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9/11 In Comics

Comics Rise To Meet the Challenge of Depicting the 9/11 Tragedy

Above: Two of the many comics that dealt with 9/11.

Aired 9/5/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The comics industry responded to the tragedy of 9/11 with a diverse range of work. We talk to SId Jacobson ("The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation") and San Diego-based Batton Lash ("9/11: Artists Respond").

The comics industry responded to the tragedy of 9/11 with a diverse range of work. We talk to Sid Jacobson ("The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation") and San Diego-based Batton Lash ("9/11: Artists Respond").

A panel from "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation."

Hill and Wang

Above: A panel from "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation."

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, with a combined six decades of comics experience, were inspired to make "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation," because they felt the information contained in the 9/11 Commission's report needed to be read and understood by more Americans. Their efforts resulted in a remarkable work with Jacobson's text often following word for word the original report, and Colon"s art vividly recreating the events. The result was the most accessible version of the massive 9/11 Report and made the New York Times bestsellers list. Below is a video from the 2006 Comic-Con panel on the book.

The book won praise from Marvel Comics' Stan Lee: "Never before have I seen a nonfiction book as beautifully and compellingly written and illustrated as "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation." I cannot recommend it too highly. It will surely set the standard for all future works of contemporary history, graphic or otherwise, and should be required reading in every home, school and library."

DC and Dark Horse Comics produced a two-volume collection of work -- "9/11: Artists Respond" -- by comic artists such as Batton Lash, a San Diego-based writer was in New York on 9/11 to celebrate his wife's birthday. But the story he contributed to the volume was not about being in New York when the tragedy hit but rather he recounts an earlier experience at the World Trade Center when the remake of "King Kong" was being shot and the body of a giant gorilla lay at the foot of the Twin Towers.

The 9/11 tragedy helped bring to light the diversity of American comics, vividly proving to readers that the medium is not just about superheroes or humorous strips but rather capable of covering a broad range of topics, genres, and styles.

Here are lists of comics about 9/11 from Wikipedia and Amazon.

GUESTS

Batton Lash, San Diego-based comic book writer and artist and contributor to "9/11: Artists Respond." Lash also publishes and creates "Supernatural Law."

Sid Jacobson, co-author "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation."

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: We begin a week of remembrance here at KPBS as we honor the tenth year anniversary of 911 with shows and features asking how the terror attacks have changed us here in San Diego. We start the week on Midday Edition with an unusual but widely circulated documentation of the events of 911, comic books or more accurately, graphic narratives have given illustrators and artists the ability to give their impressions of will attacks and has bright to like an already popular government report on the terrorist plot. I'd like to introduce my guest, Batton Lash is a comic book artist here in San Diego, creator of supernatural law, and contributor to 911, artists respond. Thank you for coming in.

LASH: My pleasure, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And on the line with us, Sid Jacobson, he's coauthor of the 911 report, a graphic adaptation. Hello.

JACOBSON: Hello, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Just fine. Thank you. Batton, you were in New York actually celebrating your wife's birthday to September 10th, 2001. What did you wake up to on September 11th?

LASH: Well, it was a beautiful September day. The day was as clear as a bell. And my wife, Jacky Estrada, and I went to breakfast at a diner. And we had a whole day planned. We were going to meet a friend. And eventually we were going to head down to the Washington DC area for a small press comics expo. And after breakfast, there was like a commotion in the kitchen where the radio was. And he began to hear people talk about a plane crash and whatever. Jacky went up to the room to get a jacket for our day out. I settled the bill. By the time I went up to the room to meet her, she had the TV on and we know the rest.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, did you illustrate any of your personal experiences when you got involved with the 911 artists respond?

LASH: No, not really because I thought there was -- oddly enough, when the towers came down, it's funny what you think of, so many crazy thoughts and everything happening. But my first thought was would I call, and I wrote about the first disaster at the world trade center king Kong falling off back in 1976 just by happenstance, I came out of the path train that evening and saw a commotion. And I really thought something had happened 'cause there was police and there was broken sidewalk, which I found out later was Styrofoam. And there was a gigantic 40-foot Styrofoam king Kong playing there with tons of people surrounding it.

CAVANAUGH: That's when they were remaking king Kong in 1976.

LASH: That's right. So we were all unpaid extras. But it was a fun thing. And that's what I -- watching, sad he years later, watching the towers come down, my thought was, boy, you know, that was so much fun being in a movie and remake a king Kong, and it was like the first disaster at the world trade center. But here's the real, real thing.

