The comics community responded to the tragic aftereffects of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington last fall in a number of ways, from charity auctions online to discounts for retailers directly affected by the attacks to impromptu shows that raised money for those in need. The most visible sign of support, however, was in the books themselves. From the highest-profile superhero titles to the most obscure mini-comics, many expressed sympathy for the victims of September 11 in one form or another. Marvel’s pin-up book HEROES was the first book published to raise money for charity, and in time, others followed suit. This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at the wave of 9-11-inspired books released this month, as well as discussing a couple of related events here in New York to help raise awareness of comics’ contributions to the cause.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE
Marvel Comics, 10 East 40th Street
New York NY 10016
$3.50/40 pp., color
Four (mostly) wordless tales, inspired by true stories about lives affected by September 11. I can’t help but wonder why the insistence on having these stories be silent. The title track, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Scott Morse, would have been more effective, I believe, if dialogue had been allowed – beyond the framing narrative by the story’s protagonist, John Dudas. One of Dudas’ comrades, while digging through the rubble at Ground Zero, stops, suspecting he hears sounds of life, and yells “QUIET!” This prompts everyone else present to stop what they’re doing so he can listen. To this point, though, there are no sounds that we can discern from reading the story, because there’s no dialogue or sound effects. So for someone to yell for quiet in the middle of a wordless narrative just struck me as surreal and not as dramatic as it could have been, had there been sounds and dialogue all around.
I admit, I can’t help but wonder what “Moment of Truth” would have been like with Marvel president and COO Bill Jemas’ dialogue, but he told it quite clearly, very direct. And Mark Bagley continues to impress with his art. Gorgeous page-and-a-half spread of the WTC at ground level. It was a bit of a shock to seeing John Romita Jr.’s pencils inked by someone else in Kevin Smith’s “Periphery” (and not very well either; too much thick-to-thin-to-thick-again when a single bold stroke would do), but it’s still a good story that could easily apply to any family.
Once again, Igor Kordey continues to astonish with his outstanding, emotionally charged artwork, this time in “Sick Day” with writer Joe Quesada. Looking over it again just now, I noticed that the only unobstructed or unobscured faces seen in the story are those of the children (not counting the faces on TV). It’s a subtle thing, yet it adds to the perspective of the story, seeing the son stubbornly waiting outside his house for his dad to come home. The images totally nail the level of emotion felt not only by the Otten family, but of families across the country.
Imposing the no-dialogue rule led to, in my opinion, varying levels of effectiveness, but overall, this is a solid collection of stories. B+
The proceeds from this book will go to the Twin Towers Fund. In addition, the book offers two 9-11-inspired lithographs, of the Hulk and Captain America, available through Dynamic Forces (www.dynamicforces.com) and benefiting the NYC Police and Fire Widows and Orphans Fund.
9-11: EMERGENCY RELIEF
Alternative Comics, 503 NW 37th Avenue
Gainesville FL 32609
$14.95/190 pp. B&W
The first thing about this anthology that struck me as odd was seeing otherwise serious stories told in a cartoony style, from Jeff Smith to Scott Morse to Tom Hart to James Kochalka and more. That surprised me, and it shouldn’t have, but it still did. I mean, it’s not like I was seeing these artists’ work for the first time (in most cases, anyway). I guess it was the juxtaposition of story content and surface impressions which caught me off guard… not unlike a non-comics reader reading MAUS for the first time, I suppose.
Personal highlights: Chris Knowle and K. Thor Jensen’s moving tale of a prison guard at Attica during the riots; Jon Bean Hastings’ justification for continuing to make comics in a post-9-11 world; Layla Lawlor’s metaphorical comparison to fractal images; Dean Haspiel’s first-hand account of the destruction as it happened; Tom Hart’s piece where he reconciles his firebrand character Hutch Owen’s thoughts with his own; Peter Kuper’s unexpectedly hilarious strip which puts things in a certain perspective; Gregory Benton’s tale of two children finding comfort in each other; and Mike Manley’s conflict with his Muslim brother over American politics.
