Maus I is a graphic novel that is both about Art Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, Vladek, and about Vladek’s survival of the Holocaust. The characters are depicted as different types of animals–Jews are mice, Poles are pigs, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, and Swedes are reindeer. Spiegelman explained in The Comics Journal (according to a reader review on Amazon.com) that his idea for using these animals is not entirely original but is extrapolated and expanded from the names the Germans called Poles and Jews.
In the novel, as Vladek tells Art the story of his experience during World War II, they also argue. The story is compelling, although the relationship between the two is less so. Vladek is difficult and eccentric, but Art seems childish and spoiled, with no patience or understanding for his father. However, the novel makes the point that he, too, was scarred by his father’s experiences.
I am not by any means an expert on graphic novels, having only read one other, which was the beautifully illustrated Britten and Brülightly. However, the art in Maus I is so primitive that I could not tell any of the characters of a single species apart except for their clothes. I suppose, though, that that in itself is a statement. Still, the art shows a strength of line and a simplicity that make it interesting.
Maus I is apparently intended for young adults, and as such, is probably a powerful educational piece. I think it is less successful for adults.