Monday, May 4, 2009

9/11 and the Graphic Novel

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation turns the 9/11 Commission report, the findings of the bipartisan committee appointed by the President, into a graphic novel. It takes the events, the testimonies, and the time lines of the terrorist events and puts them into a comic book format. The graphic novel amounts to a pastiche of the elements included in the report and images deriving from both the artist's imagination and ones mediated by broadcast and print media coverage from both the day of the attacks and political figures of the time. I want to think through what the effect is of putting the report into this aesthetic realm. Turning it into a comic should open the discussion of 9/11 to new audiences, but does it have the effect of reopening the tragedy to new interpretations?

If viewed as a reopening of the discussion, the novel can be seen as an ethical endeavor to further understandings
of the tragedy. Consequently, readers may have a new engagement with the event that offers the opportunity for new responses to be formulated from a position of heightened knowledge and the awareness of diverse perspectives. However, by channeling such familiar images, mostly from media coverage, does it simply reinforce existing sentiments? The project mimics the goal of the 9/11 Commission Report, a book that attempted to report rather than engage with the event. But as a work of art, is not the burden one step further, to engage the event, rethink it, ask new questions? I don't know that the graphic novel has this impact.

14 comments:

D said...

Though I've only read about half of it, I don't think it has that impact, mostly because I don't think it attempts to offer any interpretations or opinions on 9/11. Instead, it's concerned with the facts, with what we've learned since then - it falls short of rethinking it, of asking new questions. To me this graphic novel is just a compilation of images from the media's coverage of 9/11, but with actual facts and real information. Sure, some of the stuff is imagined by the author, but does any of it offer a new opinion on 9/11? I don't think it does...not yet at least.

I will say this - if you look at the graphic novel as a way of criticizing the media, then I think it could be a rethinking of THAT particular issue. It does what the media was supposed to do--it got the facts and reported them without offering up personal opinions or hearsay evidence. And even when the book gives something unsubstantiated, it tells us that those things are indeed unsubstantiated (like on page 67). So in that sense, yeah, I think it engages the media's coverage of the event in a new way, but not the event itself.

greenhearts24 said...

I think that the graphic novel allows the reader to see the events that led up to the crash. For many people, including me, I believe that it has shed light on the situation as a whole because we are able to see the things that may have been hidden from us. This is an interesting piece of literature because it allows the average person to mix something such as an entertaining source of reading (i.e a graphic novel) with a world-changing event (i.e 9/11). I do not think the graphic novel critizes the media but it interprets the harsh build ups of the events along the way instead in a matter where everyone can understand. The format of this novel gives us a sense of visual realization rather than hearing it on the news. I do believe however that the graphic novel takes a jab at the event as a whole by making it into a long carton/comic book strip. It is important to realize that there are many interpretations of the events that led up to that horrific day that we the graphic novel addresses in a appropriate manner.

kia mak said...

Can I just add that I really really enjoy the visual representation of Karl Rove at the bottom of page 20?

On a more serious note, one of the pressing themes of the report (or at least the version represented here) is that of timing. It infuriates the 2009 reader to know that Bush was told of the first attack before he walked into another photo-op. It is also mind-blowing to evaluate the time-tables of the FAA and airlines. The compression, expansion, and lacking (gap-ping) of time seems a persistent theme in our novels; though this is most obvious in The Zero's gaps, it is also prevalent in the next novel we will read.

9/11 was an instant that seemed to spring into eternal American identity, but as the Report shows, it was really a point of intensity in a longer narrative, one that is continuing on today. However, a governmental and journalistic failure has created 9/11 as a starting point in terror, in hate. It is a crime that my generation (and most of America) never absorbed the actual and symbolic importance of the first WTC bombing. How did this happen? Are we to blame for not caring enough to remember and act (government included), or is "the media" at fault for not reminding us?

Danielle Moyer said...

