Art Spiegelman concluded his lecture on art, comics, and "Why either?" on Friday afternoon by promptly lighting an e-cigarette, prompting a middle-aged, counter-culture-looking dude in the audience to exclaim, "Are you smoking?!" and cackle with glee, along with the rest of us.
Spiegelman just gave a deal-with-it shrug.
Such is the nature of that particular middle-aged counter culture dude who took Mad Magazine's satirical cartoon flag and ripped it to emotional shreds in Maus, a devastating piece of art about the Holocaust. A guest of the Friends of Hennepin Library for the Pen Pals lecture series, Spiegelman packed Hopkins Center for the Arts twice in two days, mostly with fellow middle-aged art lovers, many with a vested interest in Holocaust literature (Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, started on Sunday), with some teenage comic geeks filling in the rest.
His talk was a romp through comic history, with focus on his own place in it. It was as delightful a romp as a brilliantly ironic revolutionary can muster, and completely unfiltered. "It isn't just lines on paper, folks," Spiegelman said as he kept proving it—with Nazi and American propaganda with Jews and Japanese drawn as rats, with Donald Duck's neurosis, with his own take on horror comics like Tales from the Crypt (not just a grotesque way to corrupt youth, but a secular Jewish response to the Holocaust), and his crush on Mad Magazine, which came perfectly of age during a time, "when irony didn't just mean cynicism, but was trying to tell you something important and true."
When he name-dropped Charles Schulz, our hometown cartoon genius, you could feel the collective lean in. Did Schulz fall into the "revolutionary" camp Spiegelman still stands for? Or did he consider Schulz schmaltz?
"He really new his stuff," Spiegelman said. "I was impressed with Charles Schulz. He did all of his own work." Even, he noted, when he could have been out golfing while an assistant got the hand cramps.
He even respected the work—its introspection and the beauty of the *sigh* ending in particular. "This strip was like gestalt therapy for him. And [in making it], he saw what happened when different parts of him met," he said.
Spiegelman did not, however, appreciate as a young man the fact that Republican girls had Snoopy posters on their dorm doors. For this radical cartoonist—who would grow up to have his very personal (and very political) September 11 work, In the Shadow of No Towers, rejected by all U.S. publishers, the notion that "Happiness is a warm puppy" really made his skin crawl.