WBR: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

I seem to have fallen out of the routine of doing regular weekly book reviews.  I’m going to try to get back into the habit, since they often provoked good discussions, and the deadlines helped me control my bad habit of reading five books at once and not finishing any of them.

This week’s book is The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.  The discussions of this book that I’ve seen mostly treat it as a dancing bear — e.g. they don’t criticize its skill in dancing, because the impressive thing is that it dances at all.  But I don’t think the idea of rendering a serious topic as a comic* is such a radical idea.  So, I’m taking it seriously, and asking whether this is an effective use of the medium.

The first chapter of the book absolutely blew me away.  Telling the stories of the four flights that took off on the morning of September 11, 2001 as four parallel stories playing out horizontally across the page is a very effective move.  I’ve always been a little blurry on the timeline of that morning — I spent it alternating between television and trying to contact people in NYC, and never sorted out what I was seeing live and what was replayed — and this made sense of it.


Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn’t live up to this start.  The main problem is that, while the format is that of a comic, the rest of the book doesn’t conform to Scott McCloud’s definition in Understanding Comics — the sequencing of the images does not contribute to the narrative; they simply illustrate the text.


Even as illustrations, the images don’t always contribute to our understanding. I totally don’t understand why the statement that Bin Ladin drew terrorists from at least 21 countries is followed by half a page of flags, rather than by a map of the world.  And in at least one case, the images confuse the story — a discussion of what went wrong in the evacuation of the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing is accompanied by a picture of the towers on fire, an image from from 2001.

The book includes a forward from the chair and cochair of the 9/11 Commission, praising it strongly.  It is, by all accounts, a fair and honest abridgment of the report.  And I do think that making the key findings of the report accessible to people who would never pick up a 1000 page book is a valuable and important task.  But as a work of graphic narrative, it doesn’t quite work.

* I’m calling it a comic because it’s clearly not a graphic novel and we don’t have a better word in English to use.  And because McCloud calls the whole category comics.

2 Responses to “WBR: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation”

  1. amy Says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with calling it comix. The whole “graphic novel” thing was primarily for legitimacy among snobs who fear pictures in grownup books, anyway.
    About the flags — I don’t know why Jacobson & Colon did it, but I do remember taking a paper flag out of the newspaper the next day and sticking it in my front window, where it stayed until it was completely faded. I’m not at all a flaggy person, and at the time the behavior seemed to me like cell behavior, bristling with proteins on the outside that tell the antibodies which team they’re on. The flag was suddenly important as a marker. Given the history of some of the terrorists’ countries, I don’t know that _national_ sentiment played the same role, but maybe that’s the sort of thing J&C were thinking of.

  2. carosgram Says:

    I saw Bill Moyers on PBS last night. He was taking with a man named Bacevich who wrote a book titled, The Limits of Power. I would love to know what you think about the book and its underlying premise. I don’t know how you choose which book to review but if you are open to suggestions this seems like an interesting one to me. I have just ordered it online from Amazon.

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