Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006 | I have received my copy of the “9/11 Comic Book” from Amazon. Its real name is “The 9/11 Report, A Graphic Adaptation,” by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. The book is exactly what it says, a graphic summary, in comic book (albeit a hard-back comic book) form, of “The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States,” or, as it is popularly known, “The 9/11 Report.”
It is definitely a comic book, very well done (Jacobson and Colon are old-time comic book pros), but with liberties of style that are raising the question, “Should they be doing this?”
The question has been asked before. Texans of my generation, looking at the “9/11 Comic Book,” will instantly remember their 7th grade Texas History class. A comic book was used then, too, to teach history.
The comic book depicted the struggles in 1836, at the Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto, that brought about the defeat of Santa Anna’s armies that won independence for Texas from Mexico. I don’t remember how the book was bound, or presented, but the pages looked just like the pages of a comic book you would buy at the drugstore.
As far as I know, the information was factual, but obviously the action in the drawings was, by definition, dramatized, simply by bringing the events “to life.” We proceeded through graphic scenes of battle, and preparations for battle, that were seen only by people who were actually there.
I liked the book. It was as professionally drawn as any commercial comic book you could buy. The Texans were portrayed as the good guys, and the Mexicans were the bad guys, the same bias that ultimately came through in print texts, though it became much more vivid in comic book form. I’m sure there is an archive of complaints about that, and I have a query in to the Texas State Historical Association.
Also included were the typical sound effects (“Blam!” “Boom!” “Whoosh!”) common to commercial comic books. I don’t remember any objections to that at the time – we were, after all, reading the book under the direction of educational professionals – and we had all seen and heard similar sound recreations in the movie theaters.
The “9/11 Comic Book” gives its history the exact same treatment. If you want to look at it, slate.com has been excerpting it. Reading it is, well, an unusual experience. Bringing to dramatized life events that occurred in 1836 are one thing, but bringing to dramatized life the battle to take back Flight 93 is something else. We are shown scenes that literally no one on earth ever saw.
Yes, many of us have seen film and video interpretations of that battle; the DVD of “Flight 93” was released just this week. But people are acclimated to seeing drama on a screen one minute, and then allowing that same screen in the next minute to show them comedy. It is what we expect, of movies and TV prime time.
Our expectations of comic books are less flexible. Unless, of course, you were a Texan in a 7th-grade Texas History class in the 1950s. I realize that citing the Texas educational system does not amount to an overwhelming endorsement for teaching history in comic books, but it has provided me, among others, a specific flexibility, that others won’t have, when they look at the 9/11 comic book for the first time.
The comic book simplifies what happened, and that could be interpreted as disrespect. It is also, for better or worse, becoming typical of how Americans receive all their information: there is a short, visual, simplified version, and a long, print version that is as complex as the subject matter requires. Right now, we see the short, visual version on television, with the tease at the end, “For more about this story, go to our website at www.cbs.com.” At the website is the long, complex, print version. Both stories have been written by the same reporter. This semester, in my classrooms, as in all the semesters for the last three or four years, I will teach my journalism students how to write both the visual and print stories, because they won’t get hired anywhere if they don’t know how to do both. In fact, pretty soon, the visual (TV) and print (newspapers) mediums will merge, the TV remote will become a mouse also, and at the end of the short, simplified, visual story on the screen, there won’t be a tease, but a link directly to the long, complex, print story.
With “The 9/11 Comic Book,” that same phenomenon enters the book world. I think this is a good thing. It better be, because it is inevitable. I think it is good because the short, visual version always lacks depth. You obtain depth through the print version. Linking them makes perfect sense. That’s why I think the “9/11 Comic Book” is legitimate, and valuable. It is the short, simplified visual version of the longer, extremely complex, print version that, for the time being, is the document of record of an event that we will be a long time understanding. Someday, wouldn’t you love to see a comic book version of the San Diego pension fund story?
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His website is at www.michaelgrant.com. Or, send a letter to the editor.