Spotting a sale sign at a bookstore always activates a panic button in me. It never fails to elicit that heart-pounding, wide-eyed excitement at the prospect of finding a book to add to my shelf, and after years of practice I think I’m fairly proficient at spotting a gem in the bargain bin. Still, I can never get enough of that heady feeling of getting a great book at an outrageously low price.
Just last month, after the Art inFiction book discussion, the Fully Booked Greenbelt branch was on sale, and because there was a line for our dinner table at Chili’s we couldn’t resist the lure of the bargain tables laid out in the storefront. Something shiny caught my eye as soon as I reached the table. Bingo — In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman, and, hold your breath, at 80% off, marked down from P958 to under P200! (around $4, never mind that it’s a bit scuffed, it’s a ginormous board book!).
I’ve admired Art Spiegelman’s (and his wife Francoise Mouly’s) work in the Little Lit Series, but it was only after Flipper friend Mike lent me his prized boxed set of Maus that I reached fangirl status, not just for Art Spiegelman, but also for graphic novels… the non-spandex kind.
While the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus is Spiegelman’s attempt to come to terms with his father’s Holocaust experience, In the Shadow of No Towers is a visual chronicle of his 9/11 trauma.
“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 warned me about when they taught me to always keep my bags packed,” he writes in his introduction.
The hefty board book, about the size of a newspaper when spread out, is a full-color series of post-9/11 comics published in the small-circulation newspaper Forward — apparently the NY Review of Books, the NY Times, and the New Yorker all turned him down for this series (imagine, turning down Art Spiegelman!), showing his 9/11 experience from that fateful morning up to the countdown to the 2004 anniversary.
It’s a visual feast, as each spread showcases a variety of Spiegelman’s illustration styles: flat-colored comics with thick outlines. sketchy dimensional cartoons, “distressed” dotted effects, ink washes, and many more. He even occasionally reverts to his Maus character once in a while, comparing the air in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 to the smoke in Auschwitz.
Spiegelman always manages to pour himself into his artwork, in a way that captures what he is going through. In Maus he grapples with the guilt of being born after the Holocaust, after all his family has gone through; in this book it’s the post-traumatic stress of an attack of what (he realizes) he has considered his home.
In one strip, Spiegelman remarks, “Y’know how I’ve called myself a ‘rootless cosmopolitan,’ equally homeless anywhere on the planet? I was wrong… I finally understand why some Jews didn’t leave Berlin right after Kristallnacht.”
Bombarded with patriotic outbursts (particularly repeated readings of the WH Auden’s “September 1, 1939” a poem written during the outbreak of World War II (with the lines ‘the unmentionable odour of death offends the September night’ and ‘we must love one another or die’), Spiegelman turns to ‘the only cultural artifacts that could get past [his] defenses to flood [his] eyes and brain with something other than burning towers’ — old comic strips.
Thus, the book contains a “comic supplement,” which discusses early American newspaper comics: Lyonel Feninger’s “Kinder Kids, “Richard Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley,” Gustave Verbeck’s “Upside Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo,” and many more. The section also showcases exquisite colored plates of the said comics.
Here’s my favorite, Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay:
Upon closer inspection, are the inspiration for some of the illustration styles used by Spiegelman in his strips for this series! Amazing! And my fangirl-ism just went up another level.
I’ll have another Spiegelman post (a fangirl one) coming up soon, thanks to some generous souls who are feeding my Spiegelman phase, wink wink.
In the Shadow of No Towers, board book, 5/5 stars
Book #74 for 2010