A reissue of the graphic artist’s early, little-seen volume shows his formative work, while an extensive forword and afterword provide autobiographical context.
Spiegelman (In the Shadow of No Towers, 2004, etc.) justifies the Joycean subtitle of this collection, as the seeds of his renowned artistry are here. He explains in his afterword that he was “startled” when his publisher suggested a reissue of 1978’s Breakdowns, because its impact upon initial release had been minimal with both readers and fellow artists. Yet, he explains, “it was the resounding lack of response to Breakdowns that led directly to the 300-page Maus,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and established the graphic narrative as something more than comic books for adults. While the earliest piece in Breakdowns provides a prototype for Maus, and the rest shows a range that extends from a detective serial (with a nod toward Picasso) to hardcore sexuality, the artist wasn’t content here to let Breakdowns stand on its own. The graphic narrative that introduces the reissue is considerably longer than any of the pieces in Breakdowns, detailing the early years of the comics-obsessed artist, the profound influence of MAD magazine, the trauma of his mother’s suicide, his pay-the-bills work designing bubblegum cards for Topps (including the Garbage Pail Kids) and his development of both a philosophy and an aesthetic that would result in comics being taken more seriously than they had been. “He dared to call himself an artist and call his medium an art form,” he explains in the mostly textual afterword, as he became “infatuated with the cross-pollination of High and Low.” Though much of the work for which the artist has become celebrated has been autobiographical, this reissue is revelatory as it traces his development.
Fans of graphic novels in general and Spiegelman in particular will savor this.