Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Graphic Lit: Two 9/11 books


As you no doubt already know, last week was the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Certainly the media have been well aware of the date, as there have been several news stories and nonfiction books published about the event and its aftermath.

Comic publishers have been busy as well. Two new graphic novels — “After 9/11: America’s War on Terror” and “American Widow” — have hit stores in recent weeks.

“After 9/11” by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon is a sequel of sorts to their previous “9/11 Report,” a best-selling adaptation of the 9/11 Commission’s report.

As ambitious as that book was, “After 9/11” is even more so, attempting to provide a detailed timeline of the events that occurred in the years after the attacks, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the investigation into the attacks.

Lest there be any doubt as to the author’s stance on the current administration’s handling of these affairs, they open with a pointed 1994 quote by Dick Cheney, citing the “quagmire” that would occur if the U.S. were to invade Iraq.

Jacobson and Colon’s thesis is simple: The war in Iraq was a needless, trumped-up military exercise that has ruined countless lives, cost us our good reputation abroad and potentially created more terrorists than it stopped.

Unfortunately, the authors muddy the waters considerably.

This is an extremely dense book, packed with names, dates and places, and the inclusion of events such as the Space Shuttle disaster — no doubt included to provide some extra context — only make the book needlessly complicated.

There’s also overreliance on talking heads, especially toward the end of the book, where Colon seems to have discovered PhotoShop, altering photos of world leaders so they look more “drawn.” It’s rather ugly and suggests nothing so much as desperation under a tight deadline.

“After 9/11” is useful as a quick chronological reference of recent events, but it fails on many levels as any sort of narrative art.

“American Widow,” on the other hand, aims to tell a more personal story, namely that of author Alison Torres, whose husband perished in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

The book chronicles the following year, as Torres’ attempts to console herself while dealing with the birth of her son, a mound of paper work, unhelpful Red Cross volunteers and the prying media.

Unfortunately, it’s an even less cohesive book than “After 9/11.”

While, to its credit, “Widow” never dissolves into self-pity or solipsism, details often are fuzzy and vague.

Artist Sungyoon Choi’s drawings are nondescript, so there’s no real sense of place. And the narrative jumps around from moment to moment and back and forth in time so often that I found myself frequently lost.

At one point, for example, Torres is given a “family tour” of the disaster and debris sites, but no real explanation is given as to why. A bit more background would have been helpful.

The book is at its best when Torres confronts the red tape apparently given to victims of the disaster.

If she had been as equally detailed in discussing her relationship with her newborn son, late husband and other important people in her family, “American Widow” would have been much better.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008

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