Rall Nerve

Readers react en-Maus to attack on Spiegelman

View Ted Rall's comic response to the following letters.

Read Rall's August 3 article, "The King of Comix."

Pulled Both Ways

As a cartoonist who has won a Pulitzer Prize, I think most of Art Spiegelman's work is great, and Maus was entirely deserving of the Pulitzer. But it's a real shame if he's not using his influence to help younger artists. You have to admit, Ted Rall has guts.

Steve Breen,
Asbury Park Press
Neptune, New Jersey

Fie, Foe

After reading Ted Rall's absurd, untrue and spiteful article, I clapped my hands with glee over my decision last year to refuse the Voice's invitation to publish my comic strip, Maakies. The Village Voice is positioning itself as the true enemy of all cartoonists.

Tony Millionaire
Los Angeles, California

Holo Man

Voice readers will scream bloody murder after reading Ted Rall on Art Spiegelman. They'll say Rall's motivated by jealousy. That's what happens when you criticize Spiegelman. I've written articles putting Art down. People react as if they were sacrilegious.

Rall actually credited Spiegelman excessively. Maus is a seriously flawed work. As a Jew whose parents came from shtetls near Bialystok, whose relatives were slaughtered there, I'm offended by Spiegelman's bullshit, his wrapping himself in a Holocaust flag.

Art aims to make himself Maus's hero. He wants readers to think that he—not his father, Vladek—is the Holocaust survivor. In one chapter he has his shrink label him "the REAL survivor."

Spiegelman writes like a spoiled teenager, without insight or compassion. He accents the negative in portraying Vladek. In one scene Vladek tells Art he's got a cache of precious stones and metals stashed for him in the event of an emergency, but rather than focusing on his father's concern for him, Art emphasizes the old man's greed in smuggling the stuff out of Europe. When Vladek trashes Art's old coat and gives him a newer one—admittedly a high-handed act—Art acts like he's been mugged.

Art's use of anthropomorphic stereotypes is also objectionable: i.e., his portrayal of Poles, including one who risked her life for his father, as pigs.

Spiegelman's got serious intellectual limitations, which he may label writer's block. He hasn't published a substantial work since Maus, probably because he wants to quit while he's ahead....On second thought, maybe he will do another graphic novel, if he finds his cousins lived on Mars.

Harvey Pekar
Cleveland, Ohio

Marble Comics

In the cartooning business there's no shortage of desperate, scrounging cranks who prefer to blame Black Helicopters or the International Zionist Conspiracy for their lack of financial success, rather than take a sober look in the mirror. One would imagine that as a regular contributor to Time and Fortune, Ted Rall would have been lifted out of those lowest depths of cartoon misery some time ago; maybe Mr. Cranky is just tired of waiting for his New Yorker cover assignment.

Sure, anyone with eyes will tell you that in the Temple of Cartoon Gods, Spiegelman's statue won't be displayed in the Grand Rotunda with those of Crumb, Robt. Williams, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, et al. It will probably stand somewhere on the lower level; in the hallway that leads to the Gift Shop or next to the Pepsi machine in the cafeteria. At any rate, I think it's safe to say Art's statue won't be getting peed on in the Men's Room alongside the marble likeness of Ted Rall.

Of course Spiegelman's not the most accomplished draftsman on the globe; the pared-down artwork in Maus is no more visually appealing than the diagrams one finds in electronics manuals; his New Yorker covers have been somewhat easier on the eyes. So Art's no Botticelli; who among us is? As every cartoonist knows in his heart, there's always somebody more talented, and no cartoonist should know this better than Ted Rall.

If Art's the only cartoonist who gets invited to exclusive publishing biz parties, maybe that's 'cause Art's the only cartoonist who's fit to be seen in public (one hesitates to imagine the stampede that would ensue if a small yellow busload of your average cartoonists were suddenly inflicted on the likes of James Wolcott and Dominick Dunne at Tina Brown's Talk party...oh, the humanity!).

