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Memoirs Comparison: Maus by Art Spiegelman and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

The two memoirs, Maus by Art Spiegelman and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, are two medium, comic stories narrating personal-centred and delicate stories directly attached to the authors. Through the Maus stories, Art Spiegelman tells a touching story of his father’s experience in the Holocaust through which he describes how he, as the son, survived corresponded with the experience he went through being a son of a survivor. Closely similar, Alison reflects on the abrupt death of her father and, thus, how she would have entered into a critical situation of making contrasting decisions in case she was the perished father. The two novel stories employ a great deal of caricaturing in which the creators exaggerate in the use of rendered images resembling the features of their subject in a simplified cartoonish form. Art Spiegelman employs caricatures by symbolizing each character as an exaggerated form of an animal appearing cartoonish.

On the other hand, Alison Bechdel employs drawings to symbolize her characters, including her father. This unique artistic technique (caricature) is often understood paradoxically in comics and cartooning. It highly serves as a powerful tool exhibiting high art and popular cultures, a mode of political subversion and, consequently, a way through which marginalization can be marginalized be criticized humorously. And looking at the two popular stories, the technique is dominantly employed to condemn notorious world brutalities (Morgan, 110) humorously done by man-to-man.

Looking at Maus, characters are designed to take up different animals’ outlooks. For example, Germans are predatory cats, Frenchman is a frog, the Jews are mice, the Swedes are deer and horned, the Americans are dogs, and a Gypsy is a butterfly. The author or the artist alters the facial expression of these characters to quickly tell the viewer about the changing moods of the characters. These symbolic representations are more grounded in anthropomorphism, which refers to the attribution of human traits to gods, animals, or objects. It is crucial to comprehend the reasons that drove the author, Art Spiegelman, into choosing animal allegory in representing his characters and not anything else. First, animal imagery best serves as a metaphor. Stereotypically, Art Spiegelman decided to use animal characters rather than humans to represent nationals, racial, and ethnic identities (Glaser, 295). However, the author explained that his use of animals was to strive and distance the story from his account.

Further, he speculates that, since he was not realistically present during the Holocaust, he was not sure to use human characters as he could not have reached the authentic, realistic drawing (Spiess). Noting that Jewish who are caricatured as mice faced deeply problematic situations that even meant a death sentence during the Holocaust. The Germans, who were caricatured cats, were brutally handling the Jews (Limon, 1). Cats are commonly known to hunt mice.

Generally, the story would not have turned out to be more authentic as the reconstruction of all the characters he incorporated in the story was impossible. Consequently, animal depiction enhances the abstraction of the characters making it easier to identify with them. Also, based on the brutality that occurred in the Holocaust, Spiegelman does not want to illustrate it, making the story attention-grabbing rather than scary. For instance, the story revolves around the unspeakable human-to-human crimes commission due to natural differences such as race and nationality. The commonality of all humans is stressed in the story, a reality that criticizes the division of things in terms of race, ethnicity, or religion. The exaggerated Jews representation as mice symbolizes the Jews experience during the Holocaust in which they portrayed helplessness, anxiety, vulnerability, and victimized species by the brutal Germans. Additionally, the Nazis, in the experience, viewed Jews as an inferior race and therefore oppressed them. Entirely, the author/artist employs caricaturing to visible show the often fatal limitations of caricaturing impulse, especially in the Germans’ visual propaganda that prevailed at that time (Glaser, 298).

On the other hand, fun Home by Alison Bechdel increasingly relies on the readers’ assumptions that memoirs are often based on a factual story (Kristan, 1). Hence, Alison collaborates authenticity in the story with fictionality. And as Kriste (1) writes, autobiographers always grounded their writings in emotional truth and not objective fact. To legitimize the characters he incorporates in the story, Alison used hand-drawn photographs and not scanned purposely to attempt to connect with people who do not exist anymore. Photographing in Alison’s work satisfies the caricaturing technique. For instance, the story’s protagonist, his father, is dead. Even though she and other family members included in the story are still alive, the originality of the photographs taken at the initial time is unattainable. However, as Bazin and Gray (8) argue, photographs are powerful tools in comic stories since they increasingly develop the connection to the objects initially photographed. In this way, Kristen (9) explains that photography undeniably link objects with their portraiture. While reading the story, readers are easily lured to imagine that they witnessed the events. This is called punctum-evoking sensual effects that significantly give the photographs a certain quality that can be related whenever anyone reads the story (Barthes, 96).

