Although Art Spiegelman Maus experiencing something of a renaissance since joining a growing list of banned books earlier this year, Hillary Chute has been a Spiegelman OG for a minute.
Before her appearance at the Miami Book Fair, new times spoke with Hillary Chute, North East professor and author of Maus Nowa collection of what she considers to be the best critical writings on Maus since its publication.
Chute remembers reading Maus for the first time as a graduate student. She would later meet Spiegelman after being invited to his studio in New York, where the pair bonded over their love of comics.
After writing MetaMaus with Spiegelman in 2011, Chute has spent time compiling the best texts and analyzes on Maus since its beginnings in 1980. The result is Maus Nowa compelling look at why Maus matters then that it reenters the public conversation and culture wars of the 2020s.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
New times: Could you tell me what were the motivations for Maus Now? What made you decide to write it now?
Hillary Falls: Maus celebrates its 40th anniversary. It has been serialized in various forms, but it first appeared in Raw magazine in 1980, so Maus is a text that I often teach, write about in my scholarship, and read and reread often. It is an enduring work of art for many different reasons.
I’ve also thought of it recently as an explicit piece of resistance to fascism, and I think that’s become even clearer to me after Trump’s election and in the post-Trump era. Maus is a book about the humanization and particularization of the victims of fascism, and it’s a book about testimony, and it’s a book about history. And those values seemed enduring to me.
“Sticky text” is how I like to think of it. And so when it was banned in January, I felt like that underscored my point: it’s a book that’s relevant now, that we need to read now, and also that people are attacking now.
I also think Maus had a kind of rebirth when those kind of invigorated people were forbidden to take a second look at it. Would you accept?
I would agree. And I have to say it was very disheartening last January when I first heard about the ban. But when I went online I was so moved by people writing about Maus on social networks.
Maus is a book that I have read 20 times. I worked on a book on Maus with Art Spiegelman called MetaMaus. I constantly think about this book. But I was so moved by people saying, “I read this book in high school and it changed my life. This is the book in which I discovered the Holocaust. This kind of outpouring of support from ordinary people who had read Maus and publicly stated that his value was so incredible.
Spiegelman also jokes that the ban was the best publicist ever. The book is sold out on Amazon. Its publishers reprint numerous copies in markets around the world. It was amazing to me, but not surprising, that the ban became global news. My sister, who lives in Ireland, emailed me about it.
You mentioned it Maus been part of your life for some time. Do you remember the first time you read it?
It was a little later than I often hear it was for people these days. I first read it when I got my doctorate. In English. I read it in a graduate seminar, and it was in the year 2000. I remember it because it was a Bush election year against Gore. That was 22 years ago, and it just blew my mind.
When I read it, I started to think: How come this text works so well? What about the comic form that works so well for this kind of story? This is a book that inspired my doctorate. thesis. It has inspired many of my posts since. I ended up working with Spiegelman, as I mentioned before, on MetaMauson which we worked together for five years – all about the historical, family and stylistic research that led to Maus.
I still don’t feel like I’ve solved the problem or cracked the code. This is a book that gets richer every time I read it.
When did you first interact with Spiegelman?
When I was a graduate student living in New York, I wrote an article on Maus for a very small online comic review magazine called IndieMagazine, which was started by a former student of mine. He asked me to write an article on Maus, which I had taught in this class he was taking with me. And I did, and Spiegelman read it. My email was attached to it and he invited me to a cocktail party at his house.
I showed up at his house, and it was such a strange moment for me. I had done all this research on him and tried to find everything I could about him, and here I was, going to his house. I gave myself three rules designed not to pass myself off as a graduate student. I told myself that I couldn’t corner him and tell him about my thesis, that I couldn’t get drunk, and that I couldn’t be the last person to leave.
Then I wrote him a letter telling him about my thesis on Maus. I asked, “Could I talk to you about it for an hour in the future?” And he answered me and said yes. We had a kind of immediate connection because we are both fascinated by comics but from different angles. He is obviously fascinated by comics as a creator and innovator of comics. And I’m so fascinated by comic form as a reviewer trying to learn how to write about comics. We got along really well.
Was it different from what you expected?
I think Spiegelman sometimes has a reputation for being a bit cantankerous. I had heard famous things about him. At that time, he refused to do an event if he couldn’t smoke during it. I had seen him lecture in and around New York before I knew him. It blew my mind because one of them was at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square in New York. It was after the smoking ban — you couldn’t even smoke in a bar — and he lit a cigarette, and nobody stopped him.
The reputation is, I don’t know, maybe grumpy, demanding, he was so sweet and so friendly and so charming. As soon as I entered the studio, I felt really comfortable. He is an extremely generous person intellectually. He loves lending me books, giving me references and is always ready to disagree on anything. He likes to debate and he likes conversation.
Could you tell us a bit about the genesis of your current book?
There were two things I wanted this book to do. I wanted it to mix academic writing and public writing on Maus. It has generated so many great reviews, both in the research world and in academia. And I also really wanted it to have a global reach. The idea was that I was looking for the best writing from when it was first published in the 80s until today, not only in any type of publication but also in any language.
You said you played the role of curator this time. What was the process for finding all these writings?
It was really hard to find some of them. Some pieces I knew I wanted to have in there, like Ken Tucker’s piece from 1985 in the New York Times, I knew it had to be there. But for a lot of these plays, I had to rely on friends or colleagues who live in Germany, who live in Israel, who live in France, to try to help me get a sense of the scene. Once I had an idea of what was out there, I tried to figure out what was worth translating just so I could read it, and then narrow down what was worth translating professionally. There have been many excavations. That was part of the fun of making the book.
Is there anything you learned while studying Maus for so long?
There’s so much, but I think one thing I’m going to point out is that I learned something that I hope this book imparts to people, which is right now, Maus is a classic. This is a book that sells on Amazon. Spiegelman is set to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Foundation. But it was really different in the 1980s. Dorit Abusch described how, when she first gave a talk on Maus in a museum in Israel, people got up and walked out. Because it’s such a popular text right now, young people may not know how uphill the battle has been to get this book accepted in the way we now take for granted.
Did you show the book to Art?
I must be clear here: art had no editorial role in this book. In fact, he was begging me to include negative essays on Maus, which was hilarious. I said, “Art, if negative essays on Maus met my standard, I would include them. But the trials that are out there that are negative, I don’t believe in the effectiveness of their arguments. ” It has nothing to do with the way I composed this book, but he saw a copy. I was very happy that he was particularly fascinated by the French essay translated into English which he n “hadn’t read before. It’s about the figure of his older brother Richieu, who died in the war before he was born. It was incredibly gratifying to have selected an essay that even the person who wrote and drew Maus could learn from.
If there were one or two things you hoped a reader would take away from the book, what would they be?
I think the first would be that the horrors of the past have not passed. The horrors of the past remain, and they remain in a truly dangerous way, and that has always been the argument of Maus. I think we see it being deeply emphasized over and over again, especially thinking about all the anti-Semitism in the past week. And I think the other thing that I hope people take away is how sophisticated, compelling, and interesting comics can be in the hands of someone like Art Spiegelman.
An evening with Art Spiegelman and Hillary Chute. 7 p.m. Monday, November 14, via livestream; miamibookfair.com. Free entry.