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War and Holocaust comics as postmodern art

Белка Юлия Вячеславовна
студентка факультета филологии и журналистики Оренбургский государственный университет г. Оренбург, Российская Федерация
Аннотация: The tragedy of Holocaust was the untouched themes for a long time but even here comics took their place. Nowadays in Europe, Japan and Latin America the great spreading of the comics about Holocaust can be called «successful». We also face the tendency to include comics in historical educational programs, special cartoons and movies, made for kids and lections for students.
Ключевые слова: comics, Cold War, Holocaust, postmodernism, Second World War
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«Now I can’t say anything because
you brought up the Holocaust»

War never stopped from the very begging of the human era. For the majority of people it was the most emotional impression and there was no time without any poem or novel about war. But comics were apart for a long time due to their comical origin and the lack even the absence of the fun in war. The first war comics were born from the Pulp Fiction. During the Great Depression the first comics about war «Doc Savage» was created by Henry W. Ralston [1]. The main hero Clark Savage is a son of famous adventurer brought up as a superman, what shows the theme close to Nazi ideology (by the way, eugenics as a science was created in America). Popular American idea of self-made man got the radical development in Clark`s character. He was the first to use different devices like buttons with gas or shooting pen.

The second book was «G-8 and His Battle Aces» [4] which became extremely popular. It was a mixed story about the First World War pilots. According to taht time they got pseudonyms, had a special hidden lodge and planes. They were not only fighters against fascists but also sort of fantastic threats. Of course, it obviously was just a fantasy but it was extremely attractive. People were interested with this story - rather new theme of sky adventures and the popularity of pilots.

The last shot that killed Pulp Fiction for that time was the lack of paper - comics needed less resources and colour printing became cheaper. For people it was much easier and more interesting to by some colorful comic books than one text journal. Comics were seте to the army and were a great opportunity to have some fun just because they could be read by anybody and didn`t need much time.

The WW II and the tragedy of Holocaust have been one of the most actual theme in literature for dozens of years. In American literature we can see examples where this theme is observed "from the side" (because we remember that there were no fights on America`s territory), but the later XX century gave us the group of Jewish writers born several years after the war and made the huge layer of their ancestors` memories. David Herman says: «Many of the characters in this fiction are haunted by the dark history of 20th-century Europe. Often they are refugees, or else young Americans who are fascinated by their parents' and grandparents' pasts. And yet the books are neither pious nor solemn. <...> The writing here is fresh and funny, but also smart. This is clever literary stuff, full of play and subtle allusion.» [3] This theme in literature was pierced with postmodern irony and stylistic games but there are rather hard philosophical questions and problems, especially the Holocaust from the modern writer`s point of view.

We also have to mention Ruth R. Wisse and her book «The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture» where she says: «The term Holocaust seems to craft a new secular version of the crucifixion, a version in which the Jews are cast as the sacrificial figure in a denationalized saga of evil and innocence.» [2]. She also calls Hitler «the first ruler in history to have inspired a new literary genre», in some ironical way of course. The best known example of Holocaust literature is the diary of Anna Frank, who escaped Auschwitz.

The specialty of the first Holocaust-themed comics book is that it was drawn in 1942 in a concentration camp in Gurs, formed just after the German invasion of France in 1940. In this camp as in other French concentration camps it was allowed for the prisoners to have some artistic activity. Several of the art works created in these camps have survived, including Horst Rosenthal’s comics “Mickey au Camp de Gurs” (Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, Paris). The creator died in Auschwitz in the same year. [5] It`s not surprising that the main hero of this comics is well-known Mickey Mouse (don`t mix with Maus) from whose point of view the Vichy system is shown. We face the smoothly drawn images accompanied by irony and rather black humor. There is no real antagonist - Mouse as a symbol of innocence and joy, French values of liberty, equality and fraternity opposes the reality of concentration camp. Under lines we can see that important even sacred values pinchnipped in France got their life back in America. By the way, there was not so obvious reason of choosing Mickey as a hero - his Jewish creator and all his cartoons were prohibited in Fascist Germany. This reason is a bit doubtful but still can exist.

In this comics we don`t face the violence but the bureaucracy as an annoying feature of the system. That is what makes this comics so innocent in compare with later works. What is really strange for French author is the final scene: « "So, since I’m only a cartoon, I removed myself with a stroke of an eraser. The police can always come and look for me in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity. I’m talking about America!». It is thus a clear indication that the land of freedom is no longer France occupied by the Nazis, but America, so Mickey is also going there [7].

