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Rose Curtin on Art Spiegelman in Indiana
posted January 14, 2005

Rose Curtin
via the Internet

This is probably too dumb to be a letter to CR, but I know Spiegelman was definitely in Indiana because I was there. He spoke at DePauw in Greencastle and was supposed to give a lecture on Comix 101 (I think that's what he was calling it) and his Plastic Man work, but he ended up running through all that really fast while interspersing it with talk about how he designed the black-on-black New Yorker cover, along with some of his impressions of being in New York on and after 9/11. The Q&A was all locals worried about terrorism and wanting to hear about the fall of civilization or something. There was a separate Q&A the next day that was mostly taken up with freshman from a class that had read Maus and a bunch of professors wanting him to repeat what he'd said about the creation of the New Yorker cover. I asked something about his Little Lit work and the comics fan community rejection of the very concept of art comics for kids. There were no other questions about other comics, though my friend was seething because I wouldn't let her ask why everyone thought 9/11 was more important to talk about than Plastic Man since they got to talk about it all the time anyway. I think he only ate with faculty members, or at least I wasn't invited to have any meals with him, which I usually was with visiting speakers for a variety of reasons.

I didn't actually read In the Shadow of No Towers when we got it from the library, though I will once I've paid my fines and can get it again, but Steven said there's something in the introduction about the Indiana visit, and I recall that it all sounded right to me. The town did go all red-white-and-blue, which I guess is basically normal but it was sickening to me to be in the middle of all those cornfields watching students play a sick one-upsmanship game about whose hometown was more endangered (but Chicago has the SEARS TOWER! Dayton, Ohio has an air force base!!) and realizing how much it did matter that there were so many ignorant townies and more ignorant students. There were constant candlelight vigils (and I was a crossing guard for one, but don't remember why I got involved, really) and it was just crazy and weird. I think on campus it was the culmination of sort of culture wars between the conservative student body and the mildly liberal faculty, while in Greencastle at large it showed the town/gown divide between the peace marches on campus and the parts of town where people were suddenly discussing whether to enlist and who we should bomb first. It brought out a lot of the weird claustrophobia of being in a place where driving 40 minutes to Terre Haute takes you to The City and the sort of alienation from and association with urban America. I found it all strange and unpleasant, but I had other nasty things going on in my life and associated with that date, so everything was full of different meaning.

I really think things were worse in Greencastle than in a lot of the rest of the state (certainly Bloomington, which is where I made my escape whenever I could, although I was hanging out with Muslims there who were not having an easy time) because of specific tensions about religion and politics and the role of the university that all came out in patriotic codespeak. I suppose things are better, though I haven't gone back since Steven's graduation, but not by much. Spiegelman probably would never have liked it anyway.

Tom Spurgeon Responds: And here I thought the worst part about going to Depauw would have been constant explanations it wasn't in downtown Chicago.

I was in Indiana on 09.11.01, in Anderson, working on the comic strip I was helping with at the time. In fact, I found out that the towers had been struck by hearing a news report on The Bob and Tom Show, just to make this as Indiana-centric as possible. I also attended the most conservative college in America, also in a very small and isolated town, during the first Gulf War, so I can kind of piece together what it must have been like you. Yikes.

The thing I found a little odd about Spiegelman's statement is that he's probably a little too quick to climb over the thing he's describing to make his point, no matter how legitimate. I mean, I have to imagine that some people just put up the flags because they felt patriotic, or sad, not simiply because they were scared or thought flags would perteckt 'em. Tons of people were jittery -- you don't show buildings blowing up to a generation raised on the thought of white flashes and mushroom clouds and not have there be a lot of psychic weirdness -- but the people I came across were more like the villagers in Frankenstein rather than the stay-at-homes in a vampire flick.