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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 23, 2001 — Pulitzer-Prize winning artist Art Spiegelman will deliver a lecture titled “Comix 101” on Thursday, April 5, at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall.
Spiegelman’s comics are best known for their scratch-board, illustrative style and controversial contents. In “Comix 101,” he takes his audience on a chronological tour of the evolution of comics, all the while explaining the value of this medium and why it should not be ignored. He believes that in our post-literate culture the importance of the comic is on the rise, for “comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconographic images, not in holograms, and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.”
Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1948 and raised in Queens, N.Y. He attended Harpur College (now State University of New York at Binghamton) from 1965-1968, and as a student began working for Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., developing his talent for drawing and writing as a creative consultant, designer, and writer. He was fascinated by the provocative underground comics of the sixties, and began to create original and powerful comic book work addressed to an adult audience. His first, “The Complete Mr. Infinity,” appeared in 1970.
With his wife, Francoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker, he founded Raw in 1980, an annual magazine that showcases the talents of avant-garde artist-writers of adult comics. In 1986 he wrote and illustrated “Maus: A Survivors Tale,” a narrative of the Holocaust portraying Jews as mice and Nazis as cats and based on his father’s own experience in a concentration camp. The book was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Joel M. Cavior Award for Jewish Writing. It was followed by “Maus: a Survivor’s Tale II: And Here My Troubles Began” in 1991, and in 1992 Spiegelman received the Pulitzer Prize for both works.
His most recent book, “Little Lit: Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies,” is a collection of folk tales in comic book form edited by Spiegelman and his wife. The collection features accurate but strange and sometimes disturbing renditions of common fairy tales, including the original second half of Charles Perrault’s 1697 “Sleeping Beauty,” in which the prince’s mother is from a race of ogres and has cannibalistic wishes regarding her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Spiegelman says, “fairy tales get streamlined and homogenized down to finally being pap…the Disney version has every interesting aspect of the story almost gone and purged out. The second part of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story didn’t make the cut at a certain point in the 20th century.” Spiegelman contributed a Hasidic parable about a prince who thinks he is a rooster.
Spiegelman has also published a children’s book, “Open Me…I’m a Dog” and illustrated the 1928 book “The Wild Party” by Joseph Moncure March. Perhaps his most notorious contribution to pop culture is as the man responsible for the Garbage Pail Kids phenomenon, a set of bubble-gum cards featuring hilariously disgusting spoofs of the Cabbage Patch Kids that were banned in schoolrooms and denounced in Letters to the Editor. Spiegelman has contributed many covers to The New Yorker magazine in recent years, and is currently working on the story and sets for a new opera entitled “Drawn to Death: A Three Panel Opera” with composer Phillip Johnston.
Speaking about the “Maus” series, Spiegelman says, “Ultimately, it’s about the commonality of human beings. It’s crazy to divide things down the nationalist or racial or religious lines.” Of the use of mice, cats and pigs for Jews, Nazis and Poles, respectively, he believes, “These metaphors, which are meant to self-destruct in my book-and I think they do self-destruct-still have a residual force thatallows them to work as metaphors, and still get people worked up over them.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Art Spiegelman has become one of the New Yorker’s most sensational artists, in recent years drawing illustrations for covers that are meant not just to be plainly understood but also to reach up and tattoo your eyeballs with images once unimaginable in the magazine of old moneyed taste…Art Spiegelman’s cartoons don’t fool around.”
Spiegelman’s lecture is the second in a five-part series, sponsored by the Williams College Lecture Committee. The series began with film director John Waters’ “Shock Value” lecture in November, and will continue with Mike Davis, a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Prize and author of “Magical Urbanism,” on April 16; Ira Glass, host and producer of public radio’s This American Life, on April 24; and Angela Davis, internationally known activist and writer, April 26.