With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Maus in Tennessee

I first became aware of Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the summer 1981 when I was 14 years old. Spiegelman had just started serializing the first chapters of his eventual graphic novel in the pages of RAW, a graphic art magazine he edited with Francoise Mouly. I saw a review of the first issue of RAW in The Comics Journal. I was intrigued by the excerpts The Comics Journal featured of Maus, an anthropomorphic account of the experience of Spiegelman’s father Vladek during the Holocaust told with the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats. At the time, RAW was a little outside my price range (and carried an amusingly daunting blurb that it was “the graphix magazine of postponed suicides”). I was able to furtively look at some early issues at Pages, a Toronto book store, and  fully caught up with Maus by 1986, when the first half of it appeared in book form.

Maus was at the forefront of efforts in the 1980s to push for comics to become more literary. Even at the time, young as I was, I thought Maus was one of the very few really good comics, along with the works of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I would later go on to write a biography of Mouly that tried to situate the importance of RAW and Maus in cultural history.

I shared the book with my school friend David Berman, whose father was a Holocaust survivor. David, not at all a comics person, was also very impressed by it, as were his parents. I remember David telling me how much the cantankerous relationship between Vladek and Art Spiegelman mirrored his own relationship with his father. One of the advantages of the book was it could be read by both young and old— later on, David’s nephews and nieces read the book as young teens

On Tuesday, the McMinn County Board of education in Tennessee decided to remove Maus, which had been taught to grade eight students, from the curriculum. The minutes of the meeting make for dispiriting reading. They make clear that the reasons the board objected to the book are as much about the history it records as the ostensible reasons (the use of some mild cursing in the form of “bitch” and “god damn” as well as a supposed “nude” image).


This all puzzled me because I didn’t remember anything salacious in Maus at all. New York Times reporter Joan Coaston solved the mystery by noting that the “nudity” in Maus is a scene were the prisoners in Auschwitz are stripped naked and beaten.

Read entire article at Substack