Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@~*! - Art Spiegelman

There was no demand for a deluxe large-format album that collected the scattered handful of short autobiographical and structurally "experimental" comics I'd made between 1972 and 1977—except by me.

Long before Art Spiegelman created his Pulitzer-winning Maus, he was involved in the "underground" comics scene. He and his peers had a tremendous influence on comics as a medium and you'd be hard-pressed to find any alternative comics artists today who wouldn't claim Spiegelman as an influence. In 1977, Spiegelman managed to publish a large-format booklet of some of his comics, finally printed in a large enough size to see the details of his work. It's a mixed bag, as he himself admits, with work that he sees now as misguided in his early attempts at being subversive and provocative. The initial run of Breakdowns sold very little, but now that Spiegelman is an established comics artist, he was asked to republish it, with some additional cartoons and an afterword.

The newer cartoons are certainly more tame than those of the '70s (there's still some risque stuff, mostly excerpts from his older work), but still showcase his experimentation with the comics medium. In the older strips, one of the most fascinating to me was his earlier 3-page story "Maus," which was the precursor to the 300-page book. The style is much more detailed and busy than the later version, and only relates a brief incident in his father's life. "Prisoner on the Hell Planet," which makes an appearance in Volume 2 of Maus, is seen here in its original size, and the details of the scratchboard can finally be appreciated.

There are several other pieces, including a few "Real Dreams" comics, but the other one I found most interesting was "The Malpractice Suite," in which Spiegelman appropriates panels from "Rex Morgan, M.D." and draws around them, photocopies them and shrinks and twists them into a surreal nonsensical universe.

The afterword was illuminating to me, both in explaining what Spiegelman was after in his early years, but also in his perspective now, forty years later. He's able to separate the things he did well from things he did out of immaturity, and it offers a lot of insight into who he was then and is now.

The book is most definitely not appropriate for kids: there are some explicit scenes in a few panels and the subject matter in general is inappropriate. But for an adult who wants a window into the mind of Art Spiegelman, Breakdowns serves as both memoir and historical document.

Fed to jonathan's brain | January 28, 2009 | Comments (0)


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