In Art Spiegelman's short comic "Pop Art," he says, "It's no use... no matter how much I run I can't seem to get out of that mouse's shadow!... See that thing back there? It's a monument I built to my father... I never dreamed it would get so big!"
Spiegelman's talking about his memories of his father, but he's also talking about Maus, his infamous, Pulitzer-winning memoir about his parents' life as Jews under the Nazi regime. Famous for one notable piece of work, Spiegelman indeed lives under the formidable shadow of a grand, self-made monolith.
The newly reissued Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! is a vamped-up collection of Spiegelman's 1970s short comics. While Breakdowns was originally published in 1978, it was done as a small run of 5,000, and nearly half of those were ruined during the printing process. This beautifully packaged reissue aims to explore the "cheerfully vernacular medium of comics," and Spiegelman's knack for distorting time and space in his artwork is very effective, sprinkled with odes to Picasso, cubism, MAD magazine, and more '60s underground comics than you can throw a psychedelic stick at. Each of Breakdown's vignettes studies the different ways that form and content in the comics medium intersect, and the collection is bookended with a new introduction and an author essay about his early love of comics and how the collection came to be.
Coming from the man who also created the Garbage Pail Kids (hmm, maybe that's a greater pop culture albatross to bear), you'd better believe that Breakdowns makes an impression. And while the reissue inevitably falls under the heady shadow of Maus, it also does a beautiful job of capturing a portrait of a young artist who's looking to find his voice and strengths. Spiegelman says it best: "Some may look at Breakdowns as a mere artifact of its time. But for me, it's a manifesto, a diary, a crumpled suicide note, and a still-relevant love letter to a medium I adore."