Is He Eyeballing Me?

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Artie: What cartoonist could you know?  ...  Walt Disney??
Vladek: Yah!  Walt Disney!

            Maus by Art Spiegelman, page 133

This page of the book literally made me laugh out loud.  Again, I paid close attention to the illustrations as this scene takes place.  What amazes me is Spiegelman's ability to express emotion in the characters' faces just by adjusting their eyes.  For the most part, the characters don't have mouths (occasionally they have little marks at the end of their snouts on close-up shots, such as the one of Mala on page 132), so we never see them frowning or smiling.  All of the emotion is present in the characters' eyes, which is impressive because the eyes are mainly just little dots, angled differently to show the different emotions.

In the fifth square on page 133, Artie's eyes are simply little dots, no real expression in them as he goes through his bag, likely trying to stay out of Vladek's and Mala's squabble.  His eyes change in the sixth square, as he turns his head quickly (indicated by the line of action coming from where his head used to be in the previous square) and looks to Vladek for an explanation about which famous artist he could possibly know.  After all, as we learned earlier, Vladek didn't originally approve of Artie's career choice, so there's no wonder why Artie would be surprised that his father actually knows of a cartoonist.

Jokingly, Artie asks Vladek which cartoonist he knows in the seventh square.  "Walt Disney?" he asks.  Without the change in Artie's eyes, the reader might not realize that he's originally joking when he says Walt Disney.  The double question marks could suggest that Artie is angry, or getting defensive about the conversation.  However, because of the way his eyes are slanting down, the reader can tell that he's laughing a little.  This expression in his eyes continues in the eighth square as he goes to write down the conversation so as never to forget it.

Maybe it's not a big deal that Spiegelman paid this much attention to the detail in his illustrations, because all cartoonists might do the same in their work.  Nonetheless, it impressed me, and I found this scene in particular to be important to the rest of the book because it showed a little humor in an otherwise sad story.  It was kind of like a little symbol for hope; even after you've been through the possibly worst situation of human history, you can get to a point where you can still enjoy life.  That really spoke to me on an emotional level.

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3 Comments

Josie Rush said:

Excellent point here, "I found this scene in particular to be important to the rest of the book because it showed a little humor in an otherwise sad story." Sometimes a book is just so constantly depressing (ie: Wuthering Heights), that it's almost too painful for the reader to get through, or the reader finishes the book with no lesson except to always have tissues on hand. In a book like this, where there is clearly something Spiegelman is trying to get across, there needs to be something to make the tension bearable. It's little moments like this that really make a story. There's an episode of Buffy that takes place after a character dies and as funeral arrangements and everything are being made. The entire episode is heartbreaking, but there are small bits of bantering dialogue that lighten the mood, and in the end, really make the episode. (Geek reference finished) In other words, there should be a range of emotion. A story shouldn't, as Dorothy Parker puts it (about an actress, not literature, but still.) "Run the gamut of emotions from A to B." We need a little more as human beings.

Kayla Lesko said:

I noticed the eyes too. Even though the story is presented with animals as stand-ins for people. The fact that Spiegelman takes the time to have the eyes express emotion reminds us that these characters are based on real people. Then again, that's how I see it.

Josie: You sure love your Dorothy Parker. But I absolutely agree. That's why I loved this page.

Kayla: Your right, the eyes also make them seem more human. I think this is something all comic artists do, but it was important nonetheless in this particular novel.

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