Spiegelman and his family bore witness to the attacks in their lower Manhattan neighborhood: his teenage daughter had started school directly below the towers days earlier, and they had lived in the area for years. But the horrors they survived that morning were only the beginning for Spiegelman, as his anguish was quickly displaced by fury at the U.S. government, which shamelessly co-opted the events for its own preconceived agenda.
He responded in the way he knows best. In an oversized, two-page-spread format that echoes the scale of the earliest newspaper comics (which Spiegelman says brought him solace after the attacks), he relates his experience of the national tragedy in drawings and text that convey—with his singular artistry and his characteristic provocation, outrage, and wit—the unfathomable enormity of the event itself, the obvious and insidious effects it had on his life, and the extraordinary, often hidden changes that have been enacted in the name of post-9/11 national security and that have begun to undermine the very foundation of American democracy.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||10.10(w) x 14.50(h) x 0.88(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
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In the Shadow of No Towers
By Art Spiegelman
PantheonCopyright © 2004 Art Spiegelman
All right reserved.
IntroductionThe Sky Is Falling!
I tend to be easily unhinged. Minor mishaps-a clogged drain, running late for an appointment-send me into a sky-is-falling tizzy. It's a trait that can leave one ill-equipped for coping with the sky when it actually falls. Before 9/11 my traumas were all more or less self-inflicted, but outrunning the toxic cloud that had moments before been the north tower of the World Trade Center left me reeling on that faultline where World History and Personal History collide-the intersection my parents, Auschwitz survivors, had warned me about when they taught me to always keep my bags packed.
It took a long time to put the burning towers behind me. Personal history aside, zip codes seemed to have something to do with the intensity of response. Long after uptown New Yorkers resumed their daily jogging in Central Park, those of us living in Lower Manhattan found our neighborhood transformed into one of those suburban gated communities as we flashed IDs at the police barriers on 14th Street before being allowed to walk home. Only when I traveled to a university in the Midwest in early October 2001 did I realize that all New Yorkers were out of their minds compared to those for whom the attack was an abstraction. The assault on the Pentagon confirmed that the carnage in New York City was indeed an attack on America, not one more skirmish on foreign soil. Still, the small town I visited in Indiana-draped in flags that reminded me of the garlic one might put on a door to ward off vampires-was at least as worked up over a frat house's zoning violations as with threats from "raghead terrorists." It was as if I'd wandered into an inverted version of Saul Steinberg's famous map of America seen from Ninth Avenue, where the known world ends at the Hudson; in Indiana everything east of the Alleghenies was very, very far away.
One of my near-death realizations as the dust first settled on Canal Street was the depth of my affection for the chaotic neighborhood that I can honestly call home. Allegiance to this unmelted nugget in the melting pot is as close as I comfortably get to patriotism. I wasn't able to imagine myself leaving my city for safety in, say, the south of France, then opening my Herald Tribune at some café to read that New York City had been turned into radioactive rubble. The realization that I'm actually a "rooted" cosmopolitan is referred to in the fourth of the No Towers comix pages that follow, but the unstated epiphany that underlies all the pages is only implied: I made a vow that morning to return to making comix full-time despite the fact that comix can be so damn labor intensive that one has to assume that one will live forever to make them.
In those first few days after 9/11 I got lost constructing conspiracy theories about my government's complicity in what had happened that would have done a Frenchman proud. (My susceptibility for conspiracy goes back a long ways but had reached its previous peak after the 2000 elections.) Only when I heard paranoid Arab Americans blaming it all on the Jews did I reel myself back in, deciding it wasn't essential to know precisely how much my "leaders" knew about the hijackings in advance-it was sufficient that they immediately instrumentalized the attack for their own agenda. While I was going off the deep end in my studio, my wife, Françoise, was out impersonating Joan of Arc-finding temporary shelter for Tribeca friends who'd been rendered homeless, sneaking into the cordoned-off areas to bring water to rescue workers and even, as art editor of The New Yorker, managing to wrest a cover image from me, a black-on-black afterimage of the towers published six days after the attack.
I'd spent much of the decade before the millennium trying to avoid making comix, but from some time in 2002 till September 2003 I devoted myself to what became a series of ten large-scale pages about September 11 and its aftermath. It was originally going to be a weekly series, but many of the pages took me at least five weeks to complete, so I missed even my monthly deadlines. (How did the newspaper cartoonists of the early twentieth century manage it? Was there amphetamine in Hearst's water coolers?) I'd gotten used to channeling my modest skills into writing essays and drawing covers for The New Yorker. Like some farmer being paid to not grow wheat, I reaped the greater rewards that came from letting my aptitude for combining the two disciplines lie fallow.
