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The Virginia Quarterly Review Volume 81, Number 4
posted November 9, 2005


Creators: Various (Art Spiegelman, Ross MacDonald)
Publishing Information: The University of Virginia, 308 pages, SC, $11
Ordering Numbers: 0042-675X (ISSN)

There can be found a few items of interest to comics fans outside the cover-featured excerpt from Art Spiegelman's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!" Tony Kushner, a playwright I'm surprised more cartoonists don't read, has a very short 9/11 play. One can find the standard literary review essays, reviews and features from writers like Steve Almond. There is even a one-page cartoon in back, a pretty but blunt to the point of absurdity treatment of recruitment in the Iraq era by Ross MacDonald. It's a nice place for a comic to be, overally, the price is such that it's almost worth paying it just for the new Spiegelman and the pull-out poster of Spiegelman's famous "Prisoner of the Hell Planet."

All that being said, it's hard to decide how one should feel about the excerpt provided. It's solid cartooning, very lively, with a lot of everything that's Spiegelman learned over the years applied -- this can be as obvious as his way of adopting the visual language of the items he's discussing to depict his encounters with them, or as subtle as his specific way of coloring, his specific palette, and the way it's used as a kind of signature as recognizeable as anyone else's lettering or figure-drawing style. Spiegelman seems to be depicting comics as the kind of passion that serves as a lifeline when all the child can see in the parents' eyes is either furious disapproval, or, much worse, the abyss of human despair.

Even this smattering of pages would have great effect were it not for the fact that Spiegelman has always analyzed his relationship to his work within his work. As it is, much will depend on the precision of Spiegelman's observations, particularly as his life as depicted becomes more adult and more ambiguous. I'm very interested to see how it all works out. It's that interest and not our critical fealty that a great cartoonist like Spiegelman has won on the basis of his career to date, and it's worth following him to this odd-for-comics serial platform.