Posted by Don MacPherson on September 9th, 2009
The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Writers: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Artist/Cover artist: Ernie Colon
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Price: $16.95 US/$21 CAN
I purchased this graphic novel a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it until now. Given the approaching anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, this seemed like a good time to delve into this piece of documented history. Perhaps what surprised me the most about the book is how it’s about a lot more than that dark day eight years ago. It’s about the political and cultural decisions and developments that led up to the attacks — what motivated them and what made them possible. It also covers the chaos and heroism that arose at the sites of the attacks, and what’s happened (or more importantly, hasn’t happened) in the years since. Still, for those looking to be touched, saddened or inspired by the amazing and heart-wrenching personal stories that arose as a result of 9/11, this is not the book for them. There’s an appropriate tone of detachment throughout most of the narrative in this graphic novel, and since this is an adaptation of an official government commission report, that’s how it should be. This isn’t storytelling, it’s documentation.
In the wake of al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government struck a commission to examine how such attacks were possible: what led up to them, the gaps in security that allowed them, the errors and bureaucracy that kept officials from preventing them and what should be done to address all of these problems. Some have been addressed, many haven’t.
Ernie Colon’s a veteran of the comic-book industry, though many newer readers are likely unfamiliar with his name and his work before this 2006 book. I remember him as the artist who crafted the unique look for DC’s Amethyst comics of the 1980s, but he’d been active as an artist in mainstream comics long before that as well. I was pleased to him his style intact here despite the fact that he strives toward a much more realistic look, understandable, given the subject matter. He captures likeness incredibly well while still maintaining a unique Colon look to the art. Some of the artwork and narrative captions do not flow well down some pages, though, and there are a few instances in which the art doesn’t necessarily match what one reads in the accompanying script. I would imagine these occasional flaws are attributable to the fact that Colon isn’t used to using the medium to bring a factual government report to life as opposed to a story of fantasy and imagination. Overall, though, the book boasts a polished, professional look that maintains a certain tone of propriety in keeping with the source material.
I would imagine boiling a report as comprehensive and long-winded as The 9/11 Report down into a manageable scope for a comics adaptation was something of a daunting prospect for Colon and editor Sid Jacobson. At first, I was worried their approach would be to bring a certain comics-like sense of hyperbole to the matter, and on the first page, it seemed that would be the case. When referring to an airport security screener’s responsibility to check what set off a metal detector, a lone caption reads, “He didn’t!” That exclamation point made me uneasy, but that concern quickly faded. The overall tone of the script is one of an impartial reporting of facts. Condemnations — beyond those offered by the pure facts by themselves — aren’t to be found in this book. There’s no political spin. The Bush administration’s failings are highlighted, but so are those of officials during the previous Clinton administration as well. International politics certainly come into play, but party politics don’t.
My one main qualm with the book is that it seems a bit scattered. While the opening chapter focuses on the timeline on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the rest of the book jumps around a bit. There’s a definite structure at play here, but the narrative is threatened by both the radical shifts in time and place and by the overwhelming scope of the topic of terrorism in the 21st century and what led up to it. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation is definitely an excellent starting point for someone with an interest in the topic, but it’s far from a finish line either. 7/10
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