Although no formal complaints were issued, several major bookstore chains in Russia have begun pulling the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus off of their store shelves and internet sites. The reason: The cover depicts a Nazi swastika.
According to a recent law passed last December, all Nazi propaganda is forbidden from being displayed in retail shops, including on the cover of a book whose overall message is completely anti-Nazi. Maus by art spiegelman was translated into Russian in 2013, and since it’s introduction into the Russian marketplace, it has been widely recognized (as it has in much like the rest of the world) as one of the most poignant graphic novels of the twentieth century. It comes as a shock to many that the book would become the victim of a law designed to separate modern Russia from the history of Nazism inflicted upon the world during World War II.
May 7, known as Victory Day, marks the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi forces in Word War II. It is a day of celebration, but in light of the pulling of Maus from retailers’ shelves, the tone of the day has changed. Disappointingly, in censoring the harrowing story that Maus tells about the horrible events that occurred during WWII, a story that one could argue has the same agenda as the Russian law is being repressed.
“There is no Nazi propaganda in it, this is a book that should be on the shelves on Victory Day,” Varvara Gornostayeva, the chief editor of the publishing house Corpus, which publishes Maus, argued. “It’s one of greatest anti-fascist books, with a deep and piercing message.”
art spiegelman has spoken out about the larger implications of these reactionary efforts to purge a portion of Russian history from the consumer marketplace:
I don’t think Maus was the intended target for this, obviously. But I think [the law] had an intentional effect of squelching freedom of expression in Russia. The whole goal seems to make anybody in the expression business skittish… A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression.
Despite the overwhelming praise for the book, though, this is not the first time Maus has come under fire, though. In 2012, the graphic novel was challenged in a Pasadena, California, public library for being “anti-ethnic” and “unsuitable for younger readers.”
As spiegelman points, “this is a terrible time to express oneself.” The world has become a very turbulent environment for freedom of expression, and the recent actions in Russia represent a compounding knee-jerk reaction to stifle speech without taking the initiative to understand the books that are being censored or the greater implication of forcing creators and citizens to monitor their own speech for fear of repercussion.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!