Maus”, the rapturous reception the work received, and the author’s own ambivalence toward the praise and attention he has earned.

Spiegelman’s purpose in publishing the new work, as he told Agence France-Presse at the festival, was to “start anew”.

Moving beyond ‘Maus’

Though “Maus” brought Spiegelman endless fans and widespread critical adulation, he is readier than ever to move on. “I’m tired of being considered the author of only one book,” he told AFP. “I’ve spent these last years trying to escape the success of ‘Maus’”.

“MetaMaus” consists of interviews with Spiegelman, sketches from draft versions of “Maus”, family photos, anecdotes, rejection letters from publishing houses that deemed a comic about the Holocaust too risky, plus a DVD that includes home movies and an interactive version of “Maus”. Spiegelman told French media that one of his goals in the new book was to put behind him the work that made him by “[answering] once and for all the questions people ask me: Why mice? Why a comic? Why the Holocaust?”

The new book also traces his emotional response to becoming a bestselling author. “I had actually thrived on the relative neglect; it made me get up and work,” he says in one of the book’s interview transcripts. “Neurotically, the… way I experienced the success of ‘Maus’ was to spend the next 20 years trying to wriggle out from under my own achievement.”

During that time, Spiegelman produced several illustrations for the cover of the New Yorker, the famed magazine for which his French wife, Francoise Mouly, is artistic director. He also published several children’s’ comic books.

After Angoulême, the Spiegelman exhibition will move to the modern art museum at Paris’s Pompidou Centre from March 21 to May 21, then on to Germany.

Meanwhile, Spiegelman remains resolutely averse to the limelight. “I’m sick of myself,” he said earlier this month in an interview published in French daily Le Monde.

“I’m going to ask the FBI to put me in the witness protection program, to let me change my identity,” he added, with a stroke of wry humour.

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