Spiegelman's work as cartoonist and editor had long been known and respected in the comics community, but the media attention after the first volume's publication in 1986 was unexpected. Hundreds of overwhelmingly positive reviews appeared, and Maus became the center of new attention focused on comics. It was considered one of the "Big Three" book-form comics from around 1986–1987, along with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, that are said to have brought the term "graphic novel" and the idea of comics for adults into mainstream consciousness. It was credited with changing the public's perception of what comics could be at a time when, in the English-speaking world, they were considered to be for children, and strongly associated with superheroes. Initially, critics of Maus showed a reluctance to include comics in literary discourse. The New York Times intended praise when saying of the book, "Art Spiegelman doesn't draw comic books". After its Pulitzer Prize win, it won greater acceptance and interest among academics. The Museum of Modern Art staged an exhibition on the making of Maus in 1991–92.
Maus proved difficult to classify to a genre, and has been called biography, fiction, autobiography, history, and memoir. Spiegelman petitioned The New York Times to move it from "fiction" to "non-fiction" on the newspaper's bestseller list, saying, "I shudder to think how David Duke ... would respond to seeing a carefully researched work based closely on my father's memories of life in Hitler's Europe and in the death camps classified as fiction". An editor responded, "Let's go out to Spiegelman's house and if a giant mouse answers the door, we'll move it to the nonfiction side of the list!" The Times eventually acquiesced. The Pulitzer committee sidestepped the issue by giving the completed Maus a Special Award in Letters in 1992.
Maus ranked highly on comics and literature lists. The Comics Journal called it the fourth greatest comics work of the 20th century, and Wizard placed it first on their list of 100 Greatest Graphic Novels. Entertainment Weekly listed Maus at seventh place on their list of The New Classics: Books – The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008, and Time put Maus at seventh place on their list of best non-fiction books from between 1923 and 2005, and fourth on their list of top graphic novels. Praise for the book also came from contemporaries such as Jules Feiffer and literary writers such as Umberto Eco. Spiegelman turned down numerous offers to have Maus adapted for film or television.
Early installments of Maus that appeared in Raw inspired the young Chris Ware to "try to do comics that had a 'serious' tone to them". Maus is cited as a primary influence on graphic novels such as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.
In 1999, cartoonist Ted Rall had an article published in The Village Voice criticizing Spiegelman's prominence and influence in the New York cartooning community. Entitled "King Maus: Art Spiegelman Rules the World of Comix With Favors and Fear", it accused the Pulitzer board of opportunism in selecting Maus, which Rall deemed unworthy. Cartoonist Danny Hellman responded to the piece with a prank email in which Hellman posed as Rall, soliciting discussion at the email address TedRallsBalls@onelist.com. Hellman followed up by posting fake responses from New York magazine editors and art directors. Rall launched a lawsuit seeking damages of $1.5 million for libel, breach of privacy, and causing emotional distress. To raise funds to fight the suit, in 2001 Hellman had the Legal Action Comics anthology published, which included a back cover by Spiegelman in which he depicts Rall as a urinal.
Academic work and criticism
A cottage industry of academic research has built up around Maus, and schools have frequently used it as course material in a range of fields: history, dysfunctional family psychology, language arts, and social studies. The volume of academic work published on Maus far surpasses that of any other work of comics. One of the earliest such works was Joshua Brown's 1988 "Of Mice and Memory" from the Oral History Review, which deals with the problems Spiegelman faced in presenting his father's story. Marianne Hirsch wrote an influential essay on post-memory called "Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning, and Post-Memory", later expanded into a book called Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Academics far outside the field of comics such as Dominick LaCapra, Linda Hutcheon, and Terrence Des Pres took part in the discourse. Few approached Maus who were familiar with comics, largely because of the lack of an academic comics tradition—Maus tended to be approached as Holocaust history or from a film or literary perspective. In 2003, Deborah Geis edited a collection of essays on Maus called Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman's "Survivor's Tale" of the Holocaust. Maus is considered an important work of Holocaust literature, and studies of it have made significant contributions to Holocaust studies.
