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Illustrating the power of comics

“Comics burn their way passed your periph­eral defenses into your brain directly through the eye­ball,” Spiegelman told approx­i­mately 400 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who filled Blackman Audi­to­rium on Tuesday after­noon for the Morton E. Rud­erman Memo­rial Lec­ture. “They dig deep because they work the same way your brain works.”

The lec­ture, pre­sented by the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Human­i­ties Center and Jewish Studies Pro­gram, honors the memory of Morton E. Rud­erman, E’59. Georges Van Den Abbeele, founding dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, thanked the Rud­erman Family Foun­da­tion for spon­soring the event.

Spiegelman was part of the under­ground comic move­ment of the late 1960s and ‘70s and later spent a decade working for the New Yorker. But his crowning achieve­ment is “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,” a two-​​volume comic mas­ter­piece that explored his father’s life as a Polish Jew and Holo­caust sur­vivor. The tale, which cast Jews as mice and Ger­mans as cats, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

“It was me trying to tell a story that was worth telling at a time when Holo­caust was not a sub­ject of nar­ra­tive fic­tion and non­fic­tion worth telling,” Spiegelman explained. “The real story was the story of me trying to under­stand what my father had lived through.”

Spiegelman, who recalled his obses­sion with comics as a kid, examined the evo­lu­tion of what he described as an “inti­mate” medium that spans from super­hero and children’s sto­ries to graphic novels and polit­ical man­i­festos. He said comics echo the thought process through the use of sequen­tial images, thought bub­bles and speech bal­loons. As he put it, they “don’t have to be escapist sto­ries or funny gags. They are capable of being art.”

As part of Spiegelman’s visit to North­eastern, the Human­i­ties Center coor­di­nated with the Col­lege of Arts, Medi­aand Design’s Center for the Arts to arrange an hour-​​long meeting on Wednesday between Spiegelman and art stu­dents in a 2D Foun­da­tions course taught by lec­turer Julia Hechtman. The stu­dents are working on their own comic books that use per­sonal nar­ra­tives for their story lines.

Lori Lefkovitz, the Rud­erman Pro­fessor of Jewish Studies and director of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies pro­gram, called Spiegelman “one of the great inven­tors of our time” whose latest book, “Meta Maus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus,” fur­ther “illu­mi­nates the con­tro­ver­sial work of genius and the processes of invention.”

Prior to Tuesday’s lec­ture, Lefkovitz rec­og­nized fou­r un­der­grad­uate stu­dents who have received $5,000 merit-​​based schol­ar­ships made pos­sible by Betty Brud­nick and the Rud­erman Family Foun­da­tion: Mar­golit Sands, an envi­ron­mental sci­ences major with minors in Jewish studies and envi­ron­mental studies, was named the 2011-​​12 Rud­erman Scholar; engi­neering stu­dent Michael Sil­verman was named the 2012–13 Rud­erman Scholar; Jil­lian Hin­der­liter, a his­tory major with a minor in Jewish studies, was named the first recip­ient of the Brud­nick Schol­ar­ship for 2011-​​12; and Naomi Mitchell, a dual major in Jewish studies and reli­gion, was awarded the Brud­nick Schol­ar­ship for 2012–13.

– by Greg St. Martin

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