Langdon Foss wasn't a big fan of Maus when he first read it.
"I wasn't reading good comics back when Maus was released," the local comic book artist says with a chuckle. "I was reading X-Men and superhero stuff, much to my shame."
Now in his early 40s, Foss says he's amazed by the virtuosity that's earned Spiegelman admiration from on high. As comics historian Paul Tumey puts it this month in The Comics Journal, Spiegelman as a fairly young artist "began to figure out ways to cram more and more information into his verbal-visual matrices, so that a medium supposedly for beginning and semi-literate readers actually tasks — and rewards — as much as art and literature."
Says Foss, "He doesn't waste any words, he doesn't waste any lines, from what I've seen. It is such an elegantly told story, visually and narratively. It's inspiring."
Foss describes Spiegelman's lines as "gestural," "immediate" and "suggestive," and alludes to a "homebrew style of art" in Maus. Black-and-white comics are rare, he says, and likely hail from the underground comics scene Spiegelman came from.
One element of Spiegelman's work that Foss would highlight is that the artist is both writing and drawing his comics. In his career, Foss has most often worked with an author, as he did when illustrating celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's foodie-meets-action comic, Get Jiro (see "Bloody good," June 13, 2012). In this scenario, the writer usually hands over a screenplay-like script, and Foss works with him or her to vary certain panel layouts, or finesse a character's reaction when it feels unnatural. (For Get Jiro, he says, "I rewrote an entire page once, and they were delighted, I'm amazed to say.")
Currently Foss is both writing and illustrating two graphic novels, and he says he fights his own impatience in building his characters and story lines.
"I feel like nothing gets done, because I keep going back and forth. I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels refining this thing when I've got to finally commit to a decision at some point."
Another thing he's come to appreciate in and Maus, and Spiegelman, is its first-person element. Before, Foss says, "It seemed impure somehow, it seemed cluttered, like he's cluttering the core narrative with his own personal experience." Today, he says, "I think it adds a real texture to it, a real quality, another dimension to storytelling that I admire a lot."