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Monday, September 30, 2019

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began, Chapter 3 - a Review

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. And Here My Troubles Began (1991)
"...And Here My Troubes Began." - Volume 2, Chapter 3
Art Spiegelman

Many folks who casually encounter the history of the Holocaust might make an assumption that as the war wound down mid-1945, the worst was over. They'd be wrong. Another assumption people make is that after May '45 there was a happy ending for all involved. Again - they'd be wrong. In today's review, we'll see what happened to Vladek Spiegelman in the winter of 1944-45, and how his son Art juxtaposes those circumstances with Vladek's behavior in the "present". To my point, you'll notice the title of this chapter, above. Maus contains 11 chapters... and Vladek says his troubles began when he was 80% of the way through the story?

100-Word Review
Art and Francois are staying with Vladek in the Catskills after Mala had left him. Vladek was under the impression that they’d stay for the duration of the summer; Art had other ideas. In another stroke of brilliance, Art uses present-day slice-of-life situations to augment the wartime incidents that shaped Vladek’s life. In the winter of 1944-45, the Germans were retreating back to the Reich as the Soviets closed in the east. Forcing prisoners on death marches so that they might later serve as labor, Vladek was part of an odyssey from camp-to-camp, on foot and on trains. His endurance would be pushed to the limit.

The Good: As mentioned previously, I've worked with colleagues who don't find Maus to be an effective tool for teaching the Holocaust. They don't care for the vignettes that take place in the present, feeling those episodes detract from the history. I'll stand by my position that it's those "modern day" scenes that strengthen the narrative. Art Spiegelman, through showing his own reactions to his father, teaches us how he feels as the child of a Holocaust survivor. Through Vladek's eyes and actions, we get a feel for the impact those events in the Nazi era have had on him ever since. So when our story opens with - basically a trip to the grocery store - we see Vladek's need for comfort, his frugality, his impatience, his self-reliance, and the worldview that is particular to him. Art is sometimes a guest in that world, often an intruder, but frequently a victim of it in his own right. This is a complex narrative, and one I want my students to have to deal with. For me, the way in which this multi-layered story is presented may go beyond other survivor stories. That's in no way meant to denigrate others; rather, I'm stating my affinity for this book.

The "death marches" are depicted in all their uncertainty and horror. As stated at the top, many people might think that the evacuations from the camps signaled an ending. To the contrary, it actually brought the next phase of the Holocaust, and the end for many who had been clinging to life. The marches, as Vladek tells, were under brutal conditions. January in Poland, I've heard, is not where one would like to be. Coupled with severe malnutrition and insufficient clothing, and the physical duress of daily marching on bodies with little muscle mass remaining, many lost their lives after years of imprisonment. To have lived so long, only for it to be dashed as the end of the war approached... I liked that Art included in Vladek's narrative that the prisoners were registered to other camps on their way from Auschwitz into the Reich. The German camp system was an intricate network of various purposes. There were forced labor camps, transit camps, death camps, concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps. So that Vladek and his fellow prisoners were processed along the way to Germany makes sense, and supports the degree to which Germans kept records of this greater event. It also speaks to the folly of those who seek to diminish or even deny the Holocaust - the records are visible, and were mostly crafted by the Germans and their collaborators.

I found the encounter with the Frenchman uplifting, for both him and Vladek. It was truly a symbiotic relationship and one that preserved Vladek's life. I enjoyed at the end of that part of the story that Vladek related that the two men had corresponded for years after the war. It's important to note, too, Vladek's point about the Frenchman being able to receive packages from the Red Cross. Political prisoners and POWs from the west were treated quite differently from those racially targeted by the Nazis.

I think the point of Vladek's declaration that his troubles were just beginning gets at the greater issue of control. In every prior period on which Art questioned his father, Vladek was always able to relate some manner in which he was able to alter his circumstances. It might have been financial, through bribery. It might have been fortuitous, by meeting someone with whom he could get supplies, information, or a place to hide. It might have been adaptive, where Vladek was able to quickly draw on prior knowledge or even learn a new skill. But here - now things were changing rapidly, with no anchors. The surroundings were different, the guards and other prisoners were different, and there was no work to do. So that anyone could hope to create a situation where they might save themselves seemed unlikely. And then... Vladek got sick with typhus.

The Bad: Within the story about Vladek's contraction of typhus, his telling of how it was to have to walk across corpses on his way to the toilet, and that his hoarded bread was stolen from him, were gut-wrenching. That he said that someday it could be him - his head - that sick prisoners would walk on, was horrifying. I found that to be just as unsettling, if not moreso, than trying to wrap my mind around the long ride crammed into the cattle car.

The Ugly: Two ideas stand out to me here. To the end, the complete mistrust, the deceit, that the Germans leveled against their prisoners. In the scenes where the Jews attempt to bargain with the guard to allow them to run off into the forest during the death march, that the Germans take the bribe and then shoot them anyway speaks to the complete breakdown of human relations, of any sense of care at all for their fellows.

