Aaron and Ahmed

At the Barnes & Noble Review, Greil Marcus on Aaron and Ahmed, a 9/11 novel/comic by novelist Jay Cantor and James Romberer:

From a vantage point in the room with Aaron, but ten feet farther from the small TV monitor, suspended hospital-style near the ceiling, in the comic book you first see a second, tiny plane nearing a second, tiny tower. One patient holds his hand over his mouth, others are oblivious, Aaron’s mouth is open in a silent scream as his body jerks. Then you are inches from the TV, everything is bigger, and in two confusing overlapping images, with blue sky, grey building, white plane, and yellow explosions, the plane seems to go straight through two towers at once. A panel shows Aaron holding his cell phone to his ear, his blue eyes crying blue tears as the scream in his mouth still won’t leave it; a small cut-in, easy to miss in the visual noise of the page, shows a red Carol in a green plane as she clutches her phone to her ear, and then, in a pinkish red, even though your perspective is from the foreground of the action, where the building is closer than the plane, the plane smashing into the tower appears at least twice as big as the tower itself. That is the second, right-hand page of a two-page spread. You think you’ve seen what happens.

You turn the page and you realize you have seen nothing. Even if, in your own real life, you saw what happened, you didn’t, not as writer Jay Cantor, illustrator James Romberger, and here especially colorist José Villarrubia, make it happen. Faced by a right page where the dominant color across seven small panels is a blindingly bright yellow, a left page, its image pushing past the spine of the book onto the first inch of the right, shows what is now the enormous, unstoppable, hell-fire red plane entering a far bigger but defenseless building in an image that is at once inescapably pornographic and at the same time nothing more, and absolutely nothing less, than the historical event it depicts. And now you do see what it depicts in its smallest details and all at once.

All the rest of Aaron and Ahmed has to do is get out from under this sequence and live up to it: a frightening challenge . . .



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