Comic relief


The first thing Art Spiegelman did when he took the stage was light up a cigarette. “Think of this as performance art,” he said. “That’s the only way they’d let me smoke.” So began the multimedia lecture by the creative writing program’s Kestnbaum writer in residence. Spiegelman achieved national fame in 1992 when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel of Holocaust remembrance, Maus. Thursday afternoon in Court Theatre he addressed a newer trauma, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which he witnessed firsthand. He was mentally paralyzed for months, he said, after rushing to take his daughter out of Stuyvesant High School that morning and witnessing the Twin Towers collapse just a few blocks away as they ran home.

“Everything I know I learned from comics.” Projecting pages of his newest comic, In the Shadow of No Towers, Spiegelman’s attempt to resolve his memory of the catastrophe with the United States’ subsequent militaristic response, he proceeded to a history of comics—which began accidentally, when a new color printing press at Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper failed to reproduce great works of art, forcing the paper to invent the funny pages as a backup plan. When it comes to graphic novels, Spiegelman is interested not so much in superhero fare but rather in underground comics.

Defending his medium as a unique art form with distinct visual semantics, Spiegelman advocated comics’ use to change the frantic, terrorism-obsessed state of American culture. “We have to stick to our convoluted ironies and use them toward an end other than nihilism,” he says. “We need a neosincerity.”

Joseph Liss, '04

Photo: Art Spiegelman depicts "the new normal" after September 11,

May 28, 2004