My mother ended 1986 laboring to bring my baby sister into the world, but in some ways events that occurred earlier that year would have an equally significant effect on my life. This was the year that brought about some great changes in the world of sequential art, or comics, and one of the men responsible for those changes was Art Spiegelman.
Mr. Spiegelman was an established artist in the comics community long before 1986. He had been an influential member of the underground comix movement of the 1960s and 70s, which sought to explore sequential art and express visually the counter-culture movements of that time without the controlling influence of the Comics Code Authority. Many of the themes in underground comix explored politically charged topics, violence, and sexuality, which were banned from mainstream publications. Mr. Spiegelman contributed to many underground publications, such as Real Nulp, Young Love, and Bizarre Sex. He also co-founded two underground publications: Arcade and Raw.
Raw was a project begun by Mr. Spiegelman and his wife, Françoise Mouly, in 1980. In Raw, Mr. Spiegelman began to serialize what would later become one of the most famous and influential pieces in both comics and American literature: Maus. Maus is the personal memoir of Mr. Spiegelman, which relates conversations between himself and his father about his father’s experiences in pre-war Poland and the Holocaust.
The first volume of Maus, which collected the serialized comics previously released in Raw and other publications, was released in 1986. That year also marked the publication of Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. Together, these three graphic novels would change the way the world saw sequential art, and many of their underground elements began to appeal to a mainstream audience. Maus, however, would receive the most recognition when in 1992 it received the Special Pulitzer Prize for Letters and was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.
With the publication of Maus, Art Spiegelman almost single handedly transformed graphic novels into a serious form of literature. His mature handling of distressing subjects like the Holocaust, father and son relationships, and the struggle of an entire generation to reclaim its familial history showed how sequential art could create literature that was in many ways more compelling than the written word alone. His method of using animals to personify different ethnic groups made the characters more human in many ways, much like in the novel Animal Farm. His simple monochromatic palette conveyed a more shocking and stark reality than many people around the world ever experienced in color.
In becoming an accepted and established medium, graphic novels earned a place of their own in libraries and bookstores. I spent much of my childhood immersed in them. Stories like Maus introduced me to issues and subjects that I couldn’t find in other literature in a way that moved me deeply. It’s fair to say that neither I, nor the world of comic books, would be the same today without Art Spiegelman or Maus.
 Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), pg 92
 Ibid, pg 178
 Ibid, pg 188