Committed: The Good People of Comic Books and the Role of Maus in Genetic PTSD Study

There are comic books I read for entertainment and comic books I read to expand my mind. Sometimes the two intersect, and once in a while there are books which appeal to such a large demographic that they change the way the world works. At a time when many in the press seek to highlight the negative and destructive elements within out comic book community, I find myself surrounded by impassioned constructive people and I can’t help but think that this has everything to do with our shared interests and passions.

In researching my own physiology this week, I stumbled on an article about inherited trauma. To summarize as briefly as I can, the basic finding is that people with post traumatic stress disorder have different biological responses to stress than people who haven’t been traumatized. In turn this differing biological response was found in their children and then in their grandchildren, even when their progeny haven’t experienced any specific trauma themselves. Previously these issues were ascribed to parents inadvertently transferring their own trauma to their children behaviorally, but these newer findings could lead to biological treatment options in the future.

One article cited a researcher who didn’t see the value in examining second and third generations of people removed from trauma, at least not at

In the early ’90s, Yehuda opened a clinic to treat and study Holocaust refugees. She often got calls from the children of survivors. ‘At first, I would just politely explain that this is not a program for offspring,’ she says. But then she happened to read Maus, Art Spiegelman’s now-classic graphic novel about a paranoid Auschwitz survivor and his puzzled, repelled son, who observes that his father ‘bleeds history.‘ Shortly thereafter, yet another survivor’s child called her and said, ‘If you understood the issues better, I think you would see that we need a program also.’”

If you’re not familiar with it, Maus is an account of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences during the Second World War. Originally serialized in the pages of Raw, it is now available in either a single volume or two smaller books. Whether you have a personal interest in the holocaust or not, it is essential reading. Spiegelman casts various animals in the roles of the protagonists, creating a kind of healthy distance between us as readers and the horrific things happening to the characters. We’re always aware of his father’s voice and the very personal, intimate nature of the story, and the power of this deceptively sweet looking book is undeniable. As an oral history it is flawless and as a comic book it is revolutionary. The book is a classic for a good reason and unlike many of its contemporaries it spans mediums and appeals to a hugely diverse audience. I would recommend it to nearly every adult (and gift season is coming up), because despite the brutal subject matter it is a beautiful document of human resilience.

Various events this week have left me grateful to be a part of the specific comic book community in which I find myself. Social networks have done an impressive job of giving people a mouthpiece to espouse their responses to current events and to my surprise, despite my broad and disparate connections, it turns out that the comic book authors and readers I know online are a very thoughtful group.

I’ve seen many people bemoan the painful hatred they see on their own feeds, and it makes me feel that much more grateful to know the people I do. The warmth and care expressed by my comic book-loving community has been uniformly positive. Whether they make comic books or read them, it is increasingly clear that these are positive, constructive people who care about each other and the world in general. The comic book industry has had some pretty mixed press with horror stories about comic book professionals and readers trolling for arguments and even inciting violence, but this is not my experience of the comic book community. Instead I have been impressed and even buoyed by my comic book friends in this strange industry and I hope we can shine a light on the good today.

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