Photographs are used at every beginning of each chapter of the book and portray unique usefulness. Like in the first chapter, the photo named Old Father, Old Artificer” has noticeable degrees of resemblance to the author’s father, Bruce, as the relatedness remains consistent throughout the story. Essentially, Alison’s unique photography technique can be correlated to cartooning. However, she enhances the visibility of facial features, hair, and body. Further, the shadings are uniquely drawn to create depth. The beginning photographs at every chapter are drawn outside the panel of the realistic narrative, giving them a meta-textual position in the graphic narrative where the reader is signalled to take a particular direction. Generally, Alison imaginatively captures her readers’ attention, dragging them away from objective and fictional perception but carefully, at the same time preserving the authenticity that the reader probably perceives. They reveal that Alison’s memory was subjectively exposed to the original factual pictures from which she washed concentratively while hand-drawing when she was authoring the book (Cook, 132).

Effects of the Works

The works use caricaturing incorporated by words requiring very complex reading for total engagement by the reader. Reading through Alison’s Fun Home creates a site of dynamic tension. This is presented in the controversies evident in the following pairs; between Alison and Bruce, Father and daughter differences, the high culture of modernity and low culture of comics, and also, as a reflection of the incorporated images and words, between words and pictures (Lydenberg). These issues remain unresolved throughout the reading creating a certain kind of intense self-consciousness requiring the readers to comprehend the convolution of the reading process. The book is vouched by several critical comic analysts, including Ann Cvetkovich. She praises the book to conveniently redefine the connections between several related aspects, memory and history, private and public life, personal loss and collective trauma (Gardiner, 21-22). The story directly revolves around the study of life narrative in which the themes evident in it factually relates to real-time events happenings in the world. Like Fun HomeMaus exhibits are closely related.

Differences between the two stories

Exploring the Fun Home by Bechdel, the story revolves around family drama filled with secrecy and cheating. The author/artist throughout the story narrates how she struggled to get along with her homosexual father, who was cheating on her mother. While, in Maus, a reflection of suicide as a global issue is visibly portrayed after reconstructing it in a more historical rather than autobiographic perspective. Also, in Fun Home, Bechdel’s father committed suicide, making it so different from Maus, where numerous people lost their lives in genocide. Only one of the characters committed suicide, thus giving it a complex storyline.

Generally, the two stories employ a profound use of caricaturing in which words and images are used concurrently. The combination of pictures and words in a story has been cited to generate a powerful, exciting impact. For instance, stories incorporating both words and images can provide a mood or contrast to expose the reader to conflicting perceptions. For example, when reading on page 46, in Maus, Vladek describes how his father prepares him to diet so that he doesn’t be drafted into the army. In this instance, both words and images collaborate to portray Vladek misery after being forced to a diet out of his father’s determination. Through words, Vladek father angrily addresses his son on the need not to eat so much when he says, “Stop, Vladek. You mustn’t eat so much!”. These words are affirmed with the father’s image showing slanted eyebrows. In response, Vladek pleas for more food accompanied with a desperate picture.

On the other hand, in Fun Home, in the instance where Alison was playing with her father, the words suggest that the two are collectively doing something of a funny outcome to both of them as the quote, “It was a discomfort well worth the rare physical contact, and certainly worth the moment of perfect balance when I soared above him.” Sound. In contrast, the image incorporating these words is conflicting with the message of the words. From it, the father is unamused and perhaps, even uninterested.


Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. London: Vintage Books, 1993. Print.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Mariner Books, 2007. Print

Cook, Roy T. “Drawings of Photographs in Comics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art

Criticism 70.1 (2012): 129-138. JSTOR. Web. 14 August 2018.

Glaser, Jennifer. “Art Spiegelman and the Caricature Archive.” Redrawing the Historical Past: History, Memory, and Multiethnic Graphic Novels (2018): 294.,+J.+(2018).+Art+Spiegelman+and+the+Caricature+Archive.+Redrawing+the+Historical+Past:+History,+Memory,+and+Multiethnic+Graphic+Novels,+294.&ots=3wJpjJ4lt6&sig=_C1LtFvOuvwk5KV3iRhJneY6VVM

Gardiner, Judith Kegan, ed. “Approaches to Teaching Bechdel’s Fun Home.” Modern Language Association, 2018.

Kristan, Maja-Felicia. A Graphic Memoir. The Perception of Authenticity in Alison Bechdel’s” Fun Home“. GRIN Verlag, 2019.

Limon, Jason. (2019). Significance of Spiegelman’s “Maus”.’s_Maus

Lydenberg, Robin. “Reading lessons in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” College Literature, vol. 44, no. 2, spring 2017, pp. 133+. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 27 November 2021.

Morgan, Andrew, and Ralph DiFranco. “You Shouldn’t Have Laughed!.” The Moral Psychology of Amusement (2021): 109.

Spiess, Patrick. “Characterization and symbolism in “Maus”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,” (2010).


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