Additionally, the scene at the end of the chapter when Francois picks up the Black hitchhiker somewhat forces us into a judgment of Vladek and how he could even foster any racist tendencies. While we may be quick to judge, that in itself is an ugly side of human behavior. We might think, "Wow, I could never..." or "I'm glad I'm not like Vladek here." The danger there is that we put Vladek's experiences in a box of our choosing - we decide how he should act. Additionally, and let's take this further - we give the Germans a victory in that we not only decide how Vladek should act, but we ascribe that desired behavior to a "right" response to what the Germans had put him through. But don't we then show that the Germans not only ruined the life he had, but decided how he should live his life henceforth? Racism is wrong, but so is projecting values onto another person and telling them how they should live or think. I know. It's complicated...

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Ramona Fradon - A Gallery of Super Friends

I will be the first to state that I don't have any of Ramona Fradon's work in my collection. I'll also be the first to state that I'm not sure why that is, other than I think I've just missed her here and there. I've read some Aquaman comics, but they were penciled by Jim Aparo and Mike Grell. I've read some Metamorpho, but generally only within the confines of the Brave and the Bold (Aparo, again). As a kid, I rarely missed Super Friends; but I was not a reader of the monthly comic of the same name. So my interests certainly check a lot of boxes in which Fradon did some art. Yet our paths haven't crossed.

Today let's rectify that. Enjoy the nifty sketches and little of Fradon's original art. Much gratitude to the collector's who post such things so that we can all appreciate her talent.



Monday, September 23, 2019

"Thermopylae!" - a Review from Blazing Combat 4

Blazing Combat #4 (July 1966)
Archie Goodwin-Reed Crandall

Have you read Frank Miller's 300? Seen the film of the same name? Strike me down and call me stupid, but I've not encountered either. Oh, I obviously know what they are - just never got round to it. So I was a little surprised as I was reading through the Blazing Combat hardcover collection to see today's story. It started off as a feature that was apparently going to be about a couple of British soldiers, but then a page turn and WOW! Let's check it out...

100-Word Review:
Two British soldiers await their next orders, having become part of an attachment hoping to delay the Wehrmacht’s capture of Athens in 1941. One of the men decides to give his comrade a history lesson, a lesson of that time in history when 300 Spartans held off the far-superior invading forces of Xerxes the Great of Persia. The battle was fought hard, and Xerxes was frustrated. In the end, the Persian king was victorious, but not before those 300 Spartans became the stuff of legend. But what of the resistance to Hitler’s Wehrmacht? How would they fare?

The Good: Score one for History, because it obviously gave the creators an outstanding story to adapt. That being said, Archie Goodwin and Reed Crandall knock it out of the park. I've said it here in the past, but I feel like I've missed a major boat in my comics-reading career that I haven't encountered Reed Crandall's work until recently. That man is a talent among talents! To turn this story from page 1 to page 2 is to almost step back in time a few thousand years. Crandall's depictions of the various parties in allegiance to Xerxes is just stellar. And Goodwin's script is just as good as anything else he wrote in Blazing Combat. I have to give Goodwin a lot of credit, as he worked with over a dozen artists during the 4-issue run of this magazine, and he meshed with each of them. His work is to be commended as much as any of the artists.

As to the actual story, I enjoyed the framing sequences. Obviously we know how the story turned out for the Greeks and the Persians, and we know how it went with the Germans and their victory over the Allies. The two period stories dovetail nicely.

The Bad: Nothing at all to say here today.

The Ugly: Likewise, not a single aspect of this story to dislike. It's all positive feedback on this Monday!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Keith Pollard - There's a Reason He Penciled Three Anniversary Issues

Keith Pollard - now here's a guy whose work I always looked forward to. And put that in context. The man followed Ross Andru on Amazing Spider-Man, John Buscema on Thor, and Buscema and George Perez on the Fantastic Four. Many artists might shy from those three assignments, give the stature of the departing artists. But man... Keith Pollard jumped onto all three books and made them his own. It's no wonder the powers-that-be at Marvel Comics had no problem entrusting the man with Amazing Spider-Man #200, Fantastic Four #200, and Thor #300.

As I was winding down on my initial comics buying mania in the late 1970s, it was Pollard who was the guy left minding the store on many of the books I was buying. I've always felt it a shame his career wasn't longer. Truly, I can't say enough good things about how much enjoyment he brought me when I was elementary school and middle-school aged. Fond memories!

Enjoy a sampling of his sketches and original art today. And as always, my gratitude knows no bounds for all the collectors around the interwebs who make these documents available for all of us to enjoy. They retain all ownership; I'm just thankful that I can Ooh and Aah at them!




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