Drawn To Death: A Three Panel Opera Book and lyrics by Art Spiegelman, music by Phillip Johnston
Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (Maus I, Maus II) and avant-jazz composer Phillip Johnston scrutinize and welcome that bastard, hunchback dwarf of the arts — comix! — to the rarified world of music theater in Drawn to Death: A Three Panel Opera.
The work chronicles the rise and fall of the American comic book from its birth in the 1930’s to its near-death in the 1950’s, as well as the destruction of two of the industry’s leading cartoonists: Bob Wood, co founder of Crime Does Not Pay, a popular comic with a monthly readership of over 6,000,000; and Jack Cole, creator of the memorable Plastic Man, the original morphing superhero. The hysteria that focused on the “comic book menace” during the Cold War included organized comic book burnings, climaxed in the 1954 U.S. Senate Hearings on Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency, and resulted in the Comics Code Seal of Approval, the most extreme censorship ever imposed on any form of mass media.
Drawn To Death: A Three Panel Opera situates itself squarely on the hyphen between the High and Low Arts and examines America’s fascination with lurid violence on the one hand and its puritanism and yearning for “easy fixes” on the other. Narrated by the ghoulish Mr. Crime, A Three Panel Opera unfolds against projected images resembling comic book art, underscored by a live band of actor/singers and musicians.
This piece was in development for several years in the early 2000s, including work-in-progress versions at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center, Arts At St. Ann’s, the American Repertory Theatre, and New York Theater Workshop. It is currently complete in complete draft form, and languishing in wait for a producer of courage.