Common threads: early-morning phone calls from loved ones, an eagerness to get back home from wherever one happened to be; the need to communicate with others to make sure they’re okay too; the disruption of everyday life; the need to rebuild from the ashes and begin again. I have no doubt that anyone reading this who has never picked up a comic book before will come away feeling comforted, knowing that life does go on despite the tragedy… and that long after the smoke clears and the ashes are blown away, life and hope endures. A
Artwork from this book, as well as from HEROES and from other artists, is currently on display in the New York City Fire Museum (www.nycfiremuseum.org), in the SoHo part of Manhattan, presented in conjunction with the New York City Comic Book Museum (www.nyccomicbookmuseum.org). The building is, as you might imagine, a converted firehouse, with three levels of exhibits commemorating the history of firefighting in New York and abroad. In addition to paintings and photographs, there are relics and artifacts such as helmets, axes, signal boxes, maps, and even firetrucks.
The exhibit, “Heroes Among Us,” is in one big room on the third floor. The stairway leading up to it contains pages from Gregory Benton’s “Treasure” scattered along the walls. Unfortunately, the majority of the pieces are reproductions and not originals (which was a bit of a disappointment for me; I would’ve loved to have seen an original David Mack or Renee French or Alex Ross up close). Still, it’s worth it to see comics art in a public display such as this. Some artists from 9-11:ER have entire stories displayed, such as Dean Haspiel (who appeared on CBS THIS MORNING on the 22nd, the day the show opened).
The exhibit runs through February 7. If you’re in the New York area, don’t forget to stop by for a look. The NYC Fire Museum is located at 278 Spring Street, open Tuesday-Sunday, 10-4.
WORLD WAR 3 ILLUSTRATED #32
P.O. Box 20777 Tompkins Square Station
New York NY 10009
$3.50/80 pp., magazine
The underground comics magazine devotes an issue to (mostly) stories about the events of September 11 and its repercussions. This is the most politically charged of the 9-11 books here, and a number of the stories talk about things like the Cold War, the CIA, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and Jr., the Soviet Union, and of course, Afghanistan, the Taliban, the Al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden. Some go into the concept of patriotism and what it has come to mean. Others talk about the media’s role in shaping public opinion. Regardless of the content, I found they were executed quite well, for the most part.
Among the many pieces: Chris Cardenale’s bike-riding odyssey reminded me of the work of Daniel Zezelj, only more abstract. I was shocked to see in Peter Kuper’s “War of the Worlds” how many times he had depicted the destruction of Manhattan in the past. Fly’s description of how she spent the rest of the week, while frenetic and cluttered, does a good job of capturing her emotional state. Ryan Inzana’s account of the US-Afghanistan relationship over the years has an unusual blend of collage art, pen and ink, and what looks like scratchboard art, that communicates surprisingly effectively. Mac McGill’s elegiac depiction of the destruction is breathtaking. Seth Tobocman’s “Not Enough People Have Died” is even more powerful for me, having heard him recite it at the release party last Tuesday (as I’ll get to in a minute), but it still remains a provocative work sans audio. Kevin Pyle’s “Spore” was a bit difficult to follow because the captions didn’t seem to go in one direction. Bill Weinberg’s text article on the history of Bin Laden was quite informative, drawing from a number of sources. Sue Coe’s painting captures the horror and chaos of the day brilliantly.
Not all of the pieces worked for me artistically, but this remains a profound collection of stories, which inform more than entertain. A-
To kick off the release of this landmark issue of the long-running underground magazine, a multimedia show was held last Tuesday the 22nd at the Theatre for the New City, in Manhattan’s East Village. The artists involved presented slides from their stories in the issue, along with their thoughts on it and some related performances. Hosted by WW3 co-founder Seth Tobocman, the show was both passionate and lighthearted, railing at the powers that be for their complicity in the attacks, while also skewering them with well-placed humor. It was a packed house, filled to near-capacity with patrons, some of whom ended up sitting on the edge of the stage.
New Mexico native Chris Cardenale, whose murals are normally seen on such unusual places as garbage trucks and houses, talked about the unusual experiences he had while riding his bike through the streets the morning of September 11. Political cartoonist Mac McGill presented his slides to the music of an energetic and spirited flute player, who didn’t so much blow into his flute as scream into it! British painter Sue Coe, in an emotional presentation, drew parallels to slavery and starvation in Africa, the continuing trend of multinational big business, and animal rights. Artist and Episcopalian priest Frank Morales told of how he performed last rites at Ground Zero and read an essay on his thoughts, followed by a performance of a scene from the Harold Pinter play NEW WORLD ORDER. WW3 co-founder Peter Kuper presented his slides to an audio soundtrack filled with the sounds of jet planes and bombs, while painter Ron English played music of his own to accompany his slides. Seth Tobocman read the text from his story as an electrifying spoken-word performance piece, set to the music of the band Cop Shoot Cop. Finally, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow shared some negative e-mails he received as a result of the cartoons he made before and after September 11.
