Art Spiegelman has almost single-handedly brought comic books out of the toy closet and onto the literature shelves. In 1992, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his masterful Holocaust narrative Maus— which portrayed Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Maus II continued the remarkable story of his parents’ survival of the Nazi regime and their lives later in America. Spiegelman believes that in our post-literate culture the importance of the comic is on the rise, for "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.”
Having rejected his parents’ aspirations for him to become a dentist, Art Spiegelman studied cartooning in high school and began drawing professionally at age 16. He studied art and philosophy at Harpur College before becoming part of the underground comix subculture of the 60s and 70s. As creative consultant for Topps Bubble Gum Co. Spiegelman created Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and other novelty items, and taught history and aesthetics of comics at the School for Visual Arts in New York. In 2007 he was a Heyman Fellow of the Humanities at Columbia University where he taught a Masters of the Comics seminar.
Spiegelman co-founded RAW, the acclaimed avant-garde comics magazine, with his wife, Françoise Mouly—Maus was originally serialized in the pages of RAW. He and Mouly also co-edited Little Lit, a series of three comics anthologies for children published by HarperCollins ("Comics-They're not just for Grown-ups Anymore"). He and Mouly started Toon Books publishing easy to read comics for children. They co-edited the anthology A Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics published by Abrams.
Spiegelman's anthology, Breakdowns includes an autobiographical introduction almost as long as the book itself, entitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!. McSweeney’s published a collection of three of his sketchbooks entitled Be a Nose. His work has been published in many periodicals, including The New Yorker, where he was a staff artist and writer from 1993-2003. He also illustrated the 1928 lost classic, The Wild Party, by Joseph Moncure March.
In 2004 he completed In the Shadow of No Towers, a masterful and moving account of the events and aftermath of September 11th. It was a national bestseller and was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2004.
Maus was called “the first masterpiece in comic book history” by The New Yorker. It has received several awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the Angoulême International Comics Festival Best Foreign Album Award, the Eisner Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. In 2009 it was chosen by the Young Adult Library Association as one of its recommended titles for all students. In 2020 the New York Public Library voted Maus: A Survivor's Tale one of the 125 most important books of the last 125 years. It was chosen by the Chicago Public Library for One Book, One Chicago 2022 to celebrate the theme "Freedom To Read." He wrote Meta Maus, a companion to The Complete Maus – about why he wrote Maus. MetaMaus was awarded the 2011 National Jewish Book Award, and a 2012 Eisner Award. In November 2022 a new book titled Maus Now edited by Hillary Chute brings together essays from twenty-one leading critics, authors, and academics on the radical achievement and innovation of Maus will be published by Pantheon.
Spiegelman’s project, WORDLESS!, a multimedia look at the history of the graphic novel, had its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House and its US premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. His collaborations include The Ghosts of Ellis Island with renowned French artist JR, and Street Cop with Robert Coover. Spiegelman also edited Si Lewen’s Parade: An Artist’s Odyssey and later curated a museum show called ‘Si Lewen, The Parade’ in Paris at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme.
A major exhibition of his work was arranged by Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of the "15 Masters of 20th Century Comics" exhibit. Art Spiegelman was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, he is also a laureate of the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame. He was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and—the American equivalent—played himself on an episode of “The Simpsons.”
In 2011, Art Spiegelman won the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. A museum show, “Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective,” traveled Europe, Canada, and the US. The accompanying book is CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received the Edward MacDowell Medal, the first-ever given in comic art. Art Spiegelman was awarded the 2022 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation.
Photo Enno Kapitza / Agentur Focus