ART SPIEGELMAN'S ''Maus, I: My Father Bleeds History'' (159 pages, Pantheon, $18), just published in its first hardbound edition, first appeared as a trade paperback in 1986, when it became the first ''comic book'' ever nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
That nomination was probably instrumental in the author's being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete his story of a Holocaust survivor in ''Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began'' (136 pages, Pantheon, $18), published along with the new edition of its predecessor.
Both books are extraordinary, and together they are unquestionably among the most important works of graphic literature ever published. By telling the story of the Holocaust as an animal fable, with Jews as mice and Germans as cats, spiegelman (who spells his name without capital letters) both distances the events and makes the reader look beyond the masks to see the horrible reality.
''Maus'' is the story of spiegelman's relationship with his father, Vladek, as well as his father's story of survival. In his mixture of biography and autobiography, history and confessional, spiegelman is experimenting with a form of narrative that may be more important in the long run than his elevation of the lowly comic book into something even the most serious reader can appreciate.
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