Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Art Spiegelman chat about comic arts and free speech responsibilities, live at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. He’s in town alongside the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)’s retrospective of his work, CO-MIX. That exhibition has been making the rounds, I remember just missing it when I was in Vancouver last year, and it brings to life much of what is in Spiegelman’s book Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps.
Most people know Spiegelman best from his graphic novel Maus, but he had a long career before the Pulitzer-winning book, including work in underground and subversive comics that had him drawing characters in black-face or engaged in bestiality. That’s all to say the artist is well qualified to speak on the topic of comics as satire and to provide an informed opinion on the slaughter of the artists from the French paper Charlie Hebdo.
Sitting on stage in a pork-pie hat and smoking an e-cigarette he said he didn’t believe Charlie Hebdo was anti-Islamic but that it offended all religions equally, for better or worse. In honesty he thinks their work is juvenile in the manner of South Park, but defended its right to speak its mind. I wish he’d had more to say here. I get the desire to remain apolitical, but as one of the most famous names in comic arts, and as someone who has benefited greatly from that fame, it feels like it’s his responsibility to engage with this topic more deeply. Maybe it was just venue though. Maybe he’s tired of talking about it, maybe it’s causing him grief in a way I don’t understand and it will one day be expressed in his art.
I saw the exhibition at the AGO before going to see the artist speak. I thought I’d be most in awe of the original Maus manuscript pages since that book played such a large role in introducing me to a new type of storytelling but it was his late career work, particularly the original artwork for 2004’s In the Shadow of No Towers that I found the most moving.
If you weren’t able to be there, check out CBC’s radio program Q interviewing Spiegelman the day before the event. If the exhibition isn’t coming to your town, try to get your hands on Co-Mix the book which acts as a defacto exhibition program and gives a comprehensive career overview.