10 March, 2012
Review: In The Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman
Spiegelman is a brilliant artist but I begin to suspect that the strength of Maus was pairing him with what was ultimately someone else's narrative. When dealing with his own life Spiegelman tends to be claustrophobically interior. He doesn't require broader strokes of perspective for what he already knows. In The Shadow of No Towers could have been a brilliant book if he had been able to step back from the material. As a cathartic work the emotion represented is a fair representation of how a section of the population felt. As a graphic novel it fails. If the name wasn't on the cover, the work wouldn't be in the bookstore as stand alone content.
Using perhaps half a dozen pages Spiegelman focuses on very little. It's not that he is wrong in his emotion. That is how he felt. That is what he thought. But why do we care? Why is his inability to settle his mind of emotional importance to the reader? Without a narrative other than "9/11 made me feel crazy and I am angry at my government's response" there is no emotional connection. Further distancing the reader is the combination of styles. Drawing stylistically on pre 1920 news cartoons with a strong Crumb influence, Spiegelman confuses the casual reader. (I have a pretty deep knowledge of the history, so I understood what he was doing with it.) Most readers are going to scratch their heads and say WTF? I wish he had taken these iconic characters and assigned them roles if he felt it important to include them at all. Perhaps turning to these familiar images helped him gain the emotional distance he needed to work the strips. It's hard to say because the content is so slight. Refreshingly, this is a 9/11 concerned work that doesn't feel a need to demonize half the world. Regrettably, Spiegelman is in the inside job camp of conspiracy theory. (He eases off the throttle toward the end.) While Bush & Cheney certainly hijacked the attack for their own ends, focusing on hatred of them dilutes the power of what happened in New York. I did not leave the scant pages of In The Shadow of No Towers with a deeper understanding of anything. It makes me sad that I can't recommend it.