Artists of costumed characters who routinely save the world were left staring at a blank page after September 11. The fictional exploits of superheroes like Batman and Spiderman suddenly seemed irrelevant in comparison to the deeds of real-life people, while the doomsday scenarios typically explored by the medium had become all too realistic. Joe Quesada, the editor in chief of Marvel Comics, felt that in response to such a horrific event, art seemed pointless.
But the initial feelings of Quesada and other comic book artists didn't last long, and while other entertainment mediums shied away from September 11 as a theme, comics tackled it head on. Publishers such as Alternative Comics, Dark Horse, DC Comics, and Oni Press came out with special editions in tribute to the heroes of lower Manhattan.
Following the commercial success of a 64-page tribute volume titled "Heroes" -- all proceeds went to charity -- Marvel produced a follow up book called "Moment of Silence." The new work was comprised of four separate stories, each devoted to one individual's experience on September 11. The stories were told in silent pictures with no text. The first section of "Moment of Silence" recounted the experience of Anthony Savas, a building inspector for the Port Authority, and the father of a Marvel employee. Savas chose to remain in the building to assist with the evacuation. On September 30, his body was recovered in the ruins of the towers.
Though famous for using cartoons to depict tragic events, Art Spiegelman also felt that art was irrelevant immediately following September 11. That day, when the Pulitzer Prize winning author returned home after fleeing lower Manhattan, he received an answering machine message instructing him to draft a cover for the next issue of THE NEW YORKER magazine. At the time, Spiegelman had "no thoughts of working on a magazine," but began drawing as if it was "a nervous tick." At one point, the author of MAUS considered submitting an empty black page, but he soon abandoned the idea, deciding that it would be an expression of "total defeat," as if to say "an image isn't able to move in this territory." To Spiegelman's surprise, the magazine cover he later settled on -- a black-on-black depiction of the towers -- became extremely useful to thousands of New Yorkers during that first week of recovery.
To learn more about comic books published in reaction to September 11, read an article in TIME MAGAZINE, or visit the website of the New York City Comic Book Museum, which held an exhibit earlier this year with original art from "Moment of Silence" and other tribute books.
Click here to read the complete text of Rafael Pi Roman's interview with Art Spiegelman.
To find out more about Art Spiegelman's celebrated NEW YORKER cover, read an essay by the artist himself published on THE NEW YORKER website.