Home > Publication and Reception Histories > Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers

Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers

Michael Lawrence and Chip Cobb

Biography and Literary Career

Art Spiegelman, born to Vladek and Anya Spiegelman in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1948, began drawing and publishing his cartoons as early as 1963. His talents were put to use not long after this initial interest when he began studying art and philosophy at Harpur College from 1965-1968 and contributing to Topps Chewing Gum Company, for whom he would create the Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids series of trading cards. However, his studies were interrupted by anervous breakdown and his mother's subsequent suicide. Rather than return to school, Spiegelman moved to San Fransisco in 1971, beginning a prolific chapter of his career by helping its underground comics scene to thrive.

After producing many of his own comics and co-editing underground magazines, Spiegelman moved back to New York in the late 70s, where he would marry Francoise Mouly (now The New Yorker’s art editor), with whom he would also publish two volumes of RAW, an oversized magazine anthology of comics, featuring, amongst other seminal underground work in the medium, installments of Maus.

Maus I would finally see its release—as well as media and critical attention unprecedented within the mediumof comics—in 1986. Five years later, Pantheon released Maus II, which won a Pulitzer Prize and firmly legitimized comics as a medium worthy of academic interest and further artistic experimentation.

In 1992, Spiegelman became a contributing editor and cover artist for The New Yorker. Much of his subsequent work—including comics and essays—would appear in The New Yorker, until post-9/11 political differences led Spiegelman to resign from the magazine. He would publish his account of his harrowing experience of 9/11 serially as In the Shadow of No Towers in 2004.


Publication History of In The Shadow of No Towers

In the Shadow of No Towers was originally commissioned in 2001 by Die Zeit, a German newspaper that then published the broadsheet comic strips in ten serial installments. Numerous European publications simultaneously serialized the strip, the only major publication in the United States to publish the installments was the Jewish magazine The Forward. The strips were collected, along with introductory material and a “comic supplement” in a 15” x 10” board book published by Pantheon in 2004.

Publication Notes on “The Comic Supplement”:

Kin-Der-Kids, by Lyonel Feininger, is an adventure tale about of a group of children sailing the world in a bathtub; it ran from 1906-1907 in the Chicago Tribune (“Lyonel”)

Hogan’s Alley, by Richard F. Outcault ran from 1895-1898, originally in the New York World and later in the New York Journal, when Outcault was hired away (Canemaker 1-2).  The New York World then brought in George Luks to create a parallel strip once Outcault left (Canemaker 2). Hogan’s Alley became one of the first comics to really experiment with borders and with images not staying in their designated places (Bukatman 9). This experimentalism readable in the unruly nature of crisscrossing, competing, unruly images in Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers.

The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo, by Gustave Verbeek, ran from 1903-1905, and served as an experiment in form; the story required the panels to be read in their normal orientation first, and then to be read upside down for the conclusion (Wolk).

The Katzenjammer Kids, the story of two boys’ shenanigans and rebellion against authority, has been running continuously since 1897, when it was created by Rudolph Dirks (Suddath).  Legal disputes resulted in parallel strips running for decades in competing newspapers, one drawn by Dirks and one drawn by Harold Knerr, and the strip in its current incarnation is drawn by Hy Eisman (Suddath).  Note: Plate IV in the Comic Supplement is actually a spin-off version of Katzenjammer, drawn by Frederick Opper.

The Happy Hooligan, by Frederick Opper, ran from 1900-1932, and featured the story of an unflappably cheerful hobo who gets into all manner of slapsticky trouble (“Laughs!”).

Little Nemo in Slumblerland (1905-1914), by Windsor McKay, portrayed the hallucinatory reality of the dream world of young Nemo, whose dreams are often terrifying, but who always wakes up at the end of every strip (Bukatman 1). McKay’s visual style brought about a characteristic experimentation in scale and mutable reality even as it built on reliable use of paneling to frame it story (Butkatman 14).  Such changeable reality and dramatically shifting scale, even contained within discrete panels, is also a heavy influence on Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers.

