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Maus in wartime

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Chicago Reader, October 2023

It’s common knowledge in the book business that a well-publicized ban can lead to a short-term spike in sales. Take Art Spiegelman’s two-volume graphic novel Maus for example, which tells the story of his parents’ experience in the Holocaust, as told to him much later by his father. After it was banned by a Tennessee school board in January 2022, its sales jumped 753 percent.

The official reason for the ban was bad language and nudity, so naturally everyone who heard about it wanted to take a look. Nothing’s as enticing as a taboo. Turns out the offending language is pretty mild—a few instances of words like “goddamn” and “bitch,” and the nudity mentioned is a single spare drawing of Spiegelman’s mother’s corpse, in a bathtub and mostly underwater after she had slit her wrists.  

Comics scholar Hillary Chute told me she doesn’t think the official reason for the ban was the real reason. Words like damn and bitch “in a book about the murder of millions of people seems obviously like a pretext,” she said, adding that if you read the minutes from the relevant school board meeting, it seems possible that—as in bans of work about critical race theory or slavery in general—the real issue is exposing systemic racism and racialized violence.  

Continue reading at Chicago Reader.

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