Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In the Shadow of No Towers

Art Spiegelman's Maus is a landmark book in the world of graphic novels. It won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, is frequently taught in schools, and is one of the books people point to when explaining that comics have "grown up" and are worthy of serious consideration. The weight of this accomplishment left Spiegelman with little energy to work on other comix (that's the term he likes) projects, and it was not until twelve years later and the trauma of the 9/11 attacks that he set to creating another comix narrative.

In the Shadow of No Towers is the fruit of this labor. A unique narrative comprised of broadsheet sized pages that recall the classic newspaper comics of the late 19th and early 20th century, this graphic novel contains frenetic images, bold colors, and nonlinear storytelling to capture what Spiegelman felt in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedies. His fear for his daughter's life as he and his wife streak to her school to retrieve her, his stressful attempts to make sense of what happened, and his frustration that the US government was hijacked by conservative radicals in the years following the attacks are some of the emotions that come to the fore. Spiegelman spoke about creating this book in this interview with NPR.

After the narrative, a short essay about classic newspaper strips is included as well as a handful of representative pages from series such as Bringing Up Father, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Hogan's Alley. Looking at these, the reader sees that issues of urban blight, fear of immigrants, and concerns about high rise buildings and safety are nothing new.

Reviews I have read all praise this book for its complicated and unique take on 9/11. The New York Times' David Hadju commented positively on how Spiegelman uses nostalgia to make sense of incomprehensible events and create "an approach that is simultaneously contemporary and antique." Salon's Scott Hill gushed that this book is "dark, troubling, and sometimes hilarious" and that it "may be the finest and most personal work of art to emerge from the tragedy." Liz Miller wrote that the book "feels incomplete" but that it reveals "a sad truth: in a reality-based community, little conclusion is possible." Tim Grierson added "Spiegelman's diary of witty, churning comics reenergized a great artist who has the misfortune of turning great tragedies into profound work. We should be thankful we're not great artists." In a review written a little more recently, Niranjana Iyer highlighted the political dissent this book embodies.

Some preview images are available from the books publisher Pantheon.

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