[Marxism] cartooning and class II

andypollack at juno.com andypollack at juno.com
Sun Aug 8 11:48:07 MDT 2004

Sorry, got distracted and left off part of my conclusion. Spiegelman's comment on class interests raises the importance of labor opposition to war today.  That opposition, if coupled with a revival of labor's fight for its own interests here at home, could bring us full circle, i.e. back to the militancy that existed before Taft-Hartley.

-- "andypollack at juno.com" <andypollack at juno.com> wrote:

I'm glad Yoshie posted the piece on Spiegelman and his critique of media complacency. His Times interview yesterday revealed how far he's had to come to get to this point and in the process says something interesting about class and foreign policy.

In explaining why he stayed away from political cartooning previously, he criticizes the quickly-dated topicality of editorial page artists such as Herblock. And I admit reading old Herblock collections can make you feel like you're drowning in long-dead controversies. But the example Spiegelman picks is interesting:

"You've got to read too many footnotes to get what's going on, like, 'What is this Taft-Hartley Act, anyway?'"

In response to the very next question (at least as printed), he praises Michael Moore for "his ability to make effective arguments that can be understood outside the rarefied circles of one's already-convinced friends," saying his depiction of the dead soldier's mother "allowed him to express more clearly than I the class-war aspects of this and how to talk to people who are acting against their own best interests."

Now in a country where history, especially labor history, is so 10 minutes ago, I wouldn't expect Spiegelman to see any connection. But there's a very clear one.  Taft-Hartley and the rest of that era's repression played a big role in weakening US labor, and thus facilitating the "big detour" of revolution to the neocolonial world. The weakness of US labor by the same token facilitated Washington's repression of those revolutions, including the collaboration of AFL hacks in crushing communist-led unions and movements. And one net result has been the replacement in some countries of left-led movements by reactionary fundamentalism.

So the road from Taft-Hartley to 9/11 is not that long after all...

 The New York Times
August 7, 2004
A Comic-Book Response to 9/11 and Its Aftermath

Unlike most cartoonists, the Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman, 56, tends to focus on the big traumas of contemporary history and their impact on his life. Mr. Spiegelman's graphic novels about how his Polish-Jewish parents survived the fires of World War II, "Maus I" and "Maus II," sold 1.8 million copies in the United States, according to his publisher, Pantheon Books. Next month Pantheon is releasing "In the Shadow of No Towers," Art Spiegelman's artistic response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as an expression of his deep opposition to the war in Iraq.

The cartoonist spoke with Claudia Dreifus about his new work in an interview at his Lower Manhattan studio, and also by telephone and e-mail messages. An edited version of the conversations follows:

In the new book, the lead character is a cartoonist named Art Spiegelman who lives in SoHo and witnesses the events of 9/ll at his doorstep. He becomes depressed, terrified and angry. Why did you choose to depict yourself as a chain-smoking, unshaven, potbellied paranoid dressed in a cheerleader outfit?

When an autobiographer deals with his own self-loathing, he tends to project the discomfiting results of that self-loathing — if he's any good. And if he's better, he can project his loathing for the situation he's been placed in. What I am doing is totally conscious. If I wanted to present myself as a big-eyed pussycat, I could do that.

What exactly were you doing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001?

My wife, Françoise Mouly, and I had just walked out our door when we saw that first plane crash into the tower about 10 blocks south of us. We ran down to find our daughter, Nadja, a freshman at Stuyvesant High School, and got her out of the school just before the north tower collapsed right behind us. Then we made our way to the U.N. School to scoop up 10-year-old Dash. I was willing to live through the disaster wherever it took me, as long as we were all together as a family unit.

What surprised you most about that morning?

How vulnerable New York — and by extension, all of Western Civ — actually is. I took my city, and those homely, arrogant towers, for granted. It's actually all as transient and ephemeral as, say, old newspapers. Afterwards, our government reduced a tragic event with so many ramifications down to a mere war-recruitment poster.

You've never considered yourself to be a political cartoonist. Yet "In the Shadow of No Towers" is a very political work. What changed?

This character — me — got so shaken up. I think like a typical American who can get narcotized by the mass media. For me, politics was always put in a strange box, sort of like "baseball for nerds." But since Sept. 11, that bubble has burst. "The personal is political," to put it — yawn — in its most T-shirtlike form.

That's the thing that's swept me into doing something I'd always wanted to avoid: caricaturing presidents for a living. Nothing ages faster. If you look at these old Herblock cartoons, they can only be seen in the context of marginal images in the history book. You've got to read too many footnotes to get what's going on, like, "What is this Taft-Hartley Act, anyway?"

Have you seen Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11," which treads into some of the same comical-political territory your book does?

I've seen it. I sure admire his ability to make effective arguments that can be understood outside the rarefied circles of one's already-convinced friends. His sympathy for that woman who becomes the star of the second half of the film [whose soldier son was killed in Iraq] is, to me, so admirable. I was just so impatient with her. It allowed him to express more clearly than I the class-war aspects of this and how to talk to people who are acting against their own best interests.

"Maus" was the tale of Art Spiegelman and his father, Vladek, an Auschwitz survivor who survives, in his own fashion, in Rego Park, Queens. Did you turn into Vladek on Sept. 11?

I don't posit the scale of what was happening to me on 9/11 to what happened to my parents. But of course, there I was standing at the same juncture of personal and world history, so I understand your question.

I didn't turn into Vladek, with his innate sense of practicality in the midst of disaster — though his admonition to "always keep your bags packed" came to mind. It was my wife who turned into a more beautiful version of Vladek. I was a broken husk of a space cadet. Later, in trying to understand what was happening to my relationship to Françoise that day, I ended up drawing this Mad Comics interaction with her where I got to be Jiggs and she was Maggie. [They are characters in "Bringing Up Father," a George McManus comic strip that first appeared in 1913 about a newly rich Irishman and his nagging wife.] And from Maggie, she got transformed into Osama bin Laden.

How did she like that?

Oh, God, it's like, "That impossible hubby of mine!"

The last third of the new book reprints newspaper cartoons, mostly from the early 20th century. Won't your readers wonder why they are there?

Well, that's exactly the point of the book, thank you. After Sept. 11, while I was living in a present that didn't seem to have a future, comics seemed central to me. These were comics that were born on Newspaper Row, which is only a few blocks from where the towers were smashed down. I found a lot of comfort in them because they weren't made to last. Every one of these really beautiful things were made for a 24-hour news cycle.

After Sept. 11, as other people were turning to poetry to learn "you must love one another or die," I found the same content in George Herriman's "Krazy Kat." I saw heroism in being able to live in the present and a lightness of touch.

How do you feel about having developed a beat that might be called Great Human Traumas?

Traumatized. I wish I could do comics about "My Year in Provence," or something. But so far it has been the painful realities that I can barely grasp that force me to the drawing table. I'm kind of hoping my next work will be a humorous bedroom farce about the amusing foibles of the upper middle class, intercut with succulent dessert recipes. Unfortunately, I seem to have a rather grotesque muse.

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