A restlessness with The New Yorker that predated 9/11 grew as the magazine settled back down long before I could. I wanted to make comix-after all, disaster is my muse!-but the magazine's complacent tone didn't seem conducive to communicating hysterical fear and panic. At the beginning of 2002, while I was still taking notes toward a strip, I got a fortuitous offer to do a series of pages on any topic I liked from my friend Michael Naumann, who had recently become the editor and publisher of Germany's weekly broadsheet newspaper, Die Zeit. It allowed me to retain my rights in other languages and came complete with a promise of no editorial interference-an offer no cartoonist in his right mind could refuse. Even one in his wrong mind.
The giant scale of the color newsprint pages seemed perfect for oversized skyscrapers and outsized events, and the idea of working in single page units corresponded to my existential conviction that I might not live long enough to see them published. I wanted to sort out the fragments of what I'd experienced from the media images that threatened to engulf what I actually saw, and the collagelike nature of a newspaper page encouraged my impulse to juxtapose my fragmentary thoughts in different styles.
-Art Spiegelman, NYC, February 16, 2004
Excerpted from In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman Copyright © 2004 by Art Spiegelman. Excerpted by permission.
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An Interview with Art Spiegelman
Barnes & Noble.com: In the Shadow of No Towers is your first major work since the legendary graphic novel Maus. Is it safe to say that No Towers is a much different type of book?
Art Spiegelman: I'll say. I've been dismayed to see it referred to as a graphic novel. It's an elliptical essay. Maus was hundreds of pages, 13 years of work, small, and black-and-white. In the Shadow of No Towers is short but far thicker thanks to cardboard pages, giant in scale, in color, and its formal elements are far closer to the surface.
B&N.com: The one-page works that make up No Towers were originally published overseas. Why?
AS: I felt like I was living in internal exile in 2002. It's hard to remember now when the press is slightly less comatose and Fahrenheit 9/11 is a box-office hit, but things I needed to express could not be said in the American mainstream press.
B&N.com: The art on each page is quite complex -- how long did each one take to complete?
AS: The pages were done as monthly broadsheets. Each one took up to five weeks to do. I don't understand how the Sunday comics artists at the beginning of the last century managed to meet their deadlines. There must have been amphetamine in New York's water supplies.
B&N.com: You're passionately anti-Bush. Do you sometimes feel you have an unrealistic sense of national politics, living in the bluest of "blue states"?
AS: I usually feel that our press here has an unrealistic sense of national politics. It's not nearly angry enough about how the hijackings of September 11th have themselves been hijacked by the Bush cabal that reduced it all to a war recruitment poster.
B&N.com: Is No Towers the first political "sequential art" piece you've done?
AS: Pretty much, except for some juvenilia during the Vietnam War. It took me 13 years just to deal with World War II.
B&N.com: The book includes a short history of the Hearst and Pulitzer newspaper comic strips. Have you ever thought about publishing a lengthier study of those works?
AS: I thought about turning my Comics 101 lecture into a book, but my September 11th epiphany made me vow to stick with making comics rather than getting too engaged in writing about them or editing them. I heard that life is short.
B&N.com: How did you select the examples of old comic strip art that are in the book?
AS: I wanted to build a twin tower next to my own pages that footnoted them and demonstrated how the past and present bleed into each other from another perspective. The specific strips used the old characters that took over my pages and the specific examples all seemed to comment on our current situation from the informed perspective of the early 20th century.
B&N.com: The book often portrays you as nervous about your survival. What do you make of the constant government terror warnings?
AS: I don't need color codings to know what a dangerous world we are in, or how much more dangerous our government has made it.
B&N.com: How do you feel about the Lower Manhattan reconstruction plans?
AS: I never thought that highly of the original towers. So I don't see any reason why I should like what comes in their place. What I love about New York is that it's a giant collage and can even survive mediocre new architecture added into its mix.
B&N.com: Do you plan to do any further political art in this election year?
AS: Yes, I hope to report on the upcoming demonstrations in New York and with press credentials from The New Yorker go to the Republican National Convention. I've never met any Republicans and it seems like a fine opportunity.