Art Spiegelman: ‘As soon as you try to tell the truth, you’re always lying’
Art Spiegelman is in Los Angeles today and has three appearances at events with very different vibes. At 11 a.m., he’ll be at Storyopolis (14945 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks), with his new early-reader comic “Jack and the Box.” Then, at 2 p.m., he’ll be at the Silent Movie Theatre (611 N. Fairfax Ave.) to introduce a screening of Tod Browning’s 1932 cult-classic “Freaks.”
Finally, the Pulitzer Prize winner will be at Family Bookstore (436 N. Fairfax Ave) to sign “Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!,” a newly reissued and expanded collection of his work in underground comix during the 1970s.
Spiegelman is a truly vital figure in illustrated storytelling in modern America, and like his appearance schedule in L.A. today, the career of the 60-year-old artist has been a restless odyssey in unexpected directions. To get some insight into his past, present and future, check out this marvelous piece on Spiegelman that ran on the front page of today’s Calendar section in the Los Angeles Times. David Ulin, the book editor for The Times, wrote the article. Here’s an excerpt:
NEW YORK — Art Spiegelman’s SoHo studio sits across the street from one of the great hidden pieces of public art in this city: an oversized subway map, laid into the sidewalk, thin metal strips with small glass disks to mark stations on the various lines. On a weekday evening in early fall, shoppers and clubgoers pass along the pavement without ever seeing what they’re stepping on.
After 30 years, this is what SoHo has come to, an open-air fashion mall, full of high-end boutiques and restaurants. “My neighborhood,” Spiegelman sighs, looking out his fifth-floor window as if gazing back in time. “If I was moving back to New York right now, I’d probably end up somewhere else.”For Spiegelman, this is more than an offhand comment; it’s the essence of how he thinks. From the outset of his career, he has been an artist for whom, as William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” A decade and a half after “Maus,” he remains best-known for that two-book memoir-in-comics, which recounts both his father’s experience in the Holocaust and Spiegelman’s interaction with the story, a heritage that is, by turns, a blessing and a curse.Perhaps the most vivid image in “Maus” comes early in the second volume, when an adult Spiegelman, wearing a mouse mask to preserve the central metaphor of the comic, buries his head in his hands while sitting at his drawing table; beneath his feet are hundreds of the Holocaust dead. “At least fifteen foreign editions are coming out,” he laments. “I’ve gotten 4 serious offers to turn my book into a T.V. special or movie. (I don’t wanna.)” From outside the frame, another speaker calls, “Alright Mr. Spiegelman. We’re ready to shoot! . . .”Here, we have Spiegelman at his most complex, creating comics that, even as they tell a story, comment on the process, highlighting its contradictions, suggesting that we are complicit in the tales we tell. “When you say to give form, you’re giving a shape to something that’s much more nebulous,” Spiegelman says. “As soon as you try to tell the truth, you’re always lying.”