Noirish identity crisis

Posted on February 25, 2005

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By Susan Tomaselli

Part of Paul Auster‘s eighties New York Trilogy, City of Glass is a 150-page pay-attention meditation on identity and fiction, set within a literary detective story. Daniel Quinn, a once-promising poet, now turned crime writer, receives a call intended for a detective named Paul Auster, and accepts an assignment to shadow Paul Stillman, a bookish lunatic. Quinn pursues Stillman, meets a writer named Paul Auster, loses himself on the streets of New York and disappears into madness. Easy.

This comic arrives ten years after its American publication, but why even bother turning a well-loved book into another book? Art Spiegelman, for a start, who, back then, wanted to secure some highbrow credentials for the form, and commissioned novelists to write texts for artists to illustrate. Also, David Mazzucchelli, best-known as Frank Miller’s collaborator on the Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again storylines, stories that both deal with the ways charaacters define, or redine themselves, stories about obsession, and the dark places it can take you, themes prevalent in City of Glass.

This interpretation – Auster declined to write a new text – is visually inventive, with the artists dividing pages into boxes, which become rooms, windows, the grid of a streetplan or the bars of a cell. Symbols, maps and diagrams co-exist with more straightforward action sequences, and motifs like a child’s drawing and the lines of a notebook, reappear throughout, acquiring more power with repitition.

The original novel was packed with one-liners, but a few momnets work better in the comic, like, for example, the appearance of Auster himself, accompanied by son Daniel and wife and fellow-novelist Siri Hustvedt, instantly familiar from his book jackets, looking both smug and a little surprised to find himself in a comic book. Smooth stuff.

City of Glass by Paul Auster, Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
Faber & Faber
144 Pages

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Posted in: Reading