Art Spiegelman did the keynote address at the AWP Conference this February, and he talked about the form of In the Shadow of No Towers. He explained how comics typically lead readers from one frame to another in easy-to-follow boxes and text blocks. Because of his state of mind following 9/11, he created frames which were much more jarring. Reading through the pages, you can’t always tell where you’re supposed to begin and where to end. I think this echoes his feelings of alienation and confusion. He’s trying to make sense of what happened, but the frames, like his mindset, are fractured and can’t line up in any logical way.
Spiegelman continually reverts to depictions of the stalwart towers, either by revolving his frames into them, or showing their fuzzy images (like a TV screen) over and over again, just as the public was shown footage of the moments of collision over and over for a long time following the attack. However, instead of being desensitized by these images, his paranoia and shock reactions are just further inflamed. The skeleton of the tower is burned into his mind, to the point where he at one time even morbidly personifies the charred human skeletons of the running Katzenjammer Kid towers.
I’d be interested to hear everyone else’s opinion on the inclusion of the old comics in the back. I thought it was really interesting, and sort of creepy – creepy in the way that DeLillo kept talking about the twin towers in Mao II. I think the inclusion of these plates serves to recontextualize the events of 9/11, just as his multitude of styles and personalities (mouse, cartoon, etc.) places his own form in multiple realities. These are supposed to be nostalgic and innocent, and yet they’re flipped on their heads.
Now that I think about it, The People of Paper was hinting at graphic novel form too, although the formal structures and visual elements are dwarfed by the story and text (except when the black dots overtake the text). I guess in The People of Paper, the elements were competing, whereas graphic novels require a conversation between visual and textual elements. The narrative is equally dependent upon both.
Honestly, I found Shooting War kind of ridiculous. I read it at the beach, which may have had something to do with my reaction. But I think it was more the Jimmy Burns character (“I’m the hipster who’s going to save the world!”), and the “Burn, Baby, Burn,” catch phrase. I do like how they have the corporation logos rising clear above the rubble. And I appreciate how they created the frames to look like a buffering video shot. It’s like taking a fake site on the Internet and making a paper version – kind of like how House of Leaves takes a fake movie and makes a book. Kind of.
And it is a fake website. I checked. I mean, it’s real, but something different. Make sure to turn the sound up all the way.