the Shadow of No Towers
42 pages, $19.95
The power and heft of Art Spiegelman’s first graphic novel
in 12 years transcend and upend the literary. An artifact,
a slab, a monument, In the Shadow of No Towers is no
mere book. Unpaginated, ungainly and heavy, it seems to demand
its own space, and a coffee table wouldn’t seem right for
a statement so thick and unsettling. This is a cry that would
outshout chaos, an attempt to contextualize an event that
seems to defy history. In melding humor and anger, Spiegelman’s
In the Shadow of No Towers wields merciless magic.
Unlike a work that’s all text, you can “get through” this
quickly. Absorbing it takes more time. It’s Spiegelman’s attempt
to keep the memory of the World Trade Center from frying his
brain. Patiently created, with great emotional trepidation,
this signals Spiegelman’s fresh commitment to a world he’s
just beginning to trust again. Now that there’s a presidential
election, he suggests, free speech is at least temporarily
back in vogue.
Approach this as you would the Trade Center if it still stood.
Like a building, In the Shadow has a front door: The
glossy black outlines of the two towers terrorists destroyed
on Sept. 11, 2001, dominate this somber, fitful creation,
as they did the darker, more subtly textured and more disturbing
cover (Spiegelman calls it an “afterimage”) he produced for
The New Yorker the week of the attacks on lower Manhattan
and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Once you get inside this dark cartoon structure, 14 inches
tall, 10 inches wide and an inch thick, the world disorients,
reflecting the effect of the attacks. After two pages in which
Spiegelman explains his art and his history since his two
Maus books won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, In the
Shadow goes lateral. This smooth, bulky thing, its backside
populated by high-contrast silhouettes of ancient cartoon
figures such as Olive Oyl, Dopey, Ignatz, L’il Abner and Mr.
O’Malley, turns on its side, expanding from text to densely
populated, stylistically diverse broadsheet-sized panels,
some of which took Spiegelman five weeks to produce.
All that tempers these busy, diverse panels, which aim to
evoke the immediacy and evanescence of old New York funny
papers, is time—as yet too raw to add up to history—and comics.
The latter surface in the form of cartoon references. Time
fills the frames in Spiegelman’s explicit connections between
9/11 and “the Giuliani years, when the homeless all magically
‘disappeared’ ” and this week’s GOP gathering (“And September
’04? Cowboy boots drop on Ground Zero as New York is transformed
into a stage set for the Republican Presidential Convention,
and Tragedy is transformed into Travesty . . .”).
the Shadow depicts a world turned every which way and
loose. There may be some “ands” here; as for “buts,” definitely
not. It’s 9/11 all over again, sky falling and all. Plate
1 stylizes Dan Rather, humanizes the stunned Spiegelman, ennobles
the city’s terrified populace and casts the two towers in
an eerie, radiated orange, as if they’re still burning. Plate
2 suggests irony isn’t dead, in a panel billboarding an Arnold
Schwarzenegger movie against a soot-filled sky. In that same
plate, at right center top, Spiegelman and wife Françoise
Mouly seem all antennae, hearing the crash of the first plane
as a red “Roarrrrrrrr!!” The planes in the picture and in
our recollection of that day’s world collapse simultaneously,
freezing the Spiegelmans (she’s The New Yorker’s
art director) in the frame. As in an Egyptian frieze,
background and foreground merge, the humans in the plate paralyzed
by the dread of the moment.
Spiegelman realizes his daughter Nadja is at school at the
foot of the towers and he must rescue her. He and Mouly rush
through town to reach Nadja; in temporarily overcoming his
nicotine habit, Spiegelman turns into the mouse from the Maus
books, a Jew who mentally twins the smell of that day’s Manhattan
soot with the smoke of Auschwitz gas chambers. These ghastly
aromas lead Spiegelman/Maus to figure that if cigarettes won’t
kill him, the nation’s poor air quality will. All of which
gives his paranoia credence.
the Shadow is about overcoming paranoia, about coming
to terms with a world in which news happens so quickly it’s
instantly commercialized. The world Spiegelman deplores, loves
and so vividly depicts is one in which rhetoric trumps passion,
terrorist attacks become ads for war recruitment, and Spiegelman
finds himself living in the “state of alienation,” a country
he says cries out for a third party, but not the “Ostrich
Party” of the R. Crumb-like Panel 5 centerpiece.
the Shadow of No Towers treats Washington, D.C., as a
separate nation, and is being published mere days ahead of
the third anniversary of 9/11. It’s a New York scold of the
current administration. It’s also a profound act of engagement:
Spiegelman quit creating comics for much of the ’90s, and
at the turn of the century was even disenchanted with The
New Yorker, which he viewed as too complacent. In the
Shadow puts him back in the polemics game.
the Shadow of No Towers is Spiegelman’s attempt to stand
firm against a world that continues to collapse around him.
Small but eloquent comfort, it’s original, provocative and