Noted cartoonist Art Spiegelman discusses his work, inspiration

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - 10:21pm

Art Spiegelman speaks as a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater Thursday night.

Art Spiegelman speaks as a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater Thursday night. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily


Growing up, noted cartoonist Art Spiegelman turned to graphic novels instead of television to engage his curiosity. Little did he know, years later he would be doing the cover pages for The New Yorker and writing for magazines such as Arcade and Raw.

Spiegelman visited the nearly-packed Michigan Theater Thursday to talk about his experiences and give a talk titled “Comics is the Yiddish of Art.”

Chrisstina Hamilton, director of the Penny Stamps Speakers Series, said Spiegelman was invited as part of the Penny Stamps Speakers Series, which aims to improve student’s views of the world.

“All Penny Stamps (events) are the same thing, in that (they) give people perspective on the life that we all live,” Hamilton said, noting the event was co-sponsored by the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the International Institute’s Conflict and Peace Initiative. 

Kelsey Robinette, public relations and events specialist at the Frankel Center for Jewish Studies, conducted an interview with Art Spiegelman this summer, which was published in their newsletter in preparation for his talk today.

As an atheist Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor, Spiegelman noted that his parents interacted in Polish and Yiddish and that influenced what it means for him to be a Jew and the culture he identified with. 

“Comics like Yiddish is a strongly vernacular language spoken by outsiders,” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman said he surrounded himself with comic books. He claimed he learned economics from Uncle Scrooge and philosophy from Peanuts. It wasn’t until he read the magazine Mad by Harvey Kurtzman, however, that he really got hooked on the art form.

He sketched himself into one of his later comics and said “I studied Mad the way some kids studied the Talmud.”

Spiegelman noted his extensive work in writing “Maus” and how graphic novels became important to him.

“I wanted to make a long comic book that needed a bookmark and would want to be re-read. I now know that that’s called a graphic novel,” he explained.

Spiegelman shared some of his most favorite cartoons, including one that was heavily criticized of a Black woman kissing a Hasidic man, featured as a cover of The New Yorker in 1993. 

“One has to be careful when cartooning,” Spiegelman noted.

Another cartoon Spiegelman brought was a portrait of a man in a shooting range taking 41 shots onto the silhouettes of people walking past with targets on their chests, which came out at the time of the famous case of police brutality in 1999 in New York.

“It turns out that we are wired to think in small pictures,” Spiegelman said.

LSA freshman Soo Jeong Han said she attended the talk after reading his graphic novel, “Maus,” in high school.

“It brought a lot of perspective into the history of comics and how his identity in being Jewish influenced his writing,” she said.