What was the most dangerous in fascism for ordinary Americans? The esthetics. Best minds were thinking and working over this idea - sharp lines of military technique, SS suits, the theme of voluntary death - it was so attractive for «innocent» American minds that one needed something really strong to oppose. And the opposition was made. Jack Kirby with the painter Joe Simon wanted to make a bomb and they did it - they invented Captain America. Nobody expected the huge success of the first episode. The phrase of the publisher Goodman became sacramental: «The war hasn`t started yet and your cover has Captain America punching Hitler in the face» [11]. This very cover became one of the most popular ever. It was nor just the story about a millionaire or alien, Captain America was a soldier powered by a special whey and continuing his army service. The plot is going round such situation: Steve Rodgers and Bucky are washing dishes in the guardhouse trying to escape from commander or are punished by him. But then the danger comes and they change their suits and become Captain America and Bucky - American heroes. Next to the Captain America the «Quality» published the series of military-comics with Blackhawk [8] - mysterious pilot squadron leader. In the origins it was again the «G-8 and His Battle Aces» but it was popular because the heroes now were ordinary people. It was the first comics with interracial team and the conflict of esthetics.

Among the less credible, mainstream works born in the 50s and 60s one stands out thanks to its unique history and visual innovations. Bernard Krigstein’s Master Race (1955) [9] published in the short comic book series Impact tells the story of a former Nazi camp commander hiding in New York who has to pay off for his past filled with crimes. The variety of techniques borrowed from movies and several visual symbols influenced also Art Spiegelman in the creation of Maus, who analyzed Krigstein’s comics in a study. However, the main value of the work is that it offers a fairly faithful picture of Jewish persecution and the horrors of death camps in an early period where very little was said about these tragical events [10].

Let us also admit that this very theme is one of the hardest to be talked over. German philosopher Theodor Adorno said "No poetry after Auschwitz". And the idea is more than clear - the tragic theme forces people to lose their voice even in common issues and art. Every story connected with the Catastrophe is hard and tough. But the comics about Holocaust is the most poignant resistance of the material, the wildest mix of tragic inside and comic outside forms. Starting from 70s comics artists from different corners of the world tried to «touch upon» this theme. Let us look through the best examples, their peculiarities and common features.

1. Rutu Modan. The Property. 2013

The novel is taking place nowadays, after the death of her son, Regina Segal takes her granddaughter Mica to Warsaw, hoping to reclaim a family property lost during the Second World War. As they get to know modern Warsaw, Regina is forced to recall difficult things about her past, and Mica begins to wonder if maybe their reasons for coming aren’t a little different than her grandmother led her to believe.

For the author there is nothing sacral or prohibited, even Holocaust. The main device is the satire, e.g. the school teacher looking through the walking map says: "I prefer Maidanek to Auschwitz". The satire philosophy mixes with the mystery and the novel keeps the reader nervous like it`s not a comics but a detective story.

2. Michel Kichka. Second Generation. 2013

The author tells the story of his father who had never told anything about the horrors in concentration camps before. The brother of the main hero commits a suicide and the funeral forces the father to break the silence and tell everything.

Let us notice that it is not a innocent story - the humor is rather cruel; Kichka shows some episodes of his family that could have been necessary to be hidden. By the way, here is the huge influence of Shpiegelman`s «Maus» (because it is his story when the father and son find the way to each other through the story of Holocaust). Kichka says that he was 32 when he read «Maus» and felt the links between him and Art Shpiegelman. He admits that it was not only in the comics but in the origins of their dad`s. [6]

3. Reinhard Kleist. Der Boxer. 2010

This graphic novel is a biography of Hertzko (Harry) Haft - Jewish boxer from Bełchatów, Poland. His story first was told by his son Alan Scott Haft printed the book «Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano». The popular German artist Reinhard Kleist started the narration from the 1941 when Haft was brought to Auschwitz and forced to fight in the face of military chiefs. Those fighting always ended up with the death of the loser. Haft made 76 of them.

Kleist makes the typical Hollywood plot with no breaks of traditions, overcoming or witticism. He concentrates on the hero, not the horror of Holocaust or questions of consequences. The story after the Auschwitz escaping to USA and seeking the bride is also necessary and interesting.

4. Trina Robbins, Anne Timmons. Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer. 2011

First of all we must say that the book is for kids and teens. The huge part of the book tells about the life of Lily Renee who became a nurse. Once again we see no Holocaust horrors - much more attention are paid to the red gown of the girl than to the environment and war. Robbins focuses more not on the emotions or fear but on the common survival. What is really interesting - Lily Renee Weilheim is an American artist and graphic novel author who is still alive and rather popular.

