Art Spiegelman talks comics

On Thursday, April 10, the Ypsilanti District Library and comic enthusiasts alike had the pleasure of welcoming Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman to Pease Auditorium at Eastern Michigan University.

As library appreciation week comes to a close, Ypsilanti District Library representative Gillian Ream Gainsley told the audience the library is putting more emphasis on graphic novels.

“It’s an art form important to the future of literature,” Gainsley said.

She explained that Ypsilanti Library patrons can expect to find many more comics on the shelves after the library received the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grant.

“This grant includes a collection of 175 graphic novels selected by the grantor, $2,000 to buy books, plus money to put on events and send a librarian to the American Library Association conference,” Gainsley said.

Bob Eccles of WEMU shared some of Spiegelman’s many accomplishments, apart from his world-renowned graphic novel “Maus.”

Spiegelman was also the co-creator, with the help of wife Françoise Mouly, on the magazine Raw and “Toon Books” for beginning readers.
Eccles also recalled how Spiegelman’s creation of the Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages was very exciting for him.

“I remember I would stick all my Wacky Packages on the headboard of my bed as a child,” Eccles said. “When my parents told me we were moving and that I needed a new bed, I said ‘What about my Wacky Packages?’ It was very distressing.”

As Gainsley and Eccles were introducing Spiegelman, he walked confidently to the podium, adjusted the microphone.

“Well, it’s all been downhill since I was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People,” Spiegelman said.

The crowd erupted in laughter.

“Everything I know, I learned from comic books,” Spiegelman said.

He spoke of his love for Batman and MAD magazine as a child, and how many of the life lessons important to a child specifically came from the panel-to-panel stories we love today.

“I learned about sex from ‘Betty and Veronica,’” Spiegelman said. “I learned about feminism from ‘Little Lulu.’ I learned about economics from ‘Uncle Scrooge.’ I learned about philosophy from ‘Peanuts.’”

Comics have often been stereotyped as only being read by children or “immature” adults. Since 1985, however, the industry has still been thriving, especially within the last ten years.

“I have been called the father of the graphic novel, to my horror. I demand a blood test,” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman has done many projects throughout his career as an artist. His most known work, “Maus,” is the story of him interviewing his father about his survival of the Holocaust as a Polish Jewish citizen. Spiegelman smiled and said that he did not expect the project to be a 13-year-long commitment.

The first volume of “Maus” was published in 1986, which was the same year Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen” were released. “Maus” is now taught worldwide in classrooms, as well as sold in bookstores for personal reading.

He also had a career with The New Yorker designing multiple covers, most memorably the cover published on Feb. 15, 1993. It depicts a Jewish man embracing a black woman with a kiss. This cover received a flood of indignation because of its controversial image.

“I received a fan letter from Pennsylvania about this cover that said, ‘It’s so nice that on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday you had a picture of him kissing a slave,’” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman guided the audience through a well-versed history of the comic as an art form. He included many examples of old-fashioned Sunday comics, like “Little Nemo,” to ones that veered away from the kids’ interest like “Krazy Kat,” which was loved by intellectuals.

Throughout the talk, titled “What the %@$! Happened to Comics?” Spiegelman explored this question.

“The future of comics is in the past,” he said.

He said nowadays, it is impossible to keep up. There are many complete works of old comics coming out, proving that comics are now having their own history. Graphic novels can now be in traditional mythology and all other sorts of themes on the grid.

“The past hangs over the future,” Spiegelman said.

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