Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Oh, no! Must have been pilot error!" The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation

Growing up, the nearest thing to a "non-fiction comic book" I knew of were the various educational comics (often handed out for free at trade shows) or biographical works. When I first learned of Joe Sacco I was fascinated - the concept of comics journalism, of comics which could address the topics as other works on the non-fiction shelves - it hooked me. From Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo to Emmanuel Gibert's the Photographer, I've enjoyed witnessing what the medium can achieve.

This brings me to 2006's the 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation, published by Hill & Wang and adapted by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colon from the 9/11 Commission's report. Although I've known about the book for some time I've resisted reading it because I feared it would be too-familiar, uninteresting or upsetting. All these years later, though, here it is.

The 9/11 Report is only 113 pages long and has a lot of information to relay because it's not simply a matter of depicting the events of 9/11, but to set everything in context with what came before (at one point it jumps all the way back to World War II to explain the CIA's origins!) and what followed (ie, the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq). The most effective pages are definitely those depicting the 9/11 attack - there, Colon uses fold-out sections to chart when the events on each of the four flights occurred in relation to each other.

I didn't expect to learn I didn't already know from this tome because - beginning on the day of 9/11 - my workplace began running news networks all day long, so I heard many of the facts (and various crackpot theories). It's precisely because I had been so inundated with the story of 9/11 back in 2001 that I wasn't eager to dive back in again. Reading it through, one finds failure writ large; it's a long litany of errors, miscommunications and people unprepared to respond (even including the disaster response teams, unfortunately). The only person who comes off looking well in this book is someone I don't recall hearing about back in 2001 - Richard Clarke, who had been trying to get Bin Laden for years prior to 9/11 and who throughout the book is depicted as fairly thoughtful and methodical.

Because there's so much to be told in so (relatively) few pages, there is only some (not much) panel-to-panel storytelling; most of the panels tell a story of their own, rather the accumulation of sequential art; very little back-and-forth conversation, very little action-then-reaction. Previously I'd seen Ernie Colon working on comedy or super heroes (or the two at once in Damage Control), but here his ability to render expressive faces is invaluable; he captures what must be hundreds of likenesses convincingly and imbues something of the person's character, no matter how briefly they appear in this book.

The book also offers a (very) gentle rebuke of the Iraq War, pausing to refute Iraq's supposed involvement in 9/11 (something Clarke had formally rejected a week after the attack). Reading of how the USA enhanced their security measures following the attacks brought me back to the ambivalence I felt then, concerned at how their expanded powers could be misused. Then, I reflected, nothing has actually changed since that administration - the potential for abuse is not only as high as ever, we've had repeated stories of US soldiers and officials overstepping the bounds of both theirs and international laws. *sigh* Back to fiction for me, this is getting depressing...

No comments: