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Review: "Auschwitz," by Pascal Croci

In my continued admiration and exploration of graphic novels this is the first of several books that I will review in the next week or so. Of course based on truth, this is a fictional account of an individual's experience at the infamous concentration camp. Through interviews with real people and eyewitness accounts the author has rendered a vision of hell through black and white drawings and a slim narrative. He feels that fictional accounts are valid, such as the television mini-series "Holocaust". One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the lengthy author interview at the back of the book. The artist discusses his philosophy and approach to the subject and his methods of depiction. For example, despite the fact that he depicts brutalism and grotesque horror in the aftermath of a mass gassing of victims, he decided to prohibit himself from drawing pictures of those victims alive and naked. He felt that the "still" photo of people in aguish and naked would distract the reader. But he does not hesitate to show naked dead victims in a mass grave, distorted and emaciated. Discussion needs to focus on the author's drawings. He chose black and white sketch work as his medium. Faces are depicted in slightly exaggerated distortions. Eyes are very large on victims. Nazis and capos appear malevolently evil, almost deathly and grimaced. Background is minimal or missing. Horror and cruelty abound in the stark realism of his sketches. But, and this is a huge but on my part, there is a diminution of the horror and evil due to the comic book like representation. I have seen these faces before in the early comic books of Strange Tales and horror mags. Nazis resemble evil henchmen from Marvel or Image comics. There is a distraction factor, a sense of non-realizable of "fake" ugliness and evil contained in the drawings. This is not to accuse Croci of underestimating or diminishing the subject on purpose, but somehow I feel that his depictions cannot due adequate justice. Perhaps no drawings can. Is "Maus" a better graphic novel illustrating the same topic. I believe it is. It brings us to the violence and man's inhumanity to man from another direction. Using mice and cats and allowing our imaginations to fill in the harsh realities is almost a better, more powerful, technique. Read only at your peril and bring a strong stomach and a heavy heart. Not for most.