Archive for the 'Graphic Novel/Comic' Category

In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman

Central OVERSIZE: PN6727.S6 I5 2004

As the five year anniversary of 9/11 approaches, this book seemed an appropriate read. This collection of comic strips that appeared in the wake of the attacks is not for the squeamish or easily offended. It will move you, maybe disturb you, and maybe anger you.

Spiegelman is angry. He splatters his anger and grief like paint onto the canvas. Catharsis may have eventually mitigated his passion, but we meet it here before that mitigation. We meet him in all his fury—raw and bitter and intense. Some will find it offensive, especially as it takes aim at political figures and policies.

Spiegelman was there that day—he and his wife heard the first plane crash as they walked down the street, and turned to see the horror of smoke and fire pouring from the north tower. They ran, panicking, to retrieve their daughter from her school at the foot of the towers. They later outran the toxic cloud spewing from the towers as they collapsed into rubble.

This book brought home to me an idea that ought to be obvious, but hadn’t really struck me deeply; people in the vicinity of the crash (and this applies to those in D.C. and Pennsylvania, as well) were traumatized at a level beyond the understanding of those of us who watched it unfold on television. As Spiegelman points out, even uptown New Yorkers seemed to have recovered while he was still numbly attempting to piece together a semblance of normalcy.
This book is part of an attempt by someone intimately affected by the events to process his trauma, anger and terror. The last third or so of the book, I think, represents some of his healing. It seems, at first blush, to bear no relationship to the pages preceding it. It is a brief history of newspaper cartooning in America, followed by seven plates of original, turn-of-the-20th-Century cartoons.

I think the author explains the abrupt topic switch by using two callouts on the page titled “The Comic Supplement.”

“Right after 9/11/01, while waiting for some other terrorist shoe to drop, many found comfort in poetry. Others searched for solace in old newspaper comics.” —In the Shadow of No Towers, #10.

“The blast that disintegrated those Lower Manhattan towers also disinterred the ghosts of some Sunday supplement stars born on nearby Park Row. They came back to haunt one denizen of the neighborhood, addled by all that’s happened since.” —In the Shadow of No Towers, #8.

Spiegelman resurrects these comic “ghosts” (Katzenjammer Kids, Kinder Kids, Happy Hooligan, etc.), and they appear throughout the No Towers comic series. I believe the beauty, clarity, and intelligence of these comics comforted and soothed the author during a chaotic and fearful time.

(Originally published in Connections, September 2006)

Persepolis / Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi

Central Books: PN6747.S245 P4713 2003 / PN6747.S245 P4913 2004

Maybe you think you’re not interested in graphic novels. So did I. These two books by Iranian writer/artist Marjane Satrapi have convinced me to take a closer look at this increasingly respected genre.

Persepolis focuses on Satrapi’s early years, up until she was 15 years old, when her parents sent her to Austria to escape government oppression. Persepolis 2 picks up there, follows her adventures in Austria, her return to Iran, and ends with her leaving Iran again for an expatriate life in France.

Satrapi’s droll sense of humor had captured me by the first book’s second frame. The first frame of the author (as a child) in her scarf, followed by a second frame filled with a row of identical little girl in headscarves (with the author barely in frame), deftly illustrates—with a kind of heartbreaking humor—the loss of identity many girls felt when Iran began mandating the covering of women after the revolution.

The narrator’s voice changes as her protagonist matures. The child’s voice dominates in Persepolis—boisterous and belligerent, naïve and innocent. Marjane the child roars through life, determined to experience everything, and all but ignores the oppressive nature of the world around her. It is this very lust for life that her parents wish to encourage but fear will endanger her. She is sent away.

In Persepolis 2, Marjane’s voice matures. As she tries to find her way in a foreign country whose language she does not speak, her innocence slowly dies away. It is that loss we mourn, as she becomes emotionally, then monetarily, then physically destitute.

This description makes these books sound dark and morose, and yet there is always that sparkle, that twinkle in the eye that appreciates the absurd amid the saddest situation. Marjane’s story shakes its fist at life, defying it to tear down a strong and joyous spirit.

(Originally published in Connections, March 2006)