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Can A Comic Book Help Us To Understand 9/11?

We've had books, documentaries and movies about 9/11 – this week we got the comic book. Is the most defining moment of a generation in danger of becoming just another franchise with a Happy Meal tie-in on the horizon? Or are we in many ways still struggling to understand what happened that day? And does a comic book help us achieve that?

Actually, "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation" seeks simply to be the illustrated version of the official 9/11 commission report, which became a best-seller when released in 2004. But this graphic book has spurred plenty of discussion over its worth. Written by Sid Jacobson (of Richie Rich fame) and illustrated by Ernie Colon (who drew Casper), it hit bookstores this week. Here's a USA Today take on it:

Neither author nor illustrator calls the work a comic book, even if it uses a comic-book format, including sound effects: R-RUMBLE when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, or BLAMM! when American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.

It pictures scenes aboard the doomed planes and towers. But, Jacobson says, "it's not a dramatization," unlike the movies World Trade Center and United 93. "It's the story of an investigation. ... It's graphic journalism."

Like the original 9/11 Report, the graphic version is less about one day in September 2001 than about what led up to it and the inner workings of government agencies, often at cross-purposes. When the report, by a bipartisan commission, was released two years ago, it was published in three paperback editions. It was praised for its criticism of government failures and nominated for a National Book Award.

What led to the report, according to the two creators was the difficulty they had in reading the original print version. While there may be those who see this as a comic book and, therefore, somehow less informative than the book, it's received some high-level praise. The 9/11 panel's co-chairs, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, have written a foreword for the graphic novel that praises "the talented graphic artists of this edition for their close adherence to the findings, recommendations, spirit and tone of the original commission report."

Slate is releasing a chapter of the new version each day through September 7 and you can follow it here. Some people will never take this sort of effort very seriously and that's fine because those are the people who have probably read the original 9/11 report. But if this graphic version reaches those who won't pick up a seemingly dense, 500-plus page book and helps them understand the content, isn't that worth it? As long as it provides an accurate version of the report, and the commissioners seem to think it does, then more power to this "comic" effort.

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