Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spiegelman's Falling Man

Signed First Edition of Shadow, with
a sketch by Spiegleman.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated with graphic narratives. I was never really a comics reader, when I was a kid, and my interest in the form really dates from after I was thirty. In part, as I suggested in my 2014 book, The Visible Text, comics and graphic narratives stand as a response to the print paradigm that is as powerful, in its way, as the digital response.

But, of course, I’ve also become a collector of graphic novels (and I’ve bought and sold more than a few traditional comic books over the years, too). In traditional fiction, first editions are (sometimes) good, and signed first editions are (usually) better. But in the world of graphic narrative, there are first editions, signed first editions, and signed copies with sketches by the artist.

Today, I want to share an interesting graphic book with a sketch that I managed to find recently. As the image shows, the book is a copy of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, broadly signed across the bottom of the front cover by Spiegelman.

The book, of course, is Spiegelman’s fascinatingly complex response to the events of 9-11, in which he juxtaposes his own story of the day with other stories, including a wide range of New York City comics, going back at least to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo.  

One reason I am fascinated with artist-sketched copies of graphic narratives is that in The Visible Text, I suggested that comics works are not reproductions: a comics book does not function as a representation of a text, as a printed novel does, as a rule, because print is a medium. The comics novel (or non-fiction work) is the work of art, and we encounter it directly, immediately. And when an artist sketches on the work of art, it is, in a very real sense, a new work of art.

Interestingly, the sketch on this copy of Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers was probably done during the signing tour for his later re-issue of Breakdowns, because the autobiographical preface of the re-issued Breakdowns includes a kind of personal history of the little curlicue squiggle he has drawn here at the top of the towers here. In Breakdowns, the squiggle is part of a game Art plays with his mother, in which one of them draws a squiggle and the other uses it as part of a completed drawing. Here Spiegelman has used the squiggle to introduce an image of the “falling man” onto his stark black-on-black image of the twin towers.

Perhaps it is going too far to suggest that Spiegelman is also invoking Don DeLillo’s own 9-11 book, Falling Man, but even if not, the addition of the falling stick-man figure here transforms the front cover of this copy of In the Shadow of No Towers, and makes it, quite literally, into a unique piece of Spiegleman art.

Spiegelman, it seems, has signed a lot of copies of Maus over the years, often with a quick sketch of Artie, his alter ego in the book. The examples I’ve had have been little treasures, especially as I don’t expect to ever have occasion to purchase a real Spiegelman original. Yet it is important, I think, to see a sketch such as this one on In The Shadow of No Towers as a “real Spiegelman orginal,” even if he drew it more than once.

It couldn’t have taken Art Spiegelman more than a couple of seconds to draw an upside-down stick-man and a pig-tail curlicue, but in the way that this almost comically crude drawing overlays the somber black-on-black towers, I think the drawing has a strangely gripping power, as well as oddly referencing what has come to be seen as one of the most memorable images from 9-11. It literally changes the way I think about the whole book. I think, to put it in other terms, it changes the book.

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