Interview with Graphic Novelist Craig Staufenberg

As the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, draws closer, we’re already beginning to see a number of works that are marking the anniversary by trying to make sense of the tragedy. Craig Staufenberg, author of the graphic novel 9/11 Heartbreaker, took some time recently to discuss the ways in which he has attempted to do just that – to make sense of the senseless, to understand not so much the events as they transpired, but the ways in which their ghost still lingers with us today.

What drew you to the subject of 9/11?

It was actually kind of random. A couple of years ago I was thinking about my memories of 9/11 and thought about turning them into some sort of video project. The more I thought about my own memories, the more I began to wonder about other people’s memories of 9/11. So I started to talk to everyone I could about it, and then I conducted a few interviews with some people and recorded their memories and reactions to the event.

I did this research for about six months, and by the end I was less interested in the specific memories that people held and became a lot more interested in the way that people situated 9/11 into their lives. I became less interested in what they remembered and more interested in what those memories affected the way they lived their lives. And from there I started to look around me and think about history and memory and tragedy and all that on a wider scale, and that’s basically where the book came from.

Your narrator is very young, and she says that all she really remembers of 9/11 was the weather. Why did you choose to tell the story from her point of view?

Well, I was in high school on 9/11, and when I started to do research for this book I felt that people who were my age and younger had a unique perspective on it all. People my age were just starting to reach some sort of consciousness of the world when 9/11 happened, and people younger than me have never really known anything other than what’s been called the “post-9/11 world.” So that’s why the book follows such a young perspective.

Aside from her age, I decided to work with this narrator because I wanted to follow someone who starts out as a kind of blank slate before taking this journey of understanding. Starting her out without many preconceptions or memories of 9/11 made her a good sponge for what she encounters along the way, and it gave her a lot of room to grow and a lot of new thoughts to consider for the first time. I felt this was necessary considering the amount of ground that I wanted to cover in such a short book.

What do you want people to come away with when they read your graphic novel?

Ultimately, I want the book to get people thinking and talking about 9/11 in ways that they probably hadn’t considered before. The event became so politicized and exploited from day one, and I wanted to try and find a way of approaching it without some ulterior motive. I knew there had to be a way to approach the subject that wasn’t manipulative, and that’s pretty much what I was looking for when I started to write this book.

How would you describe your style as a graphic novelist? Who are some of your influences?

I don’t know how I would describe my style. I think that a critic or reviewer who is more knowledgeable about the graphic novel world than I am would be better at putting my work in the right context.

As far as books that directly influenced me, the Scott Pilgrim series is actually the first that comes to mind. What influenced me most about the Scott Pilgrim books was the emphasis on grounding the story in a specific place. I attempted to ground 9/11 heartbreaker in Buffalo, NY, as thoroughly as O’Malley grounded Scott Pilgrim in Toronto.

But at the end of the day, I feel like this project was way more influenced by movies than by books- specially Sans Soleil and La Jatee by Chris Marker.

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