Karen Spencer
ILS 604 -- Impact of New Information Technologies (Winter 1996)

Multimedia Review
The Complete Maus CD-ROM
by Art Spiegelman


The Complete Maus is a unique and truly impressive work. The CD-Rom allows you to view the formal draft of Art Spiegelman's book and look behind the scenes of its creation. Bringing together all of the elements of his work -- preliminary sketches, audiotapes, archival posters and photographs, prisoners' drawings, notebooks, and commentary -- on a CD-Rom has created a mini or portable museum exhibit of the compilation of his two-part novel.


The Complete Maus features:

Subject Matter

Art Spiegelman takes a traditionally playful and light-hearted form of art -- the comic -- and transforms it into a meaningful and unique medium to express his interpretation of very unsettling topics. The Complete Maus consists of a two-volume story about his parents' survival of the Holocaust, his mother's suicide, and Spiegelman's own struggle to come to terms with his family, specifically his father. The novel contains a combination of present-day conversations with his father and representations from the past of his parents' experiences during the Holocaust. There is also one section, a cartoon within the cartoon, in which he relates his feelings about his mother's suicide.

He has found a way to convey the unspeakable through something rather simple. He uses mice (Jewish), pigs (Polish), cats, dogs and other animals to represent humans. Using animals instead of people draws the reader into the story unsuspectingly. The emotion that he is able to arouse through his work is amazing. When the mice are sad, you feel sad, when they are happy, you are happy. As if the story and the graphics aren't enough to evoke emotion, Spiegelman includes audio clips of his interviews with his father, Vladek. Listening to the voice of Valdek as he matter-of-factly relays the horrors that he experienced during the Holocaust is very moving.

The novel contains successive closures. In Spiegelman's own words "the book keeps ending, it falls in on itself in order to get out." The first ending concludes with the reunion of Spiegelman's parents after W.W. II. The second ending relates to Spiegelman's relationship with his father; he realizes that he will never really come to terms with it. The final ending is depicted by a tombstone containing the names Vladek and Anja Spiegelman symbolizing their genuine reunion.

User Interface

This CD-rom is very well organized. A table of contents is provided on the first page that allows you to click on an item and go directly to a specific section. In addition, on the bar at the top of the screen you may also click on the either Maus to search by audio, video, word, or page, or Contentsto retrieve the table of contents and go directly to a specific section of the work.

Each panel is linked to source material; it is easy to move behind the scenes to see which materials are used to create each page. On the left side of the screen there are clickable icons, which include the following: a mouse head smoking a cigarette with a balloon (Art's audio), a mouse next to a tape recorder (Vladek's audio), a film projector (video), a sketch pad (rough drafts), and a photograph/map (photos, maps, and drawings). You may click on these graphic icons to listen to audio, view video, or view pre-preliminary sketches, photos, maps, etc.

There were a few things about the interface that were not very "friendly." The layout of the actual graphic panels was obviously a problem. Art Spiegelman's cartoons lend themselves to a horizontal format, and the video screen is a vertical format. To transfer his graphic layout to a vertical format he created a template containing each frame of each panel (located at the bottom of the icon column). Using this template, you could move the page up or down to see the top or the bottom. He divided the images so they could be seen horizontally across the page, but you have to move a bar up and down on the template to see the top or bottom of the page. This was a little irritating. You can zoom out and view the entire page, but then the text is very difficult to read (especially on a small monitor). I was so engrossed with the content that I put up with moving the page up and down, but if it had been a different story I may not have finished reading it because of the scrolling problem. The template he created is also used as a clickable connection to source materials. If a panel is colored, you may click on it and retrieve items containing ideas, sketches, etc., pertaining to that panel.

Spiegelman may have thought people would have a hard time understanding his father's accent, because he included a feature -- show text/hide text -- that you could click to view the script of the audio associated with Vladek's voice, but he did not do this for his own voice. The audio in some parts of the production was a bit choppy. A nice added feature would have been "closed captioning" for all of the audio. (It should be noted that the voices were a lot clearer when I listened to them on the speaker of the computer rather than with the headphones.)

I had difficulty viewing the videos included with the cartoon panels. They were dark and the audio was unclear. However, the video of Art Spiegelman speaking about the creation of his work in the introduction for some reason seemed to be better quality.

Educational Potential

The potential for learning from this multimedia product is extensive. The content is rich enough to be used by secondary schools' social studies or history classes. To evoke interest in students pertaining to WWII, this novel represents the elements of the Holocaust in a subtle manner, which could make it easier for students to understand its horror.

Finally, this product should be reviewed by graphic/multimedia artists and students. The graphic design-elements are rich and full of unique answers to some of the many problems multimedia artists face today. For example, the manner in which the graphics are layed out and incorporated with audio and video, and the manner in which items are linked to their source materials.