May 21, 2012

Comics Techniques and Tricks: In the Shadow of No Towers

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

So I can talk about IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS now, right? It's safe? People won't take it as a reason to talk about politics nonsensically anymore?

Okay, good. So Art Spiegelman used IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS as a sort of sequential art diary of his reactions to 9/11 and the World Trade Center attacks. They comprised full-page newspaper comics pages, each done at a different point in time. At first he's reacting to the attacks, and by the end of it, he was criticizing the Bush administration.

Here's the first spread.

Taken from this site.

Spiegelman's layout is evocative of a newspaper page, with seemingly six different "strips" going on at once. and yet, they're all interconnected. From the theme of "waiting for the other shoe to drop" in "Etymological Vaudeville" and the circular panel in the bottom center to the two towers falling (realize how there are two towers falling? A reader too used to the convention of sequential art may see them as the same tower), this is one unified page.

But the technique I really want to point out happens on the upper right corner, because this is where Spiegelman's structural mastery shines. So we have the rather clever (and biting) three panels of the family in the wake of September 11 on the top tier of the page there. Their strip ends with them hanging an American flag in their living room, which then leads your eye directly into the next "strip," because the panel tilts and behind it is the American flag. (The message is the same: flag-waving and nationalism came in the wake of 9/11.) The proximity of the two flags makes the reading fluid. You read the family strip, then you read the right tower falling. Then because of its similarity in terms of graphics, you read the left tower falling. What an unorthodox way to read a comic book. But it works, and all it really proves is that your tricks must match your material.

IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS is a structural and technical masterpiece, and it will hold a place in my heart forever for personal reasons. I can't speak for its relevance in this day and age (probably still very relevant), but if you want to learn about techniques and comic book history, it's a good book to have on your shelf, especially since it's got classic newspaper-era comics such as LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND in the back matter as well.

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