Multimedia CD-ROM Evaluation: MAUS

As an undergraduate, I read MAUS: A Survivor's Tale by Art Speigelman, for class. This novel is unique, not for the subject matter, but rather for its handling of the subject matter. MAUS is one of the first mass marketed graphic novels. Speigelman used comic art to illustrate the very mature topic of World War II era concentration camps. Since the novel itself was somewhat revolutionary, it is not surprising that it should be among some of the first works to be transferred to CD-ROM.

The CD-ROM of MAUS not only includes the full text of both volumes, but also additional artwork by Art Speigelman, audio of both Speigelman and his father, Vladek, QuickTime movie interview with the artist, family photos, and other research used in the making of the book.

Because the CD-ROM which I used was the Macintosh version, the installation was rather quick and easy. The directions for installing the CD-ROM are easy to understand and the actual installation was all done by the drag-and-drop method. The CD-Rom comes with both QuickTime and HyperCard software included. Once the installation process was completed (about 5 minutes) I was ready to view the disc.

The disc starts out by playing some music reminiscent of the period, and presents a main black and white menu. Selections can be made by either clicking on icons or choosing from pulldown menus. Many of the icons are repeated in the text of the books to indicate when it is possible to hear selections from interview between Vladek and Art Speigelman, to see the evolution of particular drawings or panels, or to hear commentary from the artist.

The introduction to the disc is a QuickTime movie of an interveiw with Art Speigelman describing the work involved in creating a single page of the book. This movie and the others on the disc is very small, about 2 1/2 inches squared, and has a significant amount of audio and visual breakup. There are audio skips, similar to the skips of an old LP, and poor visuals which show every pixel.

When viewing the text of the books, it is possible to skip ahead or refer back to any page or chapter using pull-down menus and page numbers which relate to the original page numbers of the books. This seems natural, as it emulates the way in which readers use books. The interviews with Vladek, available on certain pages, refer exactly to the text of the concurrent page, as does the commentary by Art Speigelman.

There are several appendices to the text of the books, included on the disc. Some of this is earlier artwork by Speigelman which relates to MAUS, such as the original three-page version of the story, which was the basis for the books. Also included are photos of Auchwitz and the surrouding area, taken by Speigelman and his wife, a family tree with photos of most family members, maps of Poland including concentration camps and other areas refered to in the texts, and the written versions of Art Speigelman's original interivews with his father.

This was one of the better books in CD-ROM format which I have looked at, probably because of the graphic format for the original books which seems better-suited to computer reading than longer, more traditional books. The layout for the disc was easy to use, with relatively few problems. The main difficulty with the disc was the frequent break-up of sound during the audio interviews, and the poor display for the video, but these problems are mainly technical and will probably be worked out in later versions of the software.