The Clarity of Mice

Spiegelman chooses to keep the faces of the mice light and simple to make it easier for the reader to understand their emotions, and to add another dimension of vulnerability.

In the Goodbye Richieu page, whenever you see Art and Vladek, their faces are drawn as a simple outline, with basic features, and very little shading. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, shading is sometimes associated with evil in Spiegelman’s book, and so the lack of shading makes the mice appear as the opposite of evil, and more pure. Their simplistic features also make them seem more vulnerable and childlike. For example, Spiegelman chooses to exclude dark circles under the characters eyes, wrinkles, and other facial features that would make them seem older and worn. In my opinion, the lack of aging makes the mice seem more vulnerable and encourages the reader to sympathise more with them. In contrast, the cats on the Goodbye Richieu page all have dark and contorted faces. Their expressions are much harder to read, and the darkness makes them feel more threatening. Overall, I sympathise much less with the characters drawn as distorted cats and I think that this is largely due to their lack of simplicity.

As well as excluding dark circles and wrinkles, Spiegelman very rarely chooses to include eyebrows. Although simple in its execution, the addition of two lines on Vladek’s face on the Auschwitz Map page completely transforms how we read his emotions. The fact that that two lines can have this impact is made possible because the faces were so simple to begin with. To elaborate, in the top-centre panel on the Auschwitz Map page, Vladek just appears to be lost in thought about how he knew that Anja was at Birkenau, however, in the bottom-right panel (which is absolutely identical to the top-centre one, other than the eyebrows) Vladek’s character appears to be noticeably more distressed and upset. The addition of eyebrows compliments the addition of information that Birkenau was known as ‘a death place’ and together they make an effective emotional transformation. In this case, less is more.

Read my entire Tracing Maus project by following these links:

Landing Page

First annotation (Goodbye Richieu)

Second annotation (Auschwitz Map)

Idea 1 (Shading)

Idea 3 (Page Layout)

Image credit: “mouse” by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard

Sources cited: Spiegelman, Art. Maus: a Survivor’s Tale. Pantheon Books, 2011.