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November 19, 2005

Comics into Film

Just a quick pointer to an interesting Green Cine interview with Maus author Art Spiegelman. Among other points of interest, Spiegelman makes the argument that comic artists invented cross-cutting years before D.W. Griffith picked up a movie camera. Spiegelman also revisits his decision not to make a film version of his Maus comics. Best line:

In the beginning, when it happened, I remember there was one person who got my home number and kept bugging me. And she would say, "Well, if you were going to do it..." I said that I wasn't going to make a movie, but then she would insist, and say, "But if you were going to do it, how do you see it, how could we do it?" And at that point, because this was a relatively early technological moment, I said, "OK, let's do it, but let's use real mice."

Posted by chuck at November 19, 2005 2:37 PM

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There's a great essay in Marie-Laure Ryan's _Narrative Across Media_ by Jeanne Ewert called "Speigelman's Maus and Graphic Narrative" that effectively argues that Spiegelman (and other artists like him) routinely exploit 3 or more narrative tracks at the same time in the same frame. The "cuts" from frame to frame enact causal changes in these tracks, and require a deceptively sophisticated negotiation of gap filling strategies and linkings. Though Spiegelman wasn't the first, I don't think he's entirely wrong to make a claim like that.

Posted by: marc at November 19, 2005 5:46 PM

It's interesting, then, that Spiegelman authorized the CD-ROM version of Maus, which I got for a buck when I bought my PowerMac as a college freshman. This was 1994, just before the Web really blew up, and it seemed crazy high-tech to read comic books and little movies, which would be the comic equivalent of DVD extras, on my smokin' 66MHz machine. I think this would make an interesting demonstration for a digital media class, so I keep meaning to dig it up when I'm at my parents' house. The article has a boxshot of the CD-ROM, but it isn't mentioned, which strikes me as a little strange.

Posted by: McChris at November 19, 2005 6:06 PM

Marc, my experience of reading graphic novels is similar. The relationships between frames in the best graphic narratives are far more complicated than they appear. I think this may be why filmic adaptations of graphic novels often seem so hollow. I think many of these films tend to underestimate their source (Mendes' version of Road to Perdition might be one good example here.

McChris, that is interesting. I'd imagine that Spiegelman must be concerned about these translation issues in a way that CD-ROM avoids. I think his joke about suggesting "real mice" is telling: any animated version of Maus would close off much of the work that readers are required to do. The MausCD-ROM does sound very cool.

Posted by: Chuck at November 19, 2005 9:30 PM

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