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Art Spiegelman Says Marvel Wanted Politics Axed

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BY April 28, 2020
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Veteran artist Art Spiegelman says that he withdrew an essay he wrote for an upcoming book about Marvel history after the publisher asked him to cut a Trump reference. Publisher The Folio Society commissioned Spiegelman to write the essay, but asked for the edit while claiming that Marvel wanted to remain “apolitical.”

Who is Art Spiegelman?

He is best known for writing the graphic novel Maus, an account of his father’s experience surviving the Holocaust. The novel takes its title from the characterization of the players. For example, he depicts all of the Jewish characters, like his father, as mice. Meanwhile, Germans are depicted as cats and Poles as pigs.

Spiegelman serialized the novel himself from 1980 to 1991 in a comic magazine, Raw, that he and his wife Mouly created. After The New York Times gave the serial a glowing review, Pantheon Books picked it up for publishing. After they released it, it won a Pulitzer Prize, the Special Award in Letters.

Despite the acclaim, Spiegelman is no stranger to controversy. Translations of the book are available in many countries, but the book has faced resistance. For instance, Polish journalist Piotr Bikont set up a publishing house to distribute the book in Poland. In response, crowds gathered outside his office and burned copies. Unruffled, Bikont put on a pig mask and waved.

Marvel in The Golden Age

Art Spiegelman Image via DC Comics

The Folio Society commissioned Spiegelman to write the forward for Marvel: The Golden Age 1939-1949, expected this fall. In the essay, Spiegelman writes about how events during that time inspired Marvel’s work. The rub for the publisher, apparently, was Spiegelman’s comparison of President Trump to a Marvel villain. According to Spiegelman, his essay contained the line, “In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America.”

After he turned in his essay, Spiegelman writes, The Folio Society asked him to cut that line. Their reasoning, he says, is not only that Marvel wants to be apolitical, but also “is not allowing its publications to take a political stance.” Spiegelman, thinking it was a bit much for such an “anodyne reference,” withdrew his essay, instead.

Marvel is Apolitical?

Art Spiegelman Captain America definitely not being political, image via Marvel

The joke, of course, is that an apolitical stance for Marvel would be relatively new. In the Golden Age the book is purportedly commemorating, comics were rife with political themes. Ever since then, they’ve been used to make many political statements. As Art Spiegelman himself writes:

…the pioneers behind this embryonic medium based in New York were predominantly Jewish and from ethnic minority backgrounds. It wasn’t just Siegel and Shuster, but a whole generation of recent immigrants and their children – those most vulnerable to the ravages of the great depression – who were especially attuned to the rise of virulent antisemitism in Germany. They created the American Übermenschen who fought for a nation that would at least nominally welcome ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … ‘

As such, it’s likely this apparent new stance has a simple explanation. Ike Perlmutter, Marvel’s chairman, is a longtime friend of the president. So cutting the line may be less about politics in general and more about one politician specifically. And that’s just…impolitic.

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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