Bringing Up Father, originally by George McManus, ran from 1913-2000, and told the story of an Irish immigrant, Jiggs, and his wife, Maggie, whose less-than-happy marriage is strained by their own weakness and their class-based struggles (“Laughs!”).


Critical Reception of In the Shadow of No Towers

Initial reviews were generally favorable, often comparing the collection to Spiegelman’s two volumes of Maus and focusing on the inclusion of, and references to, early 20th century comics.

Perhaps due to the relative proximity of the book’s release date to 9/11, critics often seemed to view the event of reviewing the book as an opportunity to voice their own post-9/11 reflections and commentary—however, interestingly, critics seemed to avoid aligning themselves directly with Spiegelman’s politics.

Positive reviews came from The New York Times, The Guardian, Salon, and TIME Magazine. The A.V. Club provided some of the only negative criticism of Spiegelman’s work, noting that “by openly displaying his influences, Spiegelman tips his hand a little too much, and by dividing his attention, he takes some of the bite out of his primary subject…Spiegelman deadens the impact of his return to autobiographical solo work by stepping away from both the “autobiographical” and “solo” parts of the equation.”


Popular Reception of In the Shadow of No Towers

Among readers in the general public, reception of In the Shadow of No Towers was generally positive, though mixed.  For most, the book was emotionally powerful and connected strongly with how the readers themselves had felt during and immediately after September 11th.  Many positive reviewers focused on how relatable and personally touched they were by Spiegelman, praising the author for leaving them “deeply moved” in his depiction of the events (Perksie). Interestingly, many of these readers were already prepared to be emotionally moved, “before [they] even opened the book,” coming to the work with strong expectations of its power (Perskie).  Similarly, other positive reviewers found Spieglman to be “an artist ‘in synch’ with the times” in his exploration of trauma combined with the critique of post-9/11 governmental response (Martin).  In other words, Spiegelamn’s political message, or even his presentation of how the message was conceived at the time, was effective for many readers. 

Dissatisfied reviewers, however, often felt that Spiegelman had put too much of his own political perspective into the book; some felt that they were misled into expecting an impartial reflection, and instead received “conspiracy theories” and “partisan drivel” (Howell).  Other unhappy readers were unsatisfied with the book’s lack of emotional resolution or positivity; one such reader found the book “bitter and unfocused” and its message as a whole to be damagingly self destructive, “as unsettling as it is unsatisfying, like watching someone scrape the scabs off a series of wounds and then leaving them there, bleeding” (Koss). Lastly, some simply saw the book as brief and perfunctory, a “scant group of strips…written more as catharsis than examination,” and found the Comic Supplement excessive (Montgomery)


Works Cited

Bukatman, Scott. The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012. Print.

Canemaker, John. “The Kid from Hogan’s Alley” (Review) NYTimes.com 17 Dec. 1995. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Howell, M. “Partisan trashed masked historical reflection.” Amazon.com 8 Jan. 2005. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

Koss, Steve. “This Maus Doesn’t Roar.” Amazon.com 8 Sep. 2004. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

“Laughs! Tears! Thrills!: Comic Strips.” Cartoon America Exhibit. Library of Congress. 2006. Web. 10 April 2014.

“Lyonel Feininger.” Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. The Ohio State University. N.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Martin, E. “equally terrorized.” Amazon.com 10 Oct. 2004. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

Montgomery, E.A. “Half a Dozen Pages” Amazon.com 10 Mar. 2012. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

Perksie, Jana L. “An Extraordinary Chronicle of Our Time.” Amazon.com 2 Oct. 2004. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.

Robinson, Tasha. "Art Spiegelman: In the Shadow of No Towers." The A.V. Club. 13 Sep. 2004. Web. 7 Apr. 2014.

Suddath, Claire. “Top 10 Long-Running Comic Strips.” Time.com. 17 May 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Witek, Joseph. Art Spiegelman: Conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. Print.

Wolk, Douglas. “Bundles of Funnies.” NYTimes.com 11 Mar 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.