Comics reissue gets demiurgic
Twenty years before the book-length Maus won a Pulitzer, Art Spiegelman drew a three-page strip testing the use of the cat-and-mouse trope in a Holocaust memoir. The extended visual metaphor was emblematic of the focused experimentalism that would help promenade the cartoonist’s work out of the underground-comix world. Still, when Breakdowns was first released with such avant-garde efforts in 1978, few people paid attention.
The title is a dual reference: Strips roam inside ruptured situations,
including the artist’s psychiatric collapse after his mother’s suicide.
But what makes this collection so worthy of augmented reissue is the
second implication: Spiegelman’s ability to dismantle and rebuild
comics—the way the titular-referenced James Joyce did with literary
prose—to develop a new idiom that opened the possibilities of the
The prose afterword helps clarify what the book’s strips already
exhibit: Comics’ impressive potential in 2008 owes as much to
Spiegelman’s relentless innovations as the author’s own work owes to
his early efforts in Breakdowns.