Turning the 9/11 Commission Report into a comic not only gears the discussion to a new audience but forces the already intrigued audience into another stream of consciousness. I am the intrigued formulating my own interpretation. In many ways the comic is used as a tool to organize the events in such a way that we, as the readers, are forced to follow the author's attempt at a cohesive narration. Although I am enjoying the novel, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone feels somewhat insulted by the adaptation? It is almost like Jacobson and Colon felt the need to "dumb down" the commission report. It was as though they knew that majority of Americans were never going to read the nearly 500 pages of facts compiled, as an attempt to "clear things up", in the commission report. Therefore, we simply come to the conclusion that the facts published in a colorful and easy to read novel must be the truth. But then again, maybe that was their point...maybe they wanted to prove that Americans are usually satisfied with the first resolution/explanation and rarely ask questions that NEED to be asked. So in one way, I think the novel does reinforce the existing sentiment about the acceptance of fact vs. fiction. Are we in some ways accepting the fiction as facts? (Not saying that any of the information within the graphic novel is false). I don't think it is the novel's responsibility to ask questions for us or to pose new interpretations. Instead, I think the novel is prompting us to be the initiators to ask these questions. Does that not force a more powerful IMPACT opposed to the "impacts" printed in colorful ink?

Danielle Moyer said...

In response to Kia Mak-Are you referring to the WTC bombing in 1993 by saying, "first WTC bombing"? If so, personally, I believe there is equal responsibility to be shared for allowing the image to escape our thoughts...or rather preventing the image from ever entering our thoughts. It is said that the electricity was out for approximately 1 week after the first attack, which prevented NY's radio broadcasting and television networks from transmitting complete information of the attack. If the attack was thought to be a major threat then the information would have been FORCED upon the "audience". Since the repeated image of the attack was not poured thick onto an "audience" then it is almost like the image/attack never existed. We rely on the radio & television (media) as the main source of information but in some ways we settle for: "no news is good news". Since the alert was not set off for us to pay attention and the image wasn't repeated then I guess it must not have been that "important". I cannot place the blame on one entity (government, media, Americans); I think each has an equal responsibility for "remembering" and "caring" about the initial attack that should have played a key role in the events leading to 9/11.

D said...

I don't know if I want to consider it a "dumbing down" of the 9/11 report - I'd much rather think of it as a revision, as an edited copy that gives the main points of the book...

Earlier I made the point that the graphic novel doesn't offer interpretations, and that it doesn't give a new opinion on 9/11. However, having finished it, I feel like the second half did attempt to do just that. The second part (78 - end) was less about gathering facts and specific information than it was examining what happened--what went wrong, what went right, etc. And on top of that, it seems to offer subtle suggestions as to how the novel feels about the events leading up to that day. On page 80, for example, the pilot on the bottom says: "Whatever that means." Sure, someone may have said that. But, if the point of the 9/11 report is to merely report what happened, it ultimately fails here--this quote seems to be inappropriate as it offers an opinion (albeit not a very strong one) rather than just giving the facts.

In general, this part (78 - end) does seem to be more opinionated than the first, as the end of it is almost entirely dedicated on what America could have done differently and what it should do differently now.

As far as the graphic novel aspect of it is concerned--the images seem to become more and more open to interpretation the further you get. Instead of copies of pictures or media coverage we get representations of agency heads meeting, of field agents meeting, of imagined conversations, etc. Here, then, the novel does engage the event in a new way--it makes us question the validity of these supposed conversations. It makes us wonder if these things are true and the effect they could have had on 9/11. So I guess that it does have the impact discussed in the original post--it fulfills the purpose of literature: engaging the event, asking "unanswerable questions that push the dialogue into new territory."

MRF said...

The graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Report indeed opens up something potentially inaccessible and makes it accessible. In class, people talk about those who are maybe too "dumb" or "uneducated" and might find this version easier to understand. This is true, I suppose, but it is more than just stupidity. What about those of us (most of us, I'd assume) who don't want to read a 500 some-odd report!? I feel that there are many capable readers who simply don't want to spend their time reading something so dense and just plain long.

In addition, to address the original question, while it does introduce this to a new audience, I'm not so sure that it reopens the tragedy to new interpretations. While it does show a sort of "bipartisan" point of view, in a certain sense, it does not. The terrorists are depicted in a negative light (granted, they are terrorists), but the way they are drawn does not allow us to look at the tragedy fully. While I'd think the intent of the 9/11 Report is to expose some of the downfalls on the American end, a great deal of the negativity is still placed on the terrorists, while the people the report was supposed to expose, like Bush, are sometimes depicted like the hero. Obviously terrorists are the "bad guys" in this situation, but isn't the point of this all to open new interpretations? The report, in a way, simply reiterates many of the notions readers already had before the attacks, as well as immediately afterward. We aren't prompted to ask new questions in the way that we may expect, after the original document put forth so much effort toward this end.

dproduct said...

The 9/11 Commission Report is a daunting text. I've encountered excepts of the report and I can say that it is not very accessible. It's not so much the style or diction that is confusing, but the overwhelming amount of information is difficult to take in. The language is relatively accessible and is written it a very didactic manner. But still, even the Graphic Novel can be overwhelming with all of the acronyms and varying governmental agencies.

I think by taking the report and putting in the form of a Graphic Novel, it not only opens the report to a larger audience, but it promotes further exploration. Because I read this, I am now much more enticed to read the 9/11 Commission Report, and plan to do so. So while I cannot confirm that this in fact did promote more intrigue and more interest in the actual report, I can say, at the very least, it worked on me.

Katherine said...

I think the 9/11 Commission Report in the graphic novel format definitely reopened discussion on the event- for me and my friends at least. When it actually happened I was shocked, along with the rest of the nation, however I didn't take the time to research what happened on my own. This could have been because I was 14-15 years old at the time, however lately I have been talking about 9/11 with my friends and doing research on my own. Like dproduct said, this has inspired me to read the actual commission myself, and ordered a copy online recently. I do find the graphic novel filled with some comments I find biased- such as when they repeatedly note that past attacks pre 9/11 were not responded to with enough retaliation which fueled the terrorists to do something bigger. However, this could be based off of fact, such as something the terrorists might have said- I am not sure. I am not sure though, that the graphic novel radically changed my opinions on 9/11. I am still dissatisfied with the government's reaction and failure to do anything about reports that Bin Laden was plotting such an act. However, I am viewing this in hindsight and this seems to be the opinion amongst the majority of my peers. However, had the graphic novel adaptation been available to me closer to the aftermath of the attacks rather than 9 years later, my opinions would definitely have been transformed. I am not proud to admit, however right after 9/11 I was all for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I was forming uneducated opinions and I think the graphic novel adaptation of the report can both open the discussion and facts of 9/11 to a broader audience and educate its audience at the same time. Not everyone is taking a class on the literature of 9/11 and reads the texts we are reading. I think if more people were to read them though, support for war and retaliation abroad would dwindle a bit. My opinions on the war were critical before I read the 9/11 report- however, had they not been, this text would have definitely made me think and reevaluate my stand.

DJ said...

I also feel that the 9/11 Graphic Novel opens our eyes to certain parts of the tragedy, but does not necessarily provide new interpretations on it. It provides many things as fact, showing us a timeline of the events of 9/11. It also provides small hints at "patriotic" bias, with specifically chosen dialogue (or what he imagined to be real dialogue from that day) and obviously thought out portrayals of the "enemy". However, none of it is really new, and does nothing to actually further the discussion of 9/11. The actual facts presented by the Graphic Novel help to convey the contents of the 9/11 Commission which broadens our literal understanding of it, but it does not do much to change, challenge, or present new conceptual understandings of the effects of 9/11 upon us. Our own broadened understanding of the actual events could help lead us to new interpretations of the events, but the graphic novel does not in and of itself present us with a new way of viewing the events of 9/11.

ashley said...

