Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

9/11: A Graphic Depiction

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

9/11: A Graphic Depiction

Article excerpt

Because 9/11 could barely seem to be part of anything but a fantastic realm, those working in cartoon strips, comic books and other sequential art took to the subject as a way to make sense of something that strained comprehension. Putting 9/11 to ink served as a creative conduit to document and process what had happened.

Cartoon strips and comic books began exploring the terrorist attacks almost immediately through newspapers and the Internet because of the quick dissemination. Tom Tomorrow's long-running weekly political cartoon This Modern World lampooned the federal government post-9/11 in a story line subsequently collected in March 2006 as Hell in a Handbaskef. In Garry Trudeau's daily satirical epic Dooneshury around for decades, the hippie Zonker delivered fruitcakes to rescue workers at Ground Zero, the reservist B. D. was recalled for military duty and lost a leg in Iraq, and the everyman titular character attended a memorial service for a former employee. Meanwhile, David Rees' Get Your War On, debuting on Oct. 9, 2001, contrasted recycled images of office employees expressiing cynicism about daily life continuing in the aftermath of 9/11 with similarly appropriated shots reflecting their workaday lives. And the webcomic Shooting War launched in May 2006 by writer Anthony Lappe and illustrator Dan Goldman, followed hipster video blogger Jimmy Burns after he films a terrorist attack in Brooklyn.

Since New York City is a hub for comic book companies, the attacks on the World Trade Center resonated within the industry, prompting a number of benefit comic books for 9/11-related charities. Marvel Comics offered Heroes (December 2001) and A Moment of Silence (February 2002) as special releases and The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (November 2001) as part of an ongoing series. The treatment of 9/11 in superhero books was particularly important then because the industry was in a self-aware/ self-referential phase that often pondered two interrelated questions: 1) What if superheroes were real? 2) In the very real instances of people acting heroically doing their jobs around 9/11 what exactly is meant by "hero" and "superhero"? Thus, Heroes collected 64 full-page illustrations paying tribute to firefighters, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, and other first responders. A Moment of Silence featured four wordless stories inspired by true events such as a firefighter's wife confronting the death of her husband and a rescue worker searching desperately for the sounds of life from a trapped victim. The Amazing Spider-Man #36 described how Spider-Man and other Marvel characters like Captain America, Daredevil, and even villains such as Doctor Doom and Magneto, reacted to the attacks.

In fact. Marvel reimagined the highly symbolic Captain America in a relaunch in June 2002. From the first scene of Captain America, shown not in his starry red-white-and-blue uniform but in civilian clothes, sifting through rubble of the Twin Towers, The New Deal put the superhero squarely in the fallout of the attacks. The initial six issues of the series chronicled his efforts to combat a new kind of enemy for the 21st century: terrorists who were products of the wars fought by America around the world. In one segment, Captain America killed a terrorist named Al-Tariq and then unmasked himself on live television and revealed his secret identity, explaining that it was not a nameless, faceless nation behind such deeds but an actual person who accepted responsibility for his actions.


Although Captain America's origins in World War II might make him seem a staunch champion of a particular interpretation of U.S. culture, his history in the comics and use by nearly 50 writers over the eras has made him reflective of both liberal and conservative causes and open to interpretation. He has debated everything from the role of the military to the meaning of the Constitution. While superheroes maintain an illusion of relevance by constantly changing with the times--updated settings, gear, and cultural references--they also anchor themselves to particular moments--their costumes, catch phrases, and origin stories. …

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