There are a handful of comic books that make an undeniable case for the medium as true literature. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one; a case can be made that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is another. Right at the top of the heap is Art Spiegelman’s landmark 1991 graphic novel, Maus. It tells the horrific story of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as Polish Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe. Spiegelman’s cartoon animal drawings coupled with its strong depiction of atrocities makes it the classic it is. And who better than Speigelman, then, to write the foreword for Marvel Comics’ Golden Age compendium? But Marvel refused to publish his essay due to the inclusion of a jab at Donald Trump.
Spiegelman told UK’s The Guardian (we saw via Mashable) that his initial essay had a brief dig at Trump (referring to him as “Orange Skull,” akin to Captain America villain Red Skull). According to Spiegelman, he was told Marvel Comics “is not allowing its publications to take a political stance.” Rather than remove the line, Spiegelman withdrew his essay and instead published it in full on The Guardian‘s website.
The passage with the Orange Skull line reads as follows:
Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.
For a volume entitled Marvel: The Golden Age 1939-1949, having the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of Maus write the foreword seemed an absolute coup. Spiegelman talks in the essay about how relevant these 80-year-old comics are again, given the political and social landscape of 2019. You might think a single line with a joke about a sitting president isn’t much to remove, but Spiegelman’s entire point, and the entire point of Maus, is how quickly seemingly civilized societies can fall when they don’t heed the warning signs.
Captain America Comics #1
Art is political. Captain America punched Hitler on a cover the same way as the mice in Maus struggled under cat Hitler’s tyranny. To decree that none of this art can “take a political stance” is a slippery slope toward censorship. We should also note, as per a recent LA Magazine piece, Marvel Entertainment’s billionaire chairman Ike Perlmutter is a longtime Trump ally and one of his biggest donors.
Images: Marvel/Pantheon Books