The Sept. 11 Commission Report as Graphic Novel The 580-page Sept. 11 commission report is now a graphic novel. Two comic book artists talk about why they created The 9/11 Report, A Graphic Adaptation, and what they hope to accomplish with it.

The Sept. 11 Commission Report as Graphic Novel

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NEAL CONAN, host:

The report of the 9/11 Commission became the surprise bestseller of 2004 in a book edition. Its conclusions are now so widely known that government policies are constantly measured against the commission's recommendations. In an effort to widen that audience, a comic-book adaptation of the commission report is out today, and it raises a series of questions. Can a dense, 580-page report be usefully contracted in graphic form, or just dumbed down?

And who's the audience? The subject matter is simultaneously terrifying and dry for children, and interested grownups can read the book. Whether you read the book or not, are you inclined to take a look at the illustrated version? Our number is 800-989-8255, e-mail talk@npr.org.

Joining us now are the creators of the 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. Ernie Colon is an artist who worked at Harvey, Marvel and DC Comics. He oversaw production of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Blackhawk, and The Flash at DC, and oversaw Spiderman at Marvel. He's with us from our bureau in New York. Thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. ERNIE COLON (Comic Book Artist; Co-creator of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation): Thank you.

CONAN: And Sid Jacobson, former editor-in-chief for Harvey Comics, where he created Richie Rich. He was also an executive editor at Marvel Comics. He's with us at NPR West in Culver City, California, and thanks very much to you.

Mr. SID JACOBSON (Editor, The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation): My pleasure, thank you.

CONAN: And Sid Jacobson, who came up with this idea?

Mr. JACOBSON: Ernie Colon, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Ernie Colon, how did you come up with this idea?

Mr. COLON: I was reading the newspaper at the Times, and there was an article in it stating that Ron Howard and his partner were considering making a movie based on the 9/11 Commission Report. And one of the commercial attractions for them was that it was public domain. I had just started reading the book and found it very difficult. Not because it wasn't well written - it actually was -but I found that by the time I got to Page 50 or 60, I'd forgotten all the Arabic names and all the times and places. So I called Sid about it.

CONAN: And why did you call Sid?

Mr. COLON: Well, Sid and I have worked for many years, together, and I thought - we're in the business of clarification and this is a perfect way to do it.

CONAN: Okay, and Sid, when Ernie mentions this idea, what did you say?

Mr. JACOBSON: Well, I won't give you an exact quote…

CONAN: Well, good, because it's a family radio program.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JACOBSON: I was very excited and I said let me look at it and see if I think it can be done. And I did. And I must say that I object - I think we both object - to the whole thought of this as a comic book. This is not a comic book. It's a graphic presentation, using many, many devices, to tell what exactly has been said in that and only that.

CONAN: Well, one of the reasons we call it a comic book is all the other terminology for it isn't very useful. It's not a graphic novel, either.

Mr. JACOBSON: Well, correct. We have sort of come up with the idea that it's graphic journalism. I mean, what we're trying to do - as big a seller as the book was, it was very difficult to follow and to understand. And I'm sure that most people who did read it - I mean, this was written as a Congressional report - and I'm not sure how many Congressmen fully understood because they haven't done much about it.

And I think we felt it was important that this be translated for the adult, for the child, for anyone to understand what was in this damaging and very important report.

CONAN: We're talking with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, the co-creators of 9/11 Report as a graphic adaptation. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me ask you, when you talk about, you know, simplifying it - isn't this dumbing it down?

Mr. COLON: No, not at all. I'll take that one, Sidney.

Mr. JACOBSON: Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLON: You can't dumb something down that you're actually quoting and being respectful to and making available to a wider audience. That's not dumbing down, at all. There are no caped crusaders in this book.

CONAN: Nevertheless, some people are going to look at, you know, pictures of the World Trade Center collapsing with words like whoom and rumble on it, and say ehh, I don't know.

Mr. COLON: Well, when they watch CNN and they see the same pictures of the tragedy over and over again and they hear the sound effects, how is that different from what we've done, really?

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a listener involved in the conversation. This is Ed. Ed's calling us from Walla Walla, in Washington.

ED (Caller): Hi. You know, I'm going to really take you to task for kind of, you know, once again perpetuating the myth that comics somehow are the drooling idiot bastard step-child of literature and not a medium in its own right -which you seem to be perpetuating.

Comics have been doing work that's non-fiction for a long time - and some very powerful work. There's Fax From Sarajevo, there was Persepolis, there was Maus; most notably. And you know, I'm excited about this project because you can tell things in a graphic and visual way that a lot of times do not work well within a simple book. And it's a medium unto itself, and it can do some very visually effective and powerful things.

By the way, Ernie Colon happens to be one of the better artists and illustrators in the medium. I mean, my goodness, from his work when he was -there was a wonderful series he did for DC called Underworld - beautiful work, gorgeous artist.

Mr. COLON: Thank you, Ed.

CONAN: I have to say, one of the things that really did work for me as I looked at the book, there's a timeline on each of the four jets that were hijacked that day. And following them as they're stripped across the page, horizontally - that to me, I think, was much more effective than reading the description of it in any number of books, including the 9/11 Commission Report.

Mr. COLON: Well that's very good, because that was Sid's idea. And I've often said that looking at something graphically, like a timeline, at a glance, gives you all the facts - rather than going, as I said before, to Page 60 and then referring to Page 9 because you can't remember that particular place or event.

Mr. JACOBSON: And also I think, which is important, is to show that basically the first plane had hit the Trade Center while the fourth plane was just barely off the ground. So you get a sense of here there was such a lack of communication, which is an important thing for us to deal with.

CONAN: And when various groups became aware of what was going on and who they communicated with - much clearer in the graphic representation than it was even in the book.

Mr. JACOBSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Ed, thanks very much for the call.

Mr. JACOBSON: Thank you, Ed.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail we got from Amanda in Wichita, Kansas. I think this is an interesting idea. Do you have plans to illustrate additional historical events?

Mr. JACOBSON: Oh yes.

Mr. COLON: Oh yeah, absolutely, sure.

Mr. JACOBSON: Well, what we're working on is after 9/11, actually the war on terror. What we're trying to do is to present basically - I mean what we do is keep our own personal opinions out of it. It's not a political thing…

Mr. COLON: Absolutely.

Mr. JACOBSON: …but to report what happened, basically, in the war on terror.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you, and good luck with the book that's out today.

Mr. JACOBSON: Thank you.

Mr. COLON: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Ernie Colon, Comic book artist who worked for Harvey, Marvel, and DC on the likes of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Spiderman, with us from our bureau in New York; and Sid Jacobson, editor-in-chief for Harvey Comics, where he created Richie Rich. He was with us from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation is available at comic-book stores starting today. I'm Neal Conan, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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