Today marks thirty years since the publication of the collected first volume of Art Spiegelman's Maus. Michael Cavna, writing for the Washington Post, has chosen to observe the anniversary by explaining "why 'Maus' remains 'the greatest graphic novel ever written.'" Since we devoted the first chapter of our book to Maus and its legacy, this is obviously a question that holds some interest for us.
It's telling that Cavna has chosen to celebrate this day in particular. Is this really Maus's birthday? It's not the anniversary of the first Maus strip in Funny Aminals, nor when it began as a feature in Raw, nor of its completion. Rather, today marks the day when Maus first became a "graphic novel" by being reprinted (by trade press Pantheon Books) as "a comic book that needs a book mark." So, for all the accolades and influence that Cavna summarizes, Maus's greatness coheres, above all, in the definition it created:
Although it was not the first graphic novel, nor even the first to use the term, Maus provided the thin edge of the wedge for comics' consecration, and established a template for other creators to follow. Maus was the work that created the very category of 'Greatest Comic Book of All Time' in the American context; prior to its success in the 'real world' of book publishing, such a concept was essentially meaningless.