Breakdowns is a new release by Art Spiegelman, the creator of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Maus. Actually, Breakdowns isn't entirely new, it was originally released in 1978 as a collection of short stories that Spiegelman had done for various underground comix in the 1970's. This new edition of Breakdowns does feature about twenty new pages by Art Spiegelman, is in a gorgeous oversized (10"x14) format, and has outstanding production values throughout. Before I talk more about Breakdowns, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on Maus.
Maus, is primarily Spiegelman's memoir of how his father (and mother) survived the Holocaust, but Maus is also about Art Spiegelman's relationship with his father.
Reading Maus was my first exposure to the horror that was the Holocaust. I went to high school in Munich, Germany (it was an American school - I was an air force brat) and I remember going on a school field trip to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp, where we were given a tour of where the (mostly) Jewish prisoners slept and ate and there was a big room with photos. I vaguely remember a feeling of unease during the Dachau field trip and being sad after seeing those photos, but at that time I didn't grasp the horror of what was going on in the Nazi concentration camps. I attribute this to the poor history books used in schools which largely just relate cold facts without putting the events into a context that young minds can process. So it wasn't until I'd been out of high school for several years and read Maus, with Spiegelman's father recounting his memories of being in Auschwitz to him, that I understood what the Nazi regime was doing to people.
A three page short story in Breakdowns from 1972 is called Maus and while the art style is different than the style he ultimately used when he did his 300 page Maus graphic novel (originally two separate books that collected the chapters that ran in Raw, an anthology comic book magazine), this early Maus story definitely shows Spiegelman knew this was a story he had to tell. Another short story in Breakdowns is called Prisoner On The Hell Planet, about Spiegelman's mother's suicide and this story he also used within his larger Maus narrative (but here the art is much bigger). The new material frames Breakdowns and includes an excellent sixteen page sequential story that is Spiegelman looking back at his formative years as a cartoonist and a six page afterward autobiography. Breakdowns is expensive ($27.50) for "only" 72 pages, but this is book really is a must have for one of the pioneers of autobiographical and experimental comics and nothing within these pages has a dated quality. In Spiegelman's previous work, In The Shadow Of No Towers, he commented that he doesn't think he has another long work like Maus within him (and I'm sure that the highly personal nature of Maus took a lot out of him as well as the fear of how to follow such an acclaimed book), so books like Breakdowns, in which we just get "small" doses of Spiegelman's comic genius will have to suffice.
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