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Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@?*! (Installment #1)

[clock] 2-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Fall 2005

Introduction by Ted Genoways, editor of VQR

By the early 1970s, the comic book industry was clearly divided. There was the commercial world of comics with its kid-stuff heroes parading around in brightly colored tights, with a few romance and Archie comics thrown in to placate the girls. And there were the underground comix (with an “x”), defined as “Adults Only” by the blue subject matter of R. Crumb and his legion of imitators, with their exaggerated, sexually graphic, and often violent storylines. Art Spiegelman grew out of the latter scene, but he was only part of the crowd until he began experimenting with more direct, honest, and difficult subject matter.

The breakthrough came in 1972—in the first issue of Short Order Comix, a short-lived venture edited by Spiegelman and Zippy-the-Pinhead creator Bill Griffith. The cover boasted: “Our Motto: No Story over Four Pages!!!!” and featured a broad, vaudevillean exchange drawn by Spiegelman: a crab in the Chat n Chew diner asks, “Pardon me, miss. . . . Do you serve crabs here?”; the hard-bitten waitress responds, “Sure, toots . . . We’ll serve anyone—just keep your shirt on!” Much of the fare was this kind of easy humor, but Spiegelman also contributed a four-page story called “Prisoner on the Hell Planet.” In stark contrast to the rest of issue, “Hell Planet” was a raw, emotional depiction of the suicide of Spiegelman’s mother and its effect on him.

This was also the very first piece toward the graphic novel that fourteen years later would become the Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus. In the time intervening, Spiegelman, more than any other single artist or writer, would transform the world of comic books. He turned a child’s diversion into serious literature and in the process invented a new genre—the American graphic novel. Though it could be argued that Will Eisner fathered the form, Spiegelman created its idiom, its pace, its visual style, and most importantly, he recognized its subject—the self. More than anyone else, Spiegelman brought comix from the underground to the mainstream.

Now, for the first time, he turns his critical eye on his own artistic development—beginning in this issue with his account of the creation of the seminal “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” and a large-size poster reprint of the story itself. And this is only the beginning. We’re proud to announce that Spiegelman will contribute to upcoming issues of VQR with new passages from this work-in-progress as they are completed, providing a rare glimpse of the artist at work—even as he explores and examines his own working process.

What follows is an excerpt from Spiegelman’s first installment. The full comix is available only in the Fall issue of VQR.

Spiegelman excerpt

Copyright © 2005 Art Spiegelman.


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