Obstruction & Affect in In the Shadow of No Towers #3

The use of obstructed objects in #3 of In The Shadow of No Towers has been discussed in terms of the smoke obstructing words in Taylor’s post, but I wanted to expand the discussion to the panels that are covered by the Mars Attacks card and the “Don’t Breathe!” poster (which I am guessing is the poster to which mouse-Spiegelman is referring at the bottom of the page). There are three panels that are significantly obstructed by these items. In the first, speech and thought bubbles are visible and complete, but the characters to whom those bubbles are attached are covered (though it is fairly easy to determine which bubble belongs to which character). In the second, only two words in a text block are decipherable: “It was”. In the third, a single corner of the panel just barely peeks out from behind the poster.

The obstruction of these panels–the second one in particular–frustrated me to a certain extent, because I kept feeling that I was being deprived of an important component of the narrative, but the more I think about that feeling, the more I realize that it is a productive kind of frustration, an intentional affect created by the careful placement of the items on the page. The page itself is about the panic and uncertainty experienced by Spiegelman and his wife while trying to find their daughter, and the frustration is an effective recreation of at least a small part of that sense of uncertainty.

While, for this particular work, I do think that the comix format was particularly useful to communicate the narrative, especially given the motif of smoke that accompanies the story on #3, but I have encountered other media that create a similar affect by withholding or obstructing information. One example that comes to mind is the novel House of Leaves. The novel takes the form of a lengthy film critique of a nonexistent (even in the world of the novel) documentary about a family that discovers that their house is infinitely large on the inside. This film critique is discovered by the character Johnny Truant, who adds his own footnotes and commentary. In one section of the novel, the author of the film critique is about to reveal a particularly revelatory piece of analysis about the film–only to have Johnny admit that the pages in which the author discusses that particular piece of analysis are missing. While the motives for the novel’s author withholding that information may be different and have different thematic implications, the general affect is similar: it produces a feeling of frustration and a sense of incompleteness in the reader.

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