A Review of Art Spiegelman's Maus on CD-ROM Jean's Multimedia Review

By Jean Wang
October 17, 1996

I have no previous experience with multimedia cd-roms. My interest in new media technologies and the Internet stems in part from my ignorance about these things. Recently, the mainstream mass media began to frequently report on or make references to the Internet or cd-rom technology. Having had no first hand experience with cd-roms, television reports and magzine articles affected my expectations about this new medium. In my mind, "interactive, multimedia cd-rom" was a phrase associated with "fun, cool, fun, exciting, fun, intense." Even if the cd-rom wasn't a game, it was so much fun that it was like a game. Because of this impression, I was disappointed at first with my cd-rom experience.

I don't have a cd-rom drive and was limited to the selection available at the Moffit Media Center. The Media Center has two stations where patrons can use cd-roms - one Mac and one PC. The PC did not have a soundcard, so I was further limited to what was available on the Mac. Also, the collection at the Media Center is focused on research needs. The majority of their titles seemed like databases. Under these limitations, I chose to view Maus by Art Spiegelman because it is a book that I have wanted to read. I haven't bought a copy of the book because it is rather expensive.

Maus is a comic book depiction both of Art Speigelman's conversations with his father and of his father's life. Speigelman's father is an American Jew born in Poland who survived the Holocaust. In the book, Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, and Americans are dogs, but they all behave in typical human fashion. Only the heads are depicted differently.

The cd-rom creators retained the page format and layout of the book. However, the screen shape does not match the shape of the book page, so the whole page does not fit in the window. You can "zoom out" and see the whole page, but the image becomes too small to read. For me, having to scroll down wasn't a significant problem.

I did, at first, have problems maneuvering around. The first window that appeared after starting the program was the "main menu." This listed the main content headings. Subsequent windows brought you straight into what you had selected to view. When I started to view the book, I couldn't figure out how to scroll down because there wasn't a scroll bar. I became extremely frustrated. I went back to the "main menu" to see if there was something that would give me a quick overview of how to use the program, but to my now extreme frustration, there was not. After a couple of pages, I finally realized that I could hold down the mouse button and "drag" the page up or down within the window. Near the end, I realized that the book pages appeared as a window within a window, and that the larger window had a bar across the top - one of which, was probably "help", though I don't remember seeing it.

My frustration can be attributed in part to my own "tunnelvision," but it also resulted from my pre-conceived notions of what cd-roms are, or are not, and the confusing structure of the program. I did not expect the cd-rom program to look like a regular computer program and did not expect to see a bar across the top of the window. But, the set-up of the windows was in itself confusing. It took me a long time to notice the overarching window for the whole program because each "selection" presents itself as a separate window with its own buttons and functions. Seeing this, it did not occur to me that there would be another set of buttons I could use to move around within the program.

The buttons on the window for the book are limited to forward page/back page, and the video, photo, artist's preliminary sketch, or sound recording associated with that particular page. The cd-rom also contains the full transcripts of the artist's recorded interivews with his father and maps of the areas where the father has lived.

I really enjoyed reading Maus, but I would have gotten the same amount of satisfaction if I had checked a printed, book version out from the library. The audio recordings, brief video clips of the author's homevideos, photos, maps, and transcripts did not capture my attention. I was interested only in reading the story. However, I can see that the background material would be very useful to someone researching the Holocaust, the artist's creative process, or the life of Art Spiegelman's father.

Due to the largely visual manner in which the story is told, reading Maus wasn't uncomfortable. Usually, I find reading multi-page documents on a computer screen very uncomfortable. I think Maus was comfortable to read because the text occurred in discrete chunks and I didn't have to spend long amounts of time reading from left to write, line after line. Also, the artist did not use the same size boxes and layout throughout the book. The mixture of size and layout prevented the visual monotony that could be uncomofortable to read. The translation from book to cd-rom works well because the creators simply present the book page on a screen.

Jean Wang