Brenna's Reviews > In the Shadow of No Towers

In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman
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Nov 29, 2009

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Read in November, 2009

"Schmuck, you shoulda done more comix!" Art Spiegelman tells his audience was one of the prominent thoughts that passed through his mind as he watched the north tower of the World Trade Center collapse.

Spiegelman thought he was going to die that day. He and wife Francoise were on the street when they heard the tremendous crash of the plane hitting the first tower. It hardly phased them at first... until they finally turned around to see what had upset a fellow pedestrian.

His first concern was for his teenaged daughter, who attended a school within a few minutes' walking distance from what became Ground Zero. As they prepared to call the school, the second plane hit.

Spiegelman thought that it was the end of the world, that the sky was falling... and that he was going to die.

In the Shadow of No Towers is an unusual book in that it is comprised of merely ten of the artist's comix, with a smattering of classic Sunday newspaper supplement strips for reference. Spiegelman, in his own series, drew frequent reference to some of the more esoteric relics of bygone days (Bringing Up Father and The Katzenjammer Kids being amongst the more commonly-remembered titles), and the pages following his own serve to give unknowing readers a point of reference, so as to better understand the oblique homages. Each comic occupies two large cardboard "pages," and this is what gives the large tome its overall heft (almost three pounds for a 48-paged book!).

The book details one man's reaction to the greatest tragedy on American soil in recent years - a man who was practically an eye-witness to the events of that day. From this comes the strength of the book, and gives it significant meaning such as many other such titles may not have.

However, the book - as a whole piece - is disjointed. The "comics supplement" section, while creating reference for readers, feels gratuitous and irrelevant to the previous pages' subject matter. Perhaps delving into these comics was a part of Spiegelman's initial reaction to the tragedy ("The blast that disintegrated those Lower Manhattan towers also disinterred the ghosts of some Sunday supplement stars born on nearby Park Row," states the eightyh installation of "In the Shadow of No Towers). To the reader, though, the inclusion of these seemingly random supplements feels an excessive exercise in piecemealing a complete book together. True, the subject of these classic comics appear to have some slight relation ("Father, for instance, is unnerved by the sight of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Happy Hooligan gets a stint riding a camel in a circus for a day), but still... is there any pertinent relationship beyond these superficialities?

Spiegelman's comix are altogether too rare to be left unseen. In this case, after having appeared in their original venue (the German newspaper Die Zeit), perhaps they ought to have been included along with more of the author's output (as sporadic as it has become). Perhaps it was feared that the material would have been too "outdated" to reprint along with further new material. As moving and as majestic these full-colour pages are, they just haven't got enough strength to support an entire book all on their own.

Thankfully, though, Spiegelman has done more comix, and lives on to create even more.
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