CAVANAUGH: So tremendous, you know, you can't even process it tonight. I'm wondering, the graphic narrative, the anthology, 911 artists respond. What kinds of drawing and stories are told in that book?

LASH: Well, there was a lot of personal -- I think a lot of people went through what I went through, like their first thoughts, memories, going back to their experience. I mean there was a very nice story, a writer who proposed to his wife on windows on the world, and the last scene is him watching the towers coming down. So there was a lot of poignant stories. I thought everyone rose to the occasion in the book with personal memories of that day. And like what I did, just their memories of the world trade center.

CAVANAUGH: And the Twin Towers in general. Sid Jacobson, let me bring you into the conversation. In 2004, the 911 commission report was released, it was huge. It documented all the aspects of the terror attacks that government investigators could learn. You and fellow artist Ernie colon came up with the idea of translating the 911 report into a graphic narrative.

JACOBSON: It was Ernie who did.

CAVANAUGH: Well, why did you feel that would work? When you heard the idea, did you think it was going to work?

JACOBSON: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

JACOBSON: I really -- Ernie and I had both started out at Harvey comics long years ago. And when we were there, they were doing a lot of government work. And descriptive work using comics and graphics of all sorts for telling stories, for basically reporting news, looking -- stressing teaching, I mean, things of all sorts. So this was second history hand to us. We knew it. And when Ernie called and suggested it to me, I had certainly known about the book and from much of what I had heard was that it sold immensely per virtue people read it.

CAVANAUGH: Rye, right.

JACOBSON: So I said let me look at it. I went out, bought the book, read it and very quickly decided without a doubt I can do it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, this graphic adaptation, I also want to point out, was a best seller as well.

JACOBSON: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: What was the biggest challenge of getting all that disparate information into a comic book form?

JACOBSON: Well, actually it wasn't as difficult as it may sound. I can't exactly say what was the most can I have cult. The most difficult thing that we had was a flight of the four planes. That, and I had this idea of doing them all simultaneously to show what was going on at the same exact time. And you get a picture of the whole plane situation and how when the first planes went into the towers, word went out, they should have gone out immediately. And it did. So they knew what to look for. And that was -- it took me forever, it took Ernie longer than forever to get it down. But it was well worth it want.

CAVANAUGH: Now, your book constructs a timeline of events, varying time lines of the events that led up to that day in September in 2001. Was that your idea to construct it in that way?

JACOBSON: Well, the timeline certainly of the four planes, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right did anyone say, and this is a question to both of you, let me start with you, Sid, did anyone criticize these efforts as inappropriate?

JACOBSON: A few people. But for the most part, not at all. For the most part, the feeling was that this was a terrific use of the medium. I could not believe the amount of radio interviews, TV interviews that we had. We were on the today Show. Immediately after this, every newspaper covered the story. It was amazing.

CAVANAUGH: The idea of the story of the 911 being rendered in a graphic narrative, in comic book form, beyond the 911 commission report, did you get any pushback? Did anybody say to you that's not really what you should be doing?

LASH: Oh, no. I think everyone was just very pleased to see whatever medium was available to express your feelings about 911. And I think comics, even back then, were pretty much accepted as a legitimate art form, a legitimate medium. So it was almost a no-brainer that comics would -- in fact, I think more people would be upset that comics would say nothing.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

LASH: About it.

JACOBSON: Can I just tell a story?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

JACOBSON: Actually, in one of our interviews, Ernie had been asked that didn't he hope that at the time that all this was happening that some super hero could have flown down from the sky and saved everything? And Ernie very quickly and amazingly answered, sir, there were enough heroes there that day.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see. That's a great response right. Now, Batton, when you say that you really feel that the artists involved in 911 and artists response sort of brought out the best with themselves, met this story with their best, what do you mean by that?

LASH: Well, I have a mixed answer for that. I think a lot of the personal reminiscence were fabulous, and really touching. Particularly trina Robbins wrote a story that I thought was just sensational. And an artist, writer, named Joe Winzer, he lived in New Jersey and watch today unfold as it was happening. And he wrote a very moving book. I'm a little torn when the super heroes get involved with 911 and ring their hands over what had happened mainly because from the beginning, in every comic book, New Yorkers destroyed every month in comic books. So it's just odd for them to be upset about this when last month Gallactus destroyed Ohio. But outside of that, I thought the personal -- and this is where the medium comes into its own. I think showing the world. And I have to say to Sid, you and Ernie did so much showing --

JACOBSON: Thank you.

LASH