Step 1: Read Maus

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This was the very first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Written over a thirteen-year period, the books tell the story of Art Spiegelman's attempts to learn about his father and mother's experiences as Jews during the Holocaust and later as survivors in the United States. Maus also documents Spiegelman's difficult relationship with his father, his own search for understanding as a survivor of this relationship, and his artistic odyssey in creating the work. The historical content is based on dialogues between Spiegelman and his father, Vladek, over many years. Spiegelman uses animal heads with human bodies to portray characters: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, Frenchmen are frogs, and Swedes are reindeer. While the subjects treated in the books are serious, there is also humor. The setting moves from Rego Park, New York, to various cities and towns in Poland, to a resort in the Catskill Mountains, to Germany, to Florida to Sweden. This device helps Spiegelman tell the larger story of the Holocaust with the authority of a survivor's memories while at the same time telling the story of his family's history and relationships during and after World War II. The books are hard to classify since they have elements of fiction, nonfiction, biography, and autobiography.

Step 1: Read Maus
As you read, consider and answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the faces in Maus. Are they iconic (could be anyone) or particular (e.g. only Vladek)?

  2. Why do you think Art Spiegelman drew the characters this way? Hitler reduced Jews to vermin. Is Spiegelman doing the same thing? Why?

  3. Generally, comic artists draw their works twice the size of the eventual published product. When the artwork is reduced by half, the resulting image is crisp and detailed. Spiegelman drew Maus at its actual size. Why do you think he did? Look carefully at the frames (the lines around the panels) and the gutters (the space between the frames). Gaps in the borders, and lines intruding into the gutters are considered “unprofessional.” Why do you think Spiegelman drew Maus this way?

  4. Where do you think the artwork is most detailed? Where is it roughest? Is there something about those moments in the story that calls for a particular way of drawing?

  5. The comics combine words and pictures. We know how to read words, but how do we “read” pictures? Look for general and specific examples of images as “text” in Maus. How do Spiegelman’s images supplant or circumvent words?

  6. What is a symbol? What symbols are on page 33, book one? What associations do these symbols have? What is the effect of the swastika in the panels on page 33? Is it the same in every panel?

  7. We see Art carrying a satchel at various points (for instance, on pages 43, 69, and 159 of book one). What does this image suggest? What does it mean to be carrying around baggage? Is the story about carrying around baggage? Explain.

  8. Look at page 64, book one. Why does Vladek wear a mask? Look at Spiegelman’s self-portrait inside the back cover. Why is he wearing a mouse mask? Hypothesize what that means?

  9. Look at page 136, book one. Try to ignore the words and just look at the pictures. Can you understand the story? Can you imagine the text? What visual clues does Spiegelman create for us?

Step 2: Understanding the Elements of Graphic Novels

  • Log onto the following websites to help you research the formats used in graphic novels:


Using the attached worksheet, “Key Terms and Concepts in Graphic Novels,” conduct some research on graphic novels.

Step 3: Creating Your Own Graphic Novel
You will now select an event from history (recommendations found below), and create a graphic novel of your own. Make sure to use the following steps as you begin to design your novel:

  1. Write five ideas that you could turn into stories. They do not need to be incredibly detailed, but should be well thought out.

  2. Create characters: choose either fictitious characters or take this opportunity to research a famous person in history (scientists, politicians, artists, etc.). Create your graphic novel explaining that person’s significance to the specific event from history you’ve selected to focus on.

  3. Develop a storyline:

    1. What is the problem?

    2. How do the characters try to solve the problem?

    3. What is the resolution to the problem?

  4. Write and illustrate your graphic novel. The following criteria must be fulfilled:

    1. Each page must contain between 4 and 6 panels

    2. You need to compose at least 6 pages of panels (total of 24-36 panels).

    3. Please make sure to utilize the following criteria:

      1. I’ve used the following graphic novel angles: longshot, bleed, close-up, and reverse

      2. I’ve used the following text containers: captions, balloons and emanta and narrator blocks

Recommended Historical Events:

Salem Witch Trials

Lewis and Clark Expedition

The Russian Revolution

The French Revolution

Apartheid in South Africa

Attack on Pearl Harbor

The Underground Railroad

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Arab Spring

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Space Race

Key Terms and Concepts in Graphic Novels
Identify the following information using the websites provided as well as through your own independent research.

  1. Identify and briefly explain the main types of angles used in a graphic novel.

  1. How is information (thoughts, storylines, dialogue, etc.) conveyed in a graphic novel?

  1. What is the difference between a graphic novel and a comic strip?

  1. What is Manga?

  1. Why is Watchmen considered and important graphic novel?

  1. Why are graphic novels becoming more used in public education?

  1. Key elements in graphic novels:

Speech bubbles

Thought bubbles





The letter “z”

Musical notes

Light bulbs

Stormy clout

Duration: 8 Periods

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