Katz v. Maus: Counterfeit or critique? [Updated]
An odd little remix of Art Spiegelman’s Maus caused a bit of a stir at this year’s Angouleme International Comics Festival (of which Spiegelman was the honorary president), and now it looks like the remaining copies of the book will be destroyed at the behest of Spiegelman’s publisher.
In Maus, which is based on Spiegelman’s parents’ experiences in the Holocaust, the Jews are drawn as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the Poles as pigs. The remix, Katz, is an exact reproduction of Maus except that all the characters are cats. The Comics Reporter Bart Beaty was given a copy of the book at Angouleme and reports that it was for sale at a number of booths there, including that of the publisher, the Belgian house Cinquieme Couche. Mysteriously (or maybe not) Katz bears the name of no author or publisher on the cover, but Spiegelman’s French publisher, Flammarion, figured it out and took the publisher to court, seeking an injunction against them. The Paris tribunal has granted a delay so the two parties could work it out. [UPDATE: The author has since been revealed to be Xavier Löwenthal, who has posted a comment below.]
According to the Belgian website Le Vif, the creator of Katz is both making a point about freedom of expression and protesting the fatalism of Maus. Maus showed the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice, their natural prey; changing all the characters to cats, the anonymous author argues, makes the point that no such natural division exists among humans. Flammarion doesn’t see it that way and argues that this is a straight-up copyright violation (contrefaçon).
Despite the conviction that they are in the right, Cinquieme Couche doesn’t have the means to fight the case and has agreed to destroy all the books it has left. If I’m reading the Belgian article right, only 800 copies of the book were printed, so this doesn’t amount to a lot of physical stock, but of course there is the principle of the thing, and in this case, there is plenty of scope for argument on either side. The case goes back to court on March 13.