According to writer Arie Kaplan, some Holocaust survivors objected to Spiegelman making a comic book out of their tragedy. Literary critics such as Hillel Halkin objected that the animal metaphor was "doubly dehumanizing", reinforcing the Nazi belief that the atrocities were perpetrated by one species on another, when they were actually done by humans against humans. Comics writer and critic Harvey Pekar and others saw Spiegelman's use of animals as potentially reinforcing stereotypes. Pekar was also disdainful of Spiegelman's overwhelmingly negative portrayal of his father, calling him disingenuous and hypocritical for such a portrayal in a book that presents itself as objective. Comics critic R. C. Harvey argued that Spiegelman's animal metaphor threatened "to erode [Maus's] moral underpinnings", and played "directly into [the Nazis'] racist vision".
Commentators such as Peter Obst and Lawrence Weschler expressed concern over the Poles' depiction as pigs, which reviewer Marek Kohn saw as an ethnic slur and The Norton Anthology of American Literature called "a calculated insult". Jewish culture views pigs and pork as non-kosher, or unclean—a point of which the Jewish Spiegelman was unlikely to be ignorant. Critics such as Obst and Pekar have said that the portrayal of Poles is unbalanced—that, while some Poles are seen as helping Jews, they are often shown doing so for self-serving reasons. In the late 1990s, an objector to Maus's depiction of Poles interrupted a presentation by Spiegelman at Montreal's McGill University with persistent abuse and was expelled from the auditorium.
Literary critic Walter Ben Michaels found Spiegelman's racial divisions "counterfactual". Spiegelman depicts Europeans as different animal species based on Nazi conceptions of race, but all Americans, both black and white, as dogs—with the exception of the Jews, who remain unassimilated mice. To Michaels, Maus seems to gloss over the racial inequality that has plagued the history of the U.S.
Other critics, such as Bart Beaty, objected to what they saw as the work's fatalism.
Scholar Paul Buhle asserted, "More than a few readers have described [Maus] as the most compelling of any [Holocaust] depiction, perhaps because only the caricatured quality of comic art is equal to the seeming unreality of an experience beyond all reason." Michael Rothberg opined, "By situating a nonfictional story in a highly mediated, unreal, 'comic' space, Spiegelman captures the hyperintensity of Auschwitz."
Belgian publisher La Cinquième Couche anonymously produced a book called Katz, a remix of Spiegelman's book with all animal heads replaced with cat heads. The book reproduced every page and line of dialogue from the French translation of Maus. Spiegelman's French publisher, Flammarion, had the Belgian publisher destroy all copies under charges of copyright violation.
Awards and nominations
|1986||National Book Critics Circle||National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography||Nominated|
|1987||Present Tense magazineAmerican Jewish Committee||Present Tense/Joel H. Cavior Book Award for Fiction||Won|
|1988||Témoignage chrétien (Christian Testimony)||Prix Résistance by Témoignage chrétien||Won|
|1988||Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards||Best Foreign Album (Maus: un survivant raconte - Mon père saigne l'histoire)||Won|
|1988||Urhunden Prize||Foreign Album||Won|
|1990||Max & Moritz Prize||Special Prize||Won|
|1991||National Book Critics Circle||National Book Critics Circle Award||Nominated|
|1992||Pulitzer Prize||Special Awards and Citations – Letters||Won|
|1992||Eisner Award||Best Graphic Album—Reprint (Maus II).||Won|
|1992||Harvey Award||Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Material (Maus II)||Won|
|1992||Los Angeles Times||Book Prize for Fiction (Maus II)||Won|
|1993||Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards||Best Foreign Album (Maus: un survivant raconte - Et c'est là que mes ennuis ont commencé)||Won|
|1993||Urhunden Prize||Foreign Album (Maus II)||Won|