Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Maus both powerfully express an adult child trying to evaluate his/her emotions and parental relationships in the advent of their deaths. However both take different narrative approaches and are at different stages of reconciliation of their emotions.
In both comics, it is clear to us from the first interaction that father and child have a complex relationship. In Maus, it is very directly expressed in the first panel of Volume 1 when Art narrates, “I went out to see my Father in Rego Park. I hadn’t seen him in a long time – we weren’t that close.” (Spiegelman 1:1) The image however, contrastingly shows a much closer interaction, with Vladek expressing worry about his son, and Art addressing his father affectionately as “Poppa”, and with them running into each other’s embrace. The contrast forces the reader to look further into the relationship. In Fun Home, Bechdel describes her interaction with her father playing “airplane”, but while Alison was enthusiastic about it, Bruce clearly was not, as pictured, and when his focus diverts to asking Alison to “get the vacuum cleaner” (Bechdel 1). There is awkwardness in the father-child relationship that the reader is dealt with in the outset, and this sets the lens through which the reader views the rest of the narrative. The most striking similarity in both comics is that both Alison and Art feel guilt in their relationship with their father in the aftermath of Bruce and Vladek’s death respectively. In Maus, this is most clearly expressed in Volume II (see A). Art’s guilt is twofold. First, there is the guilt of him not being a better son. Art starts to narrate events – “Vladek died of congestive heart failure on August 18, 1982. Francoise and [Art] stayed with him in the Catskills in August 1979.” (Spiegelman 2: 41) And so on. This seems like a weak attempt to reassure himself that he did something for his father before his death, especially because we saw prior that in Catskills, his father had tried to convince Art and Francoise to stay with him, but Art pushed him away (Spiegelman 2: 24). In fact, in Volume 1, he had previously said that he would “rather feel guilty” than go out to Queens to help his father out (Spiegelman 1: 97). The tensions between him and his father are displayed throughout the book, but we never see Art’s thoughts conveyed directly until this moment in Volume II.
The second layer of guilt expressed in Maus is a sense of survivor’s guilt. By comparing life events (see Appendix A), Art is drawing parallels between his and his father’s life. The connections between the events however (times of the year) are at best, superficial, and he gets depressed when discusses the commercial success of his work to the personal failure he feels immensely guilty about – his mother’s suicide. Art chooses to start with a panel zoomed in on his upper body, and we know that something is amiss when he is not drawn a rat, but an artist with a rat mask, unkempt, and with two flies zooming around, a symbol of despair and desperation commonly used in the book. It zooms out further and further as he compares events, and we are at last hit with the punch line in the last panel. In the last panel, his drawing table sits atop a mountain of dead rat corpses akin to the Jewish corpses he would have drawn to describe the Holocaust. He speaks of the “critical and commercial success” of the first part of Maus, but it rides on the deaths of many (literally depicted), a burden that he is obviously pained to bear. Within his speech bubble, there are parentheses, which are not something you can say out, so these lines “I don’t wanna” and “She left no note” seem like whispers, or silent cries for help from him. Art slumped over his drawing desk in spite of his success tells us very clearly that he is emotionally burdened by all the events of the Holocaust that he spent so much time asking his father