Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Critical Commentary: 9/11 Heartbreaker

Recently, I was contacted here on the blog by one Craig Staufenberg, creator of the comic 9/11 Heartbreaker, to offer a review of his project.  This came as a surprise to me, as I had never been contacted in that way previously.  So, with a little apprehension I contacted Mr. Staufenberg and received my review copy of 9/11 Heartbreaker.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but with that title, I was fearing something which 1) I would not enjoy and 2) would ruin any further chances of this sort of opportunity for me in the future.

I think pretty much all Americans have some semblance of a political identity.  It's rare to be truly apathetic.  I am no exception.  But I try to keep my politics out of comics as much as possible if only because I read comics for fun and enjoyment, and not for more of the same garbage we get in the real world.  

I was born and raised in New York.  9/11 was an insane day for me personally.  I read a statistic somewhere that every New Yorker knows or knew someone who was impacted by 9/11.  I know I do.  So the use of 9/11 in media is sore spot for me, actively gets me hot and riled, and often either causes me to lose my temper or become very upset.  This was the case back in September with the Sgt. Rock one-shot DC published.  So I was needless to say a little concerned about reading a comic entitled 9/11 Heartbreaker.

It turns out that my concerns and prejudices were unfounded.  Staufenberg has created a story which, though ostensibly drenched in politics, is in fact divorced from them.  This is a story about the personal meaning of tragedy, of loss, and of the memories and emotional resonance of those losses.  Our story follows a young woman who meets a man named Peter.  Peter runs a website which records and documents the memories of young people of 9/11.  This chance meeting sends her on a journey of discovery and introspection, wherein she has to examine the nature of not only 9/11, but of the darkness and decay around us on a daily basis, and the losses we feel and how we cope with them.

I don't think this can be called anything but a tragedy.  This is a tragic story which deals with tragic events.  There are certain elements which offer moments of uplift, but in the end, this is a downbeat story.  As well it probably should be.  There's nothing wrong with tragedy, the artistic sense anyway.  Staufenberg avoids the romantic cliche trap, and instead presents something substantially more realistic.  Our narrator is unsure of her feelings in the face of her vague memories of 9/11, so she goes out and finds other feelings to examine.  Considering the short length, the story makes several turns and feels deep for it's page count.  I'd really like to see this expanded out to full length.

The art is on the simplistic side but suitable to the work.  This isn't trying to wow you with visuals.  I was very impressed with the rendering of various landmarks in and around Buffalo which crop up in the second half.  The art is stylistically simple, as I said, but it sells the story and thus does an admirable job.  

The best compliment I can give 9/11 Heartbreaker is that it treats a potentially controversial topic with sensitivity and care, along the lines of one of my favorite indy comics of all time, Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan.  I hope that Staufenberg has more stories to tell, because I am interested in reading them.

Check out Staufenberg's website, Memory Is Fiction, for more information, including ordering info.  It's definitely worth checking out.

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