Academic journal article European Comic Art

Fire Escapes to Nowhere: Colin and Cilluffo's World Trade Angels

Academic journal article European Comic Art

Fire Escapes to Nowhere: Colin and Cilluffo's World Trade Angels

Article excerpt

Abstract

Colin and Cilluffo's graphic novel, World Trade Angels, is an illustration of the creation, through language and image, of a new vocabulary and a new imaginaire, after the events of 11 September 2001. No previously existing language is adequate; the authors introduce a new verbal, temporal, and pictorial vocabulary to try to represent the unrepresentable of that day. Significantly, in this work, divisions, grills, grates, bars and squares all multiply until the representation of the entire city is seen as a reproduction of the façade of the towers and a reflection of that façade that no longer exists. And as a synecdoche of that grillwork that quickly becomes a penetrable portcullis or an inescapable set of prison bars, the authors introduce the leit-motiv of a fire escape, but one that leads not to safety but to perdition and repetition. It is this set of figures I explore in this article.

The first pages of Fabrice Colin's and Laurent Cilluffo's graphic novel, World Trade Angels, consist of a series of dramatic frames drawn by Cilluffo, who is, parenthetically, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. Most of the frames are orange, and some are blank grey rectangles, that together depict the story that we already know, which is the story of the events that immediately precede the impact of the planes on the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.1 In dispassionate tones, these words of Colin's text not only tell the facts from the outside, but also tell what has been reconstructed from voice recorders, cell phones and other sources of information about what occurred inside the plane. The last frame with words calmly notes the known: 'Tous les passagers et membres d'équipage sont tués sur le coup ainsi qu'un nombre indéterminé de personnes dans la tour' ['All the passengers and members of the crew are killed immediately, as well as an undetermined number of people in the tower'].2 Six blank frames follow, as if to suggest, immediately after the dispassionate language and the immediacy of the present tense and the stark illustrations, that there are indeed no words or images to explain what happened; in these first frames the style of the images is as minimalist as that of the language. The final frame of the sequence seems to show the view from the East, with a cloud of smoke being emitted from the North Tower and the South Tower as yet unhit.3 This minimalist, clear-line beginning, serving as a preface - one that could have come from the pen of a journalist - stands as a reminder that what we all already know is not the same as an interpretation in a historical sense, a position the authors sideline in favour of the drama of the traumatic immediate. Neither is it identical to a figure of the semantic or semiotic imaginary, as the research group of the Lower Manhattan Project defines it: a means of 're-constructing' the representation of the events along with the representation of the ideated space of meanings and images. This is a complex semiotics that, in a sense, runs from Gaston Bachelard's construction of the imaginary to Roland Barthes's discussions of connotations in his early work.4 And the stance of this preface is also not immediately conducive to a deconstructive interpretation of this imaginary that looks through the lens of interpretation after the fragmentation, for in this case we are looking less at an undoing of the metaphysics of presence or of a set of discursive constructs, à la Foucault, that frame the spaces in which subjects can (un)comfortably sit or in which énoncés can be deemed acceptable. What we are examining is the impossibility of a discourse, or rather, the creation of a basic new vocabulary and syntax, of which not all the pieces are present or in place, a discourse that has to engage a paradigm shift, trauma, and the collapse of presence as it was known through 10 September 2001.

Thus, when Colin and Cilluffo quote Don DeLillo's Lettres de New York in an epigraph, we should take the language as literally as possible: 'Le récit s'achève dans les gravats et c'est à nous qu'il appartient de créer la contre-narration' ['The story is completed in the rubble, and it is up to us to create the counter- narrative']. …

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