5. Miriam Katin. We are on our own. 2006

Once again we can see the Holocaust graphic novel about a kid. Miriam Katin shows a story of her mother`s escape from occupied Hungary. They had no chance to call relatives and had to hide among county habitants.

Here we can see the analysis of injures and questions of the author`s life. Ever horror is told by a child who even do not understand them: the girl feels shy, saв and sometimes even curious about mother`s tears and people`s deaths.

6. Joe Kubert. Yossel. 2003

The novel about Warsaw ghetto rebellion is told through the story of a 15-year old Yossel who could have become a famous artist. He shows the ghetto hell on the torn paper. It was the first wholly imagined and absolutely pessimistic novel with no hope at all.

7. Sidney Jacobson, Ernie Colon. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. 2010

Jacobson and Colon were the first to make the story of Anne Frank in the graphic genre. Authors show not only her life - occupation, moving to Amsterdam, life in Netherlands, but also touch upon her parents and her death. The narration goes from the 3rd person otherwise everything should have been based only on her diary. This gives us the opportunity to look at her from different sides.

Authors have chosen the way of maximum thoroughness making the story on the facts from the diary, archives and experiments. Some pages are taken from the photos of the family.

8. Bernice Eisenshtein. I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors. 2006

It is the best example of the title-showing-the theme novel where the author tries to find herself and answer the hardest questions ever - how to live after the catastrophe. After the father`s death she recalls her childhood: the Eichmann`s process, numbers on the wrists, stories about Auschwitz. Step by step she comes to the understanding of her life. This graphic novel became a plot for a cartoon in 2010.

And finally we come to a graphic novel which became the best example of an art about the catastrophe - «Maus» by Art Shpiegelman, which won the Pulitzer prize in 1992 and has been republished during more than 20 years. It is one of the most known story about Holocaust ever.

«Maus» is a graphic novel which used the animalistic idea where Americans are shown as dogs, Frenchmen as frogs, Poles a pigs, Germans as cats and Jews as mice. It was a flagrant sneer of Nazis ideology and made some scares (even of the author) that the novel could have become an example of "light" attitude to Holocaust. But it had another reaction. «Maus» has become an opposition and refutation to the Theodor Adorno`s phrase. Shiegelman was the first to put the real tragedy into an imagined space and overcome the silence.

There are lots of different ways to describe and discuss the Catastrophe. Some of them are familiar and close to us, some are rather doubtful but still touching. Anyway, each of them plays the same role - to introduce human-being in must-never-be-forgotten time. One of them is sometimes too violent and harsh but still popular comics. It helps to fulfill the emotions with the pictures and sketches. One of the best examples is Art Shpiegelman`s «Maus». For a long time «Maus» has been prohibited in our country but even that time it was one of the most popular comics among Russian Internet society. There were lots of disputes about the form. But let us remember that we live in a world where usually the most innocent form has the worst content or no content at all. That`s why this comics is a good example when the style of narration is just an attraction for our attention. And the content is great enough to be attracted to.

Список литературы:

1. DC Comics [Электронный ресурс]: статья Doc Savage URL: http://www.dccomics.com/comics/doc-savage-2010/doc-savage-1

2. Google books [Электронный ресурс]: статья The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture URL: https://books.google.ru/books? id=vWSI8fnsBHoC&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=the+term+holocaust+seems+to+craft&source=bl&ots - p. 197

3. Herman D. New World Reorder. David Herman Hails the Younger Generation of Jewish-American Writers // New Statesman, – 2011. – 18 April. – P. 49.

4. Hogan Robert J. The Bat Staffel (G-8 and His Battle Aces #1) - NY.: Berkley Books, 1969. - 142p.

5. Holocaust in arts [Электронный ресурс]: статья Comics about the Holocaust URL: http://www.holocomics.net/comics_holocaust.html

6. Kichka blog-note [Электронный ресурс]: статья Second Generation URL: http://en.kichka.com/2012/03/16/second-generation/

7. Mulman, Lisa Naomi: A Tale of Two Mice. Graphic Representations of the Jew in Holocaust Narrative. In: The Jewish Graphic Novel. Edited by Samantha Baskind, Ranen Omer-Sherman. Rutgers University Press, 2008, page 85-93

8. Our Worlds [Электронный ресурс]: статья Blackhawk URL: http://www.ourworlds.net/blackhawk/

9. Space in Text [Электронный ресурс]: статья Master race – Bernard Krigstein URL: https://spaceintext.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/master-race-bernard-krigstein/

10. Spiegelman, Art: La première BD sur la Shoah. Beaux Arts hors-série, 2010, page 118-127

11. Super Mega Monkey [Электронный ресурс]: статья Captain America Comics #1 URL: supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/captain_america