Breakdowns (comics)

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Art Spiegelman (1977) Breakdowns cover.jpg
Cover to the first edition of Breakdowns
CreatorArt Spiegelman

Breakdowns is a collected volume of underground comic strips by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. The book is made up of strips dating to before Spiegelman started planning his graphic novel Maus, but includes the strip "Maus" which presaged the graphic novel, and "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" which is reproduced in Maus. The original edition of 1977 is subtitled From Maus to Now; the expanded 2008 edition is subtitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!.[1]


The original 1977 edition was made up of short, experimental strips, some of which were autobiographical, made between 1972 and 1977.[2] At that stage in his career, Spiegelman was more interested in the formal elements of the comics medium than in its content or storytelling aspects. He experimented with and explored the relation of panels to each other on the page, pictorial manipulation, and how far one could take a story formally before it became incoherent.[3] He parodied and paid homage to his cartoon heroes, notably Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, Rex Morgan, M.D., and Winsor McCay's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.[4]

The cover depicts Spiegelman drinking a bottle of India ink[5] over repeated variants of the same image. The title is written in shaky block letters, implying both visual and psychological breakdowns.[6]

Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (2008)[edit]

The expanded 2008 edition made use of a swirl or squiggle motif. The seemingly tossed-off squiggle is used in a variety of contexts. It is first introduced as the expression of surprise of the character on the cover slipping on a copy of the first edition of Breakdowns (rather than a clichéd banana peel). At other times it is used to represent the artist himself, or the squiggles he makes as a youth learning to draw.[1]

Spiegelman depicts himself in the vest that has become synonymous with his image since Maus, in contrast to his appearance in the comics from the original Breakdowns.[1]

Publication history[edit]

Breakdowns was originally published in an edition that sold less than 3000 copies[7] in 1977 by Belier Press as Breakdowns: From Maus to Now, collecting strips that had appeared between 1972 and 1977 in various underground publications, including Arcade, which Spiegelman had co-edited. Unusually for American comics at the time, it was published in hardcover.[8]

It was republished by in an expanded edition Pantheon Books in 2008 and retitled Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!, with a new introductory comic and long afterward from which nearly doubles the length of the original book.[9] When Spiegelman had been working on In the Shadow of No Towers, a book with many of the formal concerns of Breakdowns, his editor at Pantheon Books, Dan Frank, approached him to reprint Breakdowns.[10]

Style and analysis[edit]

Spiegelman visually relates the story of a boy who bullied him and spat on his mother in his youth, echoing with irony the well-known Charles Atlas advertisements such as "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac" that ran in comic books. He fills the dialog balloons with text from Viktor Shklovsky's essay "Art as Technique".[11]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The volume failed to capture a wide audience. Spiegelman says this indifference was the impetus to take on Maus.[2]


  1. ^ a b c McGlothlin 2011, p. 45.
  2. ^ a b Brodzki 2011, p. 51.
  3. ^ Young 2003, p. 28.
  4. ^ Young 2003, p. 28–29.
  5. ^ McGlothlin 2011, p. 45; Heller 2002, p. 46.
  6. ^ Heller 2002, p. 46.
  7. ^ Blau 2008.
  8. ^ Weiner 2003, p. 36.
  9. ^ Mercer 2008.
  10. ^ Lorah 2008.
  11. ^ Alber & Heinze 2011, pp. 235, 237.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]