Comparing Spiegelman’s Maus And The Golden Age Of Comics

“The histories of vampires and people are not so different, really. How many of us can honestly see our own reflection? ” (Barry, 94). Any research into the history of autobiography will expose elements of fiction materializing into truth. Perhaps it’s the fogginess of memory, and sometimes it’s a lie a writer has been telling themself for decades. Nevertheless, autobiography has become a pivotal theme in comics. From Spiegelman’s Maus (which is near equal parts autobiography and biography) to Cece Bell’s El Deafo, comics has provided an expansive and multisensory medium with which to narrate reality.

The multimodality of comics is what lends the medium to autobiography so successfully; allowing the reader to see, not simply read from the perspective of the creator. According to Charles Hatfield, the comics medium lends itself to sincere, often humble, subject matter. “In short, underground comix and their alternative descendants have established a new type of graphic confessional, a defiantly working-class strain of autobiography” (Hatfield, 111).

Before the underground comix movement of the late fifties, sixties and seventies, comics were enjoying their “Golden Age. Girls were already a keen audience for comics, and romance and horror comics were gaining popularity (Gabilliet, 29-31). That is until 1954, and the vendetta against comics led by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. Crashing the triumph of The Golden Age of comics (1938-1954), Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, criticized comics as contributing to juvenile delinquency and the inability to read. Wertham’s cause made it to Senate, and eventually inspired the institution of The Comics Code.

The Comics Code enacted a litany of rules and guidelines for comics to adhere to, which ultimately induced a highly censored and squandered era of comics. “The Comics Code decimated a previously booming commercial industry and a culture of visual-verbal exploration in which taboos (sexual, violent, villainous) could be explored and outrageousness given form” (Chute, 13-14). The severe regulation of comics due to The Comics Code motivated the beginning of an underground movement among cartoonists.

Those whose work was unpublishable under the new censorship guidelines began self-publishing and pushing boundaries even further, having no one to answer to. Underground comics (or comix) explored topics of sexuality, horror, and politics, free from the new rules of the mainstream. The relative lawlessness of the new underground comics scene permitted experimentation in ways that were never possible before, and lent itself to honest, self-examination in the form of autobiography.

Scholars such as Bart Beaty and Joseph Witek have examined autobiographical comics at length, noting that the trend toward documenting one’s life emerged as an offshoot of the Underground comics movement…. ” (Kirtley, 149). Though men dominated the comics scene, the underground movement gave way to a growing number of female cartoonists. As Hillary Chute mentions in her book, Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics, “… it is here that we first see women using comics as a form of personal expression.

The underground shifted what comics could depict (its purview, its content) and, crucially, how it could depict” (Chute, 14). Since the inception of the underground comics movement, women’s comics “… have been characterized by a specifically feminist and autobiographical tone” (De Jesus, 75). According to cartoonist Diane Noomin in Twisted Sisters: A Collection, women’s comics display “uncompromising vision reflecting a female perspective . . . frequently expressed in deeply felt, autobiographical narratives.

Often the art graphically reflects inner turmoil” (Noomin, qtd. in De Jesus, 75). In Susie Bright’s introduction to Twisted Sisters 2: Drawing the Line, she maintains that comics are where you will honest women sharing their experiences via their words and pictures (De Jesus, 75). Not only lacking in the female perspective in the seventies, the comic scene was rife with overt sexism. Often, as in the case of Trina Robbins, women cartoonists were creating content to directly address the work of their male counterparts.

In her contribution to Sean Stewart’s On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U. S. , Robbins discusses Robert Crumb, whose work is particularly divisive. “The misogyny started showing up maybe around 1968, when Crumb started really doing misogynist stuff. … suddenly he became very misogynistic…. He just did all these depictions of women being raped, and women being mutilated and humiliated, and all the guys thought it was really funny. And I would say… I just said it was hostile to women…. ” (Robbins qtd. in Stewart, 112-116).

In the late sixties, Robbins arrived in San Francisco, the hotbed of underground comix. What she found when she arrived was an exclusive “boys club,” with no desire for female input. “… it became really, really clear that I was not welcome in the comic scene—that’s when it really showed… no one phoned me and asked me to contribute. It wasn’t the publishers, it was the guys…. ” (Robbins as qtd. in Stewart, 113-116). Despite a general disregard for women, the seventies began an influx of women producing content they wanted but couldn’t find due to a lack of female creators.

By 1971, Trina Robbins was writing feminist comic strips for the publication, The Berkeley Barb. While writing the strip The Adventures of Belinda Berkeley, Robbins began It Ain’t Me Babe: Women’s Liberation comic book. It Ain’t Me became the first comic book developed exclusively by women. This was her first triumph, as Robbins’ objective became the promotion of women’s voices in comics. According to Hillary Chute in Graphic Women, the publication of It Ain’t Me Babe marked the conception of women’s underground comics. (Chute, 20).

It Ain’t Me Babe never produced a second issue, but was momentous nonetheless. In 1972, Tits’n’Clits was created by Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevely under their company “Nanny Goat Productions. ” Tits’n’Clits, which ran until 1987, focused on female sexuality, a taboo topic to the male dominated industry, but key to the success of women’s comics. Meanwhile, Robbins continued her work of promoting women’s comics. Eventually, as a member of the Wimmen’s Comix Collective, Robbins was one of ten women to contribute to the production of Wimmen’s Comix. (Chute, 21).