Comics have come a long way, even since the sixties when intellectuals started taking Batman, Superman, and Spiderman seriously. _Maus_ by Art Spiegelman, for instance, was the serious story of Spiegelman's father in the Holocaust, and Spiegelman's problematic relationship with him; it was a quietly magnificent history and memoir, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. _From Hell_ by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell was an examination of Jack the Ripper's story that was as dense as a novel, and with lots of reference notes to boot. If you have been watching comics climb in respectability, they have just mounted upon another rung. It is hard to class _The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation_ (Hill and Wang) by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón as a comic book, for it certainly is deadly serious rather than comic, and it isn't a "graphic novel", the category by which the genre goes now. It is the famous _Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States_ but told in the comic book form. The original prose work, widely praised and even nominated for a National Book Award, was a bestseller when it came out in July 2004. It had 600 pages, while the current one has 133.
Yet this is a condensation of the report, not a dumbing-down of it. Most of the words in it (in the san-serif capitals traditional to comics) come directly from the original report, which is in the public domain. There are some pages that could not have been done better in any format. The book starts with a timeline, four rows extending for twelve pages, counting off the hours of that morning for each of the four flights. The atrocities within each plane and each flight's violent end are drawn, and all readers following the streams will try to remember what was going on at the same time in their own lives that day, and when they started hearing about the crashes. Following one timeline is another, similar one for each plane, showing the "Awareness, Notification, and Response" of flight controllers, the FAA, NORAD, and the air defense sector of the region. Along with maps, these timelines make the flow of the events of the morning comprehensible. The style of the drawings is obviously that of the comic books in which both authors are experienced. These are not young guys promoting a new version of their art. Jacobson, 76, created the "Richie Rich" series and was the editor of Harvey Comics. Colón, 75, drew Richie, and also Casper the Friendly Ghost, before moving on to the more superhero-themed DC Comics. The book sticks to the original report, although it includes imagined pictures of events that happened within the airplanes and within the towers for which there is no documentation. Necessarily, the book does show that people working within agencies of the government were acting at cross purposes at times during the day, just as the FBI, CIA, and military intelligence had failed in the preceding months to share information rather than hoarding it. The confusion of first responders because of the inadequate communications between them is another illustrated failing. One part of the story violates the comic book rule of showing rather than telling; a caption showing a burning and crumbling tower says, "As time grew short and desperate, civilians leaped from the North Tower upper floors." The artists could not bring themselves to draw such an occurrence.
Of course, as in the original report, there are obvious targets for blame, though the commission admitted it was writing "with the benefit and the handicap of hindsight". With its historic view, Clinton does not get let off the hook, although among the difficulties he had in taking action is listed his preoccupation with his impeachment. The commission's view of how well the current government has done in implementing its recommendations is the last page of the report, and it looks like it gets a D. The phrase "constructive criticism" was coined for an effort such as the commission's, and the comic book version can only help get the word out. "Respectful" is not a word usually associated with the comics, but the authors here have shown respect to the report and to the nation that was under attack that day. They have made a useful and unique book to help us understand the events before, during, and after 9/11.