September 14, 2006

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The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, based on the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Hill and Wang, 2006, 133 pages)

As government documents go, The 9/11 Commission Reportwas a blockbuster.

It hovered at the top of best seller lists for weeks not something you'd expect for 500 plus pages of commission findings and it was genuinely widely read, and not just by government wonk types. Many reviews of the report praised it for its readability and its lack of bureaucratic jargon.

Though I've skimmed it at the book stores from time to time, I haven't read it but now I want to. This is perhaps the highest praise and the intended effect of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. This comparatively slim volume excerpts the report and gives it subdued illustrations. If the text report was a university course on the event, Graphic Adaptation is a museum exhibit with just enough information to whet your interest.

Like the report, the adaptation is in many ways a list of failures failures of intelligence, communication and imagination in the years leading up to September 2001 and failures of communication and organization on the day of the attacks. We watch government officials and intelligence organizations fight each other in the 1990s over how to respond to the growing threat of Osama Bin Laden. On Sept. 11, we watch firefighters and police officers attempt to mount a rescue in the twin towers yet unable to talk to each other or, frequently, to officers in their own organizations.

Whole books have been written about these problems it's a lot of information to distill into a few pages of comic frames. A Graphic Adaptation pulls all of this information into a one-sitting read that is a good introduction to the subject matter but not a thorough explanation. The book feels like it's cramming too much into too small a space perhaps a multi-volume adaptation of the report would have worked better. As it is, the adaptation feels jumpy, with bits of scenes with Bin Laden intercut with glimpses at the U.S. intelligence agencies and frequent flash-forwards between the terrorism activities and investigations of the last few decades and Sept. 11, 2001. Unlike, for example, Maus (Art Spiegelman's two-volume look at his parents' experiences during the Holocaust), A Graphic Adaptation can't seem to keep the narrative flow through all of these jumps through time.

Graphic Adaptation also suffers some from a lack of continuity in its illustrations. Though its subdued drawings work well with this kind of material (especially since this story is so detail -eavy), the detailed black and white portraits of politicians don't completely mesh with the standard-color-comic-strip look of most of the rest of the book. An early section of the book that divides the pages into four timelines of the four hijacked flights is perhaps the most visually successful part.

For its faults, the adaptation is still a heck of a read one that gets you angry and, perhaps most importantly of all, one that gets you hungry for the full version of the report. B-

Amy Diaz