In the Shadow of No Towers (Pantheon Graphic Library)
For Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of Maus, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were both highly personal and intensely political. In the Shadow of No Towers, his first new book of comics since the groundbreaking Maus, is a masterful and moving account of the events and aftermath of that tragic day.
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 odd, ceaselessly hidden changes which have been enacted in the name of post-9/11 national security and that have begun to undermine the very foundation of American democracy.
Catastrophic, world-altering events like the September 11 attacks on america place the millions of us who experience them on the “fault line where World History and Personal History collide.” Most of us, alternatively, cannot document that intersection with the force, compression, and poignancy expressed in Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers. As in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, cartoonist Spiegelman presents a highly personalized, political, and confessional diary of his experience of September 11 and its aftermath. In 10 large-scale pages of original, hard hitting material (composed from September 11, 2001 to August 31, 2003), two essays, and 10 old comic strip reproductions from the early 20th century, Spiegelman expresses his feelings of dislocation, grief, anxiety, and outrage over the horror of the attacks—and the subsequent “hijacking” of the event by the Bush administration to serve what he believes is a misguided and immoral political agenda. Readers who believe Spiegelman’s point of view will marvel at the brilliance of his images and the wit and accuracy of his statement. Others, no doubt, will be jolted by his candor and, perhaps, be challenged to reexamine their position.
The central image in the sequence of original broadsides, which returns as a leitmotif in each strip, is Spiegelman’s Impressionistic “vision of disintegration,” of the North Tower, its “glowing bones…just before it vaporized.” (As downtown New Yorkers, Spiegelman and his family experienced the event firsthand.) But the images and styles in the book are as fragmentary and ever-shifting as Spiegelman’s reflections and reactions. The creator’s closing comment that “The towers have come to loom far larger than life…but they seem to get smaller each day” reflects a larger and more chilling irony that permeates In the Shadow of No Towers. Despite the ephemeral nature of the comic strip form, the old comics behind the book have outlasted the seemingly indestructible towers. In the same way, Spiegelman’s heartfelt impressions have immortalized the towers that, imponderably, have now vanished. –Silvana Tropea