Although the graphic novel does seem to be merely informative on the surface, many of the choices surrounding it's creation pose important questions and give insight into the motivation of the creators. Yes, it is much less daunting than the 500 paged Commission Report and because it is in a more reader-friendly format of a graphic novel with colorful images it is more appealing to youth (or anybody who wants an abridged version of the catastrophe), but an abridged version could have appeared in many other forms or medias. Why a graphic novel/comic book? This genre has been closely associated with heroes and villains (in black and white), and both Jacobson and Colon have major ties to Marvel comics (Colon even assisted with the production of Wonder Woman and Spider Man). This format renders the event into something unreal or with an element of other-worldness, causes the reader to become slightly detached from it since it is in cartoon form, and causes us to question just who the bad and good guys are. Often in comic books the government fails to protect its people (or is the source of trouble) and superheroes are needed to rise to the surface to mediate crime. This classic dilemma is implied through the genre and comes to life as we see the failings, fumblings and shortcomings of the Bush administration. As the readers, we become more of observers or voyeurs and become educated while at the same time feeling almost as if a story is being told, and not history. Also, the early depiction of this event was displayed in such distinct black and white terms that the government issued war and American people were infuriated with the 'terrorists' and all energies were diverted to the opposing force. Over time, we have had time to reevaluate and separate from emotional factors relating to the event and it can be realized that things are not as simple or black and white as they may have seemed at the time - there are reasons we were targeted, our government is not clean of all blame, and we even had intelligence of the event before it occurred. Determining 'good and bad' is not so simple in the real world, and putting that event information into this genre addresses the disparity between how the event was originally portrayed and how things truly are.

Also, although the graphic novel does closely follow the original Commission Report, condensing 500 pages into 150 is a large project and includes a lot of elimination and choices surrounding what WILL be included. The entire report could not possibly fit into this work, so in fully reading the report and comparing the two, the reader could determine motivation of the creators behind their choices of inclusion and exclusion of specific information. This is one depiction/version of the original (and of many out there), so the way the story is told and what things are considered important enough for inclusion say a lot.

stillrampant said...

I did enjoy the depiction within depictions of the graphic adaptation, and I think the comments here have raised fascinating questions as to the medium of a "graphic novel" being appropriate or not to condense something of the 9/11 Report's scope and heft. After some careful observation, the most prominent expansion credited to the medium here is the enlargement of perspective through use of the chosen layouts and compositional elements that give a kind of "big picture" that words are simply not capable of reproducing intuitively. Particularly, I was impressed by the opening, and closing segments in this regard.

I liked the observation that one commenter made of our cultural memory of comic books, perhaps unique to America, that parallels our expectations of narrative, including moral distinctions between good and evil (cue Sammy J's monologue in "Unbreakable"). While this may be the case, I did not find it a distracting device that limited the scope of the tragedy. Rather, I found the emotive work by the illustrator in livening these less well known faces to be a fresh extension of the narrative experience of 9/11, providing, again, some backdrop that would be very difficult to fill in with text alone.

Ultimately, while I feel that the adaptation represents a quiet triumph in broadening the scope of typical perceptions of 9/11, I found the imagery drawing heavily upon cultural memory, and believe that its power will wane with new readership unexposed to the impressionistic imagery of 9/11 outside of this book, and other media. Eventually, after digesting the images, history just saves the words.

Courtney K. said...

I actually wrote about this topic for my research essay, in which I said that this text work did not open up the topic of 9/11 to new interpretations. At the beginning of the novel, the forward says that it hopes it will be read by "Readers of all ages", which in fact cannot be done, as the very young cannot see some of the troubling images in this work, while older readers will probably be turned off by a graphic novel, something that they are not very familiar with. Overall, I think that after researching this topic for the paper, graphic novels are most often used as a method of teaching students who have trouble reading more difficult works. There were many articles by librarians wanting to further spread the use of graphic novels in the classroom so that more students would want to read. I think that this is one place where the 9/11 Report graphic novel falls short, as I believe in general this topic is geared to an older crowd: I cannot think of too many teenagers who want to read the 9/11 Report. However, the genre appeals to the younger generations. The result: a very confused work and a lot of time and energy that could have gone to some other use probably.

D said...

That being said, I would much rather read this graphic novel than the absurdly thick book that it's based on...