Perhaps Maus is Spiegelman's one-hit wonder; my guess is he won't be placing another Pulitzer on the mantelpiece any time soon. But at least he's got the one, and I think this helps to explain the bug that's vigorously working its way up the hindquarters of the Pulitzer-nominated Rall.

Danny Hellman
Manhattan

Balls in Rall's Court

Hats off to Ted Rall for the amazing article about the cult of Art Spiegelman! I was a fan of Maus, but I thought Maus II was totally self- serving and diminished the importance of the first book. As a cartoonist, I thought Rall's analysis of Spiegelman's technique was the most honest interpretation of his work I have read to date, and I applaud him for having the balls to state his controversial opinon!

Yvonne Mojica
Manhattan

Good Grief

Ted Rall's piece on Art Spiegelman has the tone of every bitter wannabe rant: the only arguable point he makes is that Spiegelman wields influence to hire buddies his own age and keeps "word-obsessed" (?) Gen-X cartoonists on the unemployment line.

That gripe not being much in the way of ammo for an ad hominem attack, Rall feebly goes after Spiegelman's work to the extreme of deriding Maus as merely based on a story told by Spiegelman's dad. Has Rall transformed his pop's anecdotes into anything as bracing and potent as Maus? And would Rall really prefer the top-hatted gentleman peering though his pince-nez to Spiegelman's faux-provocative New Yorker covers?

Spiegelman's high-handedness can rankle. But Rall seems to have no more estimable beef than his desire to Hoover up some of Spiegelman's fancy gigs. (Who else but a disgruntled cartoonist would fantasize about who gets to eulogize Charles Schulz after his death?) The gripes of the thwarted do not an exposé make.

Matthew Wilder
Los Angeles, California

Snow Jobs

I'm so happy to find out that I'm not the only one who is sick of Art Spiegelman. His lame drafts man ship and unoriginal ideas stink up the covers of The New Yorker—his snowman ogling the bikini babe being the quintessential example. I always suspected that his success was another instance of a mediocrity using political skills to get ahead. Thanks for confirming it for me.

Nancy McClernan
Weehawken, New Jersey

Spat It Out

Ted Rall needs to relax. It is as though he had just got into an emotional spat with a lover. Talk about taking something personally. Art Spiegelman is an amazing artist. And, hell, what is wrong with self-promotion? If Rall's so upset about that, maybe he shouldn't have written the article about him.

Meghan McKee
Boston, Massachusetts

Rat Race

As a cartoonist, I read Ted Rall's article with enthusiasm and delight. Mr. Rall is that rarest of creatures: a brave cartoonist! The rest of the New York cartoon clique can go on kissing butt, but I'd rather live with integrity.

Peter Bernard
Manhattan

Infantile Paralysis

Ted Rall's profile of Art Spiegelman reeks of envy and missed opportunities.

Rall recounts Spiegelman's quarter century of accomplishments, and then proceeds to criticize Spiegelman's power and influence among the cartoonerati. Rall should acknowledge that in any other profession, the dues Spiegelman has paid would merit him prestige and authority. He begrudges Spiegelman's "special category" Pulitzer. My children, aged nine and 11, learned about the Holocaust partly by reading Maus and Maus II.

Grow up, Ted.

Mark E. Horowitz, M.D.
Manhattan

Enthralled

As publisher at NBM, which specializes in graphic novels (we have published a couple of Ted Rall's titles), I want to go on record in support of Ted's piece denouncing Art Spiegelman's empire of cronies he has built in this city over more than a decade.

Sure, Maus is a very important milestone in comics in the U.S., and has been helpful in starting to establish recognition for the graphic novel. But I've observed with disgust the absolute misuse of the power Art and his wife, Françoise Mouly, have accumulated, and I could add a couple of anecdotes to Ted Rall's article.

It is this narrow vision of what is cool according to Saint Art and the rest be damned to hell that has needed denouncing for some time. It's one thing to have likes and dislikes; it's another to be exclusionary about it, especially when one bears such a burden of responsibility wielding the kind of clout they possess.

The King is dead (I hope). Long live no king.

Terry Nantier,
NBM Publishing
Manhattan

Knee Jerk

Seeing "King Maus: Art Spiegelman Rules the World of Comix with Favors and Fear" on the Voice's cover, I expected to read that Spiegelman accepts diamond bracelets as bribes and breaks cartoonists' knees between pencil-sharpening sessions.

Ted Rall's compendium of Spiegelman-related "crimes" falls just short of including July's hot weather: the Holocaust he writes about is more "popular"(!) than the Armenian genocide (clever work, Art); he hires his friends (editors and artists do become friends with the people whose work they admire); he's over 40; cartoonists are "terrified to speak about him" (know any painters who badmouth Kirk Varnedoe for publication?); Maus II is "unimaginatively titled" (its full title is A Surivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began [From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond]); he "didn't write the story [but] got it from his dad" (right, and another Pulitzer winner, John Hersey, didn't drop the bomb on Hiroshima, only recorded the aftermath); he cares about politics in the '90s "when the game no longer matters" (really?).

Karen Cooper
Director, Film Forum
Manhattan

'Hole in One

Ted Rall makes an excellent case that Art Spiegelman is an asshole. How curious then that he seems perfectly unaware that he is making a similar case for himself.

Rall's statement that Maus appealed to a public "too timid and media-saturated to pick up The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" implies that personal narrative is some sort of cheap substitute for the excellent historical work to which he refers.

Since when have first-person experience and historical analysis been interchangeable? William Shirer may have been in Germany as a reporter, but that hardly compares to the experiences of Vladek Spiegelman, who suffered through the Holocaust. To denigrate personal experience in favor of documentary analysis is a slap in the face to all those who have lived through the genocides of this century.

Ted Rall is an excellent, incisive cartoonist, but he reveals himself to be a shoddy excuse for a person.

Benjamin Delfin
Brooklyn

Graphic Light

Ted Rall's embittered piece about Art Spiegelman disappointed me. Has Rall forgotten that Spiegelman helped pull the graphic novel out of the sci-fi and children's-story envelope? Of the hundreds of graphic novels aimed at an adult literary audience, Maus was unique in achieving a wide-scale audience. Outside the States, graphic novels have achieved adult respectability. In the U.S., Spiegelman has opened the door for other masters of the medium to gain recognition.

Dan Grushkin
Staten Island

Flip Flop

I agree that Art Spiegelman is overrated, but Ted Rall's article came off as more of a nit- picking bitchfest motivated more by professional resentment than by genuine outrage.

Particularly tasteless was Rall's flip remark about Abner Louima "pucker[ing] up his innards every time a cop struts by...."

How dare Rall trivialize such a gruesome injustice done to an innocent man?

Daniella Lednicer
Brooklyn

Backhand Rall-y

Regarding Ted Rall's piece about Art Spiegelman: I'm always wary when a critic incorporates so many backhanded editorial comments about his subject. It indicates someone who comes at a piece with a personal bias.

Rob Stolzer
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Deep Blue See

Ted Rall, whose work I've admired in the past, tries to whip up controversy by turning ordinary facts into blazing scandal. Art Spiegelman did not get a gig at The New Yorker, he "insinuated himself into the ossified glossy." He doesn't remain loyal to his friends, he "reward[s] his ex-SVA protégés with lucrative, high-profile assignments." He doesn't simply like blue, he's "strangely obsessed with the blue palette." As for Maus, Spiegelman "didn't write the story, he got it from his dad"—as if Art's skill as cartoonist, editor, and storyteller didn't come into play.

Todd Alcott
Manhattan

Drawn and Quartered

Will someone please tell Ted Rall to take a deep breath and just keep drawing? Rall's work as a cartoonist is brilliant, but his shallow attack on Art Spiegelman smells like sour grapes. Who said you have to be perfect just because you win a Pulitzer? Donworry Ted, your time will come, and you'll get all your friends a few gigs, too.

Rob Rothschild
Gainesville, Florida

Near Sited

Why was a bitter, jealous, personal attack rife with inaccuracies (and fortified with spurious quotes from cowardly unnamed sources) considered responsible reporting by The Village Voice? It's quite clear that Ted Rall, who was up for a Pulitzer and didn't get one, simply wants to pee on the leg of his master out of frustration. The mystery is why his "article" was seen fit to print by the editors, much less as a cover story.

Art Spiegelman killed cartooning in this town for anyone under 40? That's news to Chris Ware, David Mazzucchelli, Kaz, Tony Millionaire, Archer Prewitt, Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Jason Lutes, Seth, Julie Doucet, and Joe Matt, to name a few. Some of the above have worked with or have even been discovered by Mr. Spiegelman, and some have never met him. But all of them are thriving simply because they are talented and work hard. Period. If you really want to see drawings that are "flat, poorly balanced, and strangely obsessed with the blue palette," there are plenty of them on Ted Rall's Web site, where one is treated to a choice of Ted's "Comics," Ted's "Columns," Ted's "Goodies," Ted's "News" (book tours, appearances, etc.), and the opportunity to "Buy Stuff: Ted Rall Merchandise," and read "stuff about Ted Rall." Art Spiegelman, so egregiously accused of self-promotion in Rall's article, has no such site.

Chip Kidd
Manhattan

No Competition

As an under-40 non-baby booming cartoonist (31, to be exact) who first contributed to Raw magazine at age 22, I would like to register my rage with your offices for publishing Ted Rall's absurd attack on Art Spiegelman.

The vague anecdotes, anonymous tips, and fragmentary quotes which form the fundament of Mr. Rall's burbly commentary are childish and irresponsible, evincing a journalistic "judgment" bordering on that of the flunking high school troublemaker. Mr. Rall's screed reads like a secret note snortingly passed through the back rows of a classroom, leaving one with the sense of having witnessed a fellow student "jumped" in the hallway, or forcibly disrobed in the locker room.

Aside from the cruel "op-ed" dismantling of Mr. Spiegelman's artwork and erroneous suppositions as to what drives him, it is doubly offensive that the Web page-sporting Mr. Rall would criticize Mr. Spiegelman for being a "self-promoter," and then go on to detail a number of cases in which Mr. Spiegelman provided "gigs" to other cartoonists whose work he respects.

This sort of editorial policy Mr. Rall defines as favoritism, stating with piquant eloquence that real "art directors typically pick comics for their papers or magazines in order to attract certain readers, regardless of whether or not the art director personally likes the cartoons." In Mr. Rall's mind, art directors are nothing more than graphic machinists, trained to formfit publications to the follies of "certain readers," gaily disposing of their own taste and intelligence in the process. (This may, at least, explain why Mr. Rall's own work appears in over 100 newspapers.)

Mr. Spiegelman is thus at fault (one assumes) for recommending artwork with which he esthetically sympathizes—he should also apparently be faulted for offering support and encouragement to artists who have attempted to bring to comic strips a richer sense of humanity and a wider spectrum of emotion. But perhaps the traditional "cartoon as political comment" should best be left as is; after all, it is much easier to sum up the human soul as a globe-straddling businessman sporting a top hat, a cigar, and a fistful of money. It is also much easier to caricature a man who has struggled with his own artistic frustrations and self-doubt as a bejewelled king receiving subjects in his chamber than as the generous artist he actually is.

Mr. Rall seems to suggest (and I may be wrong here) that human beings are, at base, always out to "get something" from life, and the "work" we do is only secondary to this bloodshot quest for power and recognition. Such a philosophy must certainly be attractive to a politically-minded cartoonist like Mr. Rall—who wastes valuable time writing prevaricated, hateful diatribes against one who has done him no harm and who offers no competition.

Life is not a competition, and art is not a competition. And you are no competitor to Art, Mr. Rall.

Chris Ware
Chicago, Illinois

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