In addition, there were presenters who rallied for support for several political causes; among them was a protest for the upcoming World Economic Forum meeting in Manhattan, from the 31st to February 4th. It’s a conglomerate of business CEOs from around the world, who basically get together and plot the course the world will take in the coming years. Normally they meet in Switzerland, but last year there was a massive grassroots protest that disrupted the meetings. They decided to move it here because they felt New York would be a more subdued environment post-9-11. The speaker for the protest movement, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, promised a number of events, from the innocuous to the wide-scale, carried out by a large number of people from across the country. Anyone interested should go to the website at www.accnyc.org.
9-11: ARTISTS RESPOND Volume 1
Dark Horse Comics
10956 SE Main Street Milwaukie OR 97222
$9.95/191 pp., B/W and color
I’m willing to concede the possibility that by the time I began reading this, all the stories I had already read to this point were, though done well for the most part, starting to blur together a little bit. Still, I was up for both volumes of this collection. Volume 1 had a mixture of personal accounts and fictitious stories inspired by the terrorist attacks. I had expected more of the latter, but what happened while reading this at one point was I could no longer anticipate which was which. I found that a little disconcerting, but it didn’t matter.
There was a great deal of abstraction and metaphor in a number of these stories. Some places it worked for me – like Leland Myrick’s vignette of a sailor at sea and the woman waiting at home for him. Some places it didn’t – like Mark Martin’s Saturday-morning-cartoon-like piece that seemed to oversimplify things quite a bit. Some pieces were just about atmosphere and emotion, some addressed the fateful day very indirectly. This collection definitely seemed more about capturing emotions than hard facts.
Personal highlights: Paul Chadwick’s speculative piece on what probably happened on United Flight 93; Doug Tennapel’s delayed reaction to the events; Dave McKean’s incredible depiction of the Twin Towers as totemic monoliths; Jim Mahfood’s account of his Arab-American upbringing and community; R. Sikoryak’s wonderful newspaper parody that incorporates first-hand accounts; and Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s fascinating treatise that puts 9-11 in a historical perspective.
Overall, a very good collection that attempts to find a voice to the sadness, rage, frustration and loss felt by many. B+
9-11 Volume 2
1700 Broadway New York NY 10019
$9.95/224 pp., color
Less representational than Volume 1 and not quite as personal as the stories in 9-11: EMERGENCY RELIEF, this is a marvelous collection of mostly fictitious stories inspired by the events of September 11 – and what inspiration!
There were those who wondered how the DC characters would be incorporated into stories of this nature; I know I was one. But these stories turned out to be among the best. Busiek and Anderson’s ASTRO CITY tale was relevant while drawing from the spirit of the heroism displayed that day. McDuffie, Cowan and Rollins’ STATIC SHOCK story offered a very plausible explanation for why Static wasn’t able to do anything, while staying true to the character and not make him a simple mouthpiece for the creators’ point of view. And there were the two Endless strips: Gaiman and Bachalo’s, which dealt with the emotions suffered by those left behind; and Levitz and Lee’s, which examines the meaning of America over the centuries.
And then there are the other stories. Azzarello and Risso’s funny story about what would make die-hard Red Sox fans root for the Yankees. Raab, Robinson and Janke’s tale about how different people offer support in times of crisis. Vaughn, Woods and Champagne’s piece on a father-and-son cartooning duo. Moorcock, Simonson and Wiacek’s depiction of London during the blitz. And so many more.
Maybe it was the excitement of seeing fictitious stories after reading so many non-fictitous ones, but reading this was an absolute treasure. The challenge of telling a story based around 9-11 was approached from many different angles, and the end result makes for a vivid and memorable collection. A
All of the proceeds from this work will benefit the NY State WTC Relief Fund, the Survivors Fund of the National Capital Region, the September 11th Fund of the NY Community Trust and the United Way of NYC, and the Twin Towers Fund.
I urge you at some point to purchase at least one of these books, if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.