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9/11 gets a graphic retelling

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  • 9/11 gets a graphic retelling

    By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
    NEW YORK — It looks like a comic book and reads like a comic book, but the subject matter is deadly serious: what went wrong before, during and after 9/11.
    The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill and Wang, $16.95 paperback, $30 hardcover), based on the government commission report that became a best seller in 2004, arrives Tuesday.

    Last week, its writer, Sid Jacobson, and illustrator, Ernie Colón, both veterans of the comic book industry, visited what had been the World Trade Center, now a massive construction site ringed by hundreds of tourists.

    Jacobson, who lives in Los Angeles, hadn't been there since the attack nearly five years ago.

    "It's painful," he says, and he remembers eating at Windows on the World, the restaurant that was on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower. He had resisted going back to Ground Zero but agreed to be photographed there, although "it's difficult. It's not a place you say 'cheese.' "

    Colo´n, a New Yorker, last visited the site a few months after 9/11: "I had to leave after a minute. I couldn't stand it." This time, he just stared at what he called "the anthill of activity" by construction crews. "But it's still just an empty shell. And there's no memorial yet. That's disturbing."

    Their backgrounds in comics — Jacobson, 76, created Richie Rich and was executive editor of Marvel and Harvey Comics, and Colo´n, 75, drew Casper and Wonder Woman —may seem like odd preparation for dealing with real-life tragedy, terrorism and national security.

    But, as Colo´n puts it, "we're in the business of clarification."

    Neither author nor illustrator calls the work a comic book, even if it uses a comic-book format, including sound effects: R-RUMBLE when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, or BLAMM! when American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

    It pictures scenes aboard the doomed planes and towers. But, Jacobson says, "it's not a dramatization," unlike the movies World Trade Center and United 93. "It's the story of an investigation. ... It's graphic journalism."

    Like the original 9/11 Report, the graphic version is less about one day in September 2001 than about what led up to it and the inner workings of government agencies, often at cross-purposes. When the report, by a bipartisan commission, was released two years ago, it was published in three paperback editions. It was praised for its criticism of government failures and nominated for a National Book Award.

    Colo´n tried to read the 568-page report when it was released but gave up after about 50 pages. "For a government report, it was well written," he says, "but still hard to follow — lots of Arabic names, and a lot of things going on at the same time in different places."

    A year later, he read an article about a possible TV miniseries based on the 9/11 Report. Colo´n imagined a graphic adaptation and thought about using what works in comics: panels, continuity and balloons for dialogue.

    Colo´n called Jacobson, a longtime friend and colleague. Jacobson recalls his reaction: "Holy (expletive)! What a great idea."

    When Jacobson read the commission report, he agreed with Colo´n: "I had trouble following what was happening on the four (hijacked) flights, and it hit me. Wow! You could show this as a timeline. You could really, really explain it."

    The illustrated timeline eventually would fill 18 pages at the beginning of the book. (It folds out in the hardcover edition.) At a glance, it shows what was happening, who knew what and when, and the communications gaps and failures among government agencies.

    Jacobson and Colo´n worked mostly by e-mail for more than a year. The easiest part, Colo´n says, "was plying the trade I've worked for many years. The hardest was living, day to day, with the tragedy."

    It's not the first time that comic book formats have dealt with somber subjects.

    Artist Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for Maus, which tells the story of his father, a Holocaust survivor, by portraying the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice. In 2003, Marjane Satrapi described her childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution in Persepolis, a graphic memoir. In 2004, Spiegelman published In the Shadows of No Towers, a graphic diary of 9/11.

    But those books were about personal experiences. Jacobson says he and Colo´n wanted to keep their personal and political opinions out of their book.

    Nearly all of Jacobson's text, he says, comes directly from the commission's report. Colo´n says he worked from photos when he drew President Bush, other officials and the hijackers.

    "I wanted to be as neutral as possible," he says. "If I found an unflattering photo of (Vice President) Cheney, I looked for a more neutral one, even for (Michael) Chertoff (secretary of Homeland Security), which was no easy task."

    Some of his drawings imagine the violence aboard the planes. There are bodies and a few pools of blood, which, he says, is realistic, but not sensational. But there was one image he couldn't draw.

    The text notes that "as time grew short and desperate, civilians leaped from North Tower upper floors."

    Colo´n says, "It would have personally offended me to draw that. I just couldn't. ... We knew this was not just politically charged but emotionally charged. We didn't want to do anything that would offend anyone who lost someone."

    He and Jacobson also knew they faced a "burden," as Colo´n puts it: the popular image of comic books as beneath serious consideration. Despite resistance from educators, Jacobson notes that comic book formats are used by industries and the military for training manuals.

    "We live in the most visually oriented culture in the history of mankind," Colo´n says, "but a lot of people don't appreciate how much information you can tell visually."

    The 9/11 Commission wasn't involved in the book. The original report is in the public domain, which means anyone can publish or use it.

    When the adaptation was done, its publisher sent it to the leaders of the commission, Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, who have written their own book, published last week, Without Precedent: the Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission.

    Kean and Hamilton had been dubious when they first heard of a comic book, but after reading it, they embraced it. Their foreword commends "the talented graphic artists of this edition for their close adherence to the findings, recommendations, spirit and tone of the original commission report."

    The early reviews have been good. Kirkus calls the book "an honorable public service" that's "thoughtful — and by no means dumbed-down."

    The book ends with a postscript that shows a report card that the 9/11 Commission, as its final act, issued in December. It grades the responses of the White House and Congress to the commission's findings and recommendations in 41 subjects that cover homeland security, intelligence reform and foreign policy. The average grade is a D.

    "Obviously, the story is not over," Jacobson says.

    He and Colo´n are working on a sequel, based on newspaper reports, with the working title After 9/11: America at War. They expect to finish in about a year, although Jacobson adds, "Who knows when, or if, the war will end."

    "In Tempore"

  • #2
    To read some of the chapters of the book you can go to this site

    "In Tempore"


    • #3
      The other night on TLC,I watched the story of flight 175 which was the second hijacked plane that hit the South tower.
      My reaction was the same:cold rage and the fervent hope that those bastards are wrong and Allah wasn't so pleased that they murdered innocents in His name for their own purposes.
      One can hope.


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