• Grade Range: 6th-Adult
• Current issues title
• Author: Sid Jacobson, Illustrated by Ernie Colon
• The 911 Report; A Graphic Adaptation
• Publisher: New York, Hill and Wang
• 133 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-8090-5739-9
• Awards: None known.
• Author’s website: Neither author nor artist have a website.
The official 911 report is 800 pages long; this graphic adaptation remains true to the report but clarifies and condenses it. The combination of visuals and text show what happened, what led up to the attack, who knew about it and when. The book conveys the 911 Commission’s findings on government agencies’ communication gaps and failures.
Jacobson and Colon deserve nothing but praise for this innovative and brilliant adaptation of an important document most of us will never read. There are few historical events that have as much emotional and historic impact as the 911 attacks. Today’s teenagers and young adults know 911 was important, but typically have few memories and lots of misinformation.
While a comic book treatment of a national tragedy might seem inappropriate, there are many good reasons to overcome this bias. Jacobson and Colon have been scrupulous in avoiding sensationalism. Nearly all of Jacobson’s text comes directly from the commission’s report and Colón, who drew from photographic images, went out of his way to avoid partisan stereotyping.* The medium’s ability to show sequential events is capitalized on: an 18 page illustrated-timeline allows readers to follow the unfolding events on the four flights simultaneously. Some drawings do imagine the violence on board the planes, but limit it to incidents we have anecdotal confirmation of. Colon also goes out of his way to avoid any images that might offend someone who lost a loved one.* He was personally unwilling to draw victims jumping from the towers and no children are pictured on board the planes or at the scene of the tragedies. Of course the most important reason to embrace Jacobson and Colon’s graphic journalism is that it means more Americans will read the report and thus be equipped with facts and information that will cause them to reflect and allow them to act. As the two vice-chairs of the 911 Commission report in their foreword to the book: “the safety and the security of our country require a well-informed public to hold its elected leaders to account.”
Despite the tremendous quality of The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation and the clearly splendid intentions of the author and illustrator, there are two disconcerting elements that merit mention. In the first 30 pages there is a woeful lack of persons of color other than the hijackers. 911 appears to have occurred in a very white and male world. Colon definitely does include heroic individuals of color, but I could wish there had been one black or brown man or woman, other than the hijackers, pictured aboard the airlines, if only to be certain to avoid the message that brown people are the bad guys and those with lighter skin are innocent victims. Given the catastrophic nature of the event it is silly to quibble about politically correct representation and I did learn that the victims of 911 actually were 75% male between the ages of 40-50 and 75% white.** I still wish for one brown face in the scrum of passengers. Despite Colon’s attempts to resist characterization, occasionally a few of the terrorists appear cartoonish. Again, overall there is a scrupulous effort to not caricature, but the rare occasions where the pen is loosed, I did wince. I bring these discomforts up because I recognize there is a tendency to find fault when uncomfortable and this book is likely to make many readers uncomfortable. After reflection and research I don’t think Colon misrepresents the demographics and visually the terrorists come off better than Condoleezza Rice. That said, I still wish for a minority passenger.
Front matter: The book is dedicated to the victims of 911. Contents list chapters, postscript and acknowledgements and provide thumbnail sketches. A well written and stirring foreword from both vice-chairs of the 911 Commission endorses the adaptation and challenges the citizen reader. Back matter contains the single most important take away: a graphic report card rating the government’s response to the commission’s findings and recommendations. Brief personal acknowledgements conclude the book.
* Minzesheimer, Bob. (2005, August 22). 9/11 gets a graphic retelling. USA Today. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2006-08-21-9-11-report-book_x.htm?csp=34.
** Beveridge, Andrew. (n.d.). Demographics: 9/11/01-02: A demographic portrait of the victims in 10048. Gotham Gazette.com. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from http://www.gothamgazette.com/demographics/91102.shtml