When small children cannot read yet, parents show them pictures and tell about different animals or boys and girls depicted to develop their future interest in reading. Comic books are the next stage. They combine pictures and simple phrases. However, modern art proves that comic books can be very serious literature, and illustrations work for adults and reveal eternal topics. This essay compares Art Spiegelman’s famous Maus and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and proves that though the main themes of these comic books are different, the ideas of both authors are original and important to readers.
Comic books have recently become quite popular with adults because they do not spend much time to read them. At the same time, people can learn more about how modern comic writers see the solution to different social problems. If to compare Spiegelman’s Maus and Pekar’s American Splendor series, it is important to note that though both authors invented the plot for their stories themselves, Spiegelman made the drawings for the comic book himself (“Why mice,” 2011), and Pekar hired different artists (Bodell, n.d.). However, the quality of the work of the second writer did not suffer, as he tried hard to find a strong correlation between the ideas, which he wanted to convey, and the illustrations (Bodell, n.d.). Thus, Spiegelman’s Maus and Pekar’s American Splendor are well-known because of their high quality drawings and deep meaning.
The elements of the books of the discussed authors, namely theme, plot, and conflict, are mostly different. Spiegelman’s main theme in his famous Maus is the Nazi’s oppression of the Jewish people. He draws the Jewish as mice with their eyes wide-open, whereas Nazis look like cats (“Why mice,” 2011). Spiegelman got interested in the theme of the Nazi’s holocaust of the Jewish because he had some memories from childhood about the stories, which he was told by his relatives about the period of WWII (“Why mice,” 2011). He conveys the conversation with his grandfather and writes: “All our friends went through the camp” (Spiegelman, 2003). In his interview, Spiegelman said that “this cat-mouse metaphor of oppression could actually apply to my more immediate experience” (“Why mice,” 2011, para. 6). To compare, “Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor Collection explores the complexity of human identity as it chronicles his life as a blue collar worker and jazz lover” (Bodell, n.d., para.1). With his work, Pekar supports the psychological theory that there is not actually a single identity of a person and it changes, depending on the circumstances (Bodell, n.d.). Pekar (1991) writes: “My name has been a matter of some concern to me over the years.” Thus, the themes of both authors differ but are important to all people from the historical and social perspectives.
It is clear that the plots of the analyzed comic books are different because the writers develop them around the main themes. For example, Spiegelman demonstrates how Jewish people were humiliated and tortured by the Nazi, who considered them to be rats and not humans: “No mouse could go out from the ghetto, no food or medicine could go in” (Spiegelman, 2003). By contrast, Pekar positions his characters in different situations and checks how their identity is revealed. Moreover, the author gives different names to the same characters and examines their feelings of self-identity in different situations (Bodell, n.d.). Being a character of his comics, Harvey writes how he tried to change his identity to satisfy the editors, but he received such messages about his comics: “Look, Harvey, we don’t want interesting, we want funny” (Pekar, 1991). Thus, simple words conveyed the essence of the inner conflicts of the characters.
The main conflicts revealed in Spiegelman’s Maus are based on extreme racial disparity promoted by the Nazi regime (“Why mice,” 2011). To compare, Pekar demonstrates a number of conflicts related to people’s identity problems, namely social isolation and lack of understanding between people, because they have to change their character and manner of behavior because of a simple change of the name (Bodell, n.d.). Overall, the conflicts demonstrated by the authors are skillfully unfolded in their comic books.
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In spite of the fact that themes, plots, and conflicts of Spiegelman’s Maus and Pekar’s American Splendor are different, it is impossible to omit one detail of their comics that is the basis of similarity between the writers. As it was distinctly stated, Spiegelman conveys the topic of the Jewish-Nazi oppression and outermost racial discrimination. Pekar correlates his topic of identity with the theme of racial disparities: “Pekar examines the creation of stereotypes and their role in racial issues” (Bodell, n.d., p. 5). He chooses the racial minority groups of black and Jewish people and demonstrates the stereotypes of their look, behavior, and wealth, which white people may have (Bodell, n.d.). A single similarity between the comic books of both authors lies in the fact that Pekar’s works are about social conflicts and stereotyping related to racial groups. Likewise, Spiegelman reveals the issue of the extreme Nazi oppression of the Jewish people, which refers to a sad page in the world history.
Regarding illustrations for the analyzed works, Pekar’s drawings are more traditional and may depict people with certain elements, namely caricatured parts of their faces or second-plan details, which are used for revealing the main ideas of the authors. Spiegelman drew the Nazi and the Jewish, using animal images, and was successful in his technique. The author says that drawing mice with their mouths wide open and always screaming is the way to reveal the Jewish tragedy and “it’s a way of making that face human” (“Why mice,” 2011). Spiegelman’s success in his original illustration forms is that his comic book will be understood by middle-aged people because of important historical and social topics. Furthermore, young generations will also admire his work because their understanding of the tragedy of the Jewish nation will be facilitated by the animal metaphors.
To conclude, both Spiegelman and Pekar are talented creators of comic books, who managed to depict serious topics with visual pictures and concise phrases. The main difference between their books is that Spiegelman was interested in the topic of the Nazi oppression of the Jewish people, and Pekar was focused on the theme of national identity. Though Spiegelman’s format of comic books was more unfamiliar and non-traditional than Pekar’s, he skillfully managed to convey his ideas and arouse the readers’ interest in the historical theme of extreme racial discrimination.