The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

Published by Hill and Wang

133 pages, 2006



The Onomatopoeia of Terrorism

Reviewed by David Abrams



In The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, that's the sound, the onomatopoeia, of terrorism as United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the South Tower of the World Trade Center and American Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

Authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon have condensed the nearly 600-page Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States into a 130-page comic book.

I use the term "comic book" loosely, for there is nothing funny nor super-heroic in these pages. This is a sober, respectful examination through color, line and shading of the unimaginable acts of terror which reached the shores of the United States five years ago. It's even far less appropriate to call it a "graphic novel." It's a literal illustration of the Commission's prescription to prevent similar attacks in the future. The publisher, Hill and Wang, plans to follow The 9/11 Report with illustrated biographies of Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan.

Readers move through this book on a journey of pain, frustration, incredulity and anger as the Commission details the permeability of United States airline security in 2001, the chaotic and ill-equipped response to the attacks, and how Osama bin Laden announced his intent, through a well-publicized fatwa, in February 1998 which called for the murder of Americans as "the individual duty for every Muslim."

The report, simplified into pictures and palatable text, charts the rise of al Qaeda and bin Laden, traces the roots of modern terrorism back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and illustrates how the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center should have been a blinking red light (along with the bombings of the USS Cole and the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam).

The dots were all there, but remained unconnected.

The report concludes: "The commission believes the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failure: in imagination, in policy, in capabilities and in management."

Jacobson, the creator of Richie Rich at Harvey Comics, and Colon, who has worked for Marvel and DC Comics, give the 9/11 tragedy to us in a more digestible form than the Commission's doorstop volume (which, I suppose, is this generation's Warren Commission Report on the Kennedy assassination -- something we know we should read, but never do). The result is gripping, informative and heartbreaking.

One significant advantage Jacobson and Colon's book has over the dry bulk of the Final Report is its ability to show a timeline for the morning of September 11. For a dozen pages, four separate narrative strips run horizontally across the page so we can see where each plane was in relation to the other. Is it painful to see -- even in pastel color-wash -- flight attendants and pilots being stabbed and passenger planes turned into "large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel"? Yes, excruciatingly painful; but in the inky hands of the illustrators, it's also a work of instructive art. It's art that hurts, but perhaps one day will help us heal.

But first, the Commission warns, we must steel ourselves: "The lesson of 9/11 for civilians and first responders can be stated simply: in the new age of terrorism, they are the primary targets. The losses of that day demonstrated the gravity of the threat and the need to prepare ourselves. We must plan for the next attack. This is perhaps the best way to honor the memories of those we lost that day." | October 2006


David Abrams is a January Magazine contributing editor. He has written for Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, The Readerville Journal and other literary magazines.