‘Maus’ creator Art Spiegelman becomes first comics artist to win prestigious MacDowell award


(JTA) — Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the graph novel “Maus,” is set to become the first cartoonist to win the prestigious MacDowell Medal for culture and the arts.

The recognition puts Spiegelman, the son of Polish Holocaust survivors, in the company of cultural icons such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe and surrealist filmmaker David Lynch.

“Maus,” his semi-autobiographical graphic novel, tells the story of his father’s experiences during World War II as well as their strained relationship. He won the Pulitzer in 1992. Both “Maus” and its sequel were commercial and critical successes, and gave graphic novels — essentially, book-length comics — the prestige that had long eluded their authors.

A longtime writer and illustrator, Spiegelman first gained prominence as a member of the underground comix scene in the 1970s.

Told he was being honored with the MacDowell Medal, Spiegelman sthought to himself, “The last thing I need is another lifetime achievement award,” he told the Washington Post. However, he added, “I have a voraciously puny sense of self — like most cartoonists I know.”

Spiegelman decided to accept the award thinking it could help break down cultural barriers for his fellow cartoonists.

“We have no minister of culture in this country, so it falls to the private sector,” he said. “And art gives you a deeper look at what is going on around you. What’s recorded by artists helps us make [sense] of it all.”

The Edward MacDowell Medal has been awarded annually since 1960 to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to American culture and the arts. It is given by The MacDowell Colony, the first artist residency program in the United States. Composer Edward MacDowell and his pianist wife, Marian, launched the colony in 1907.

Spiegelman is also a recipient of a 2011 National Jewish Book Award, which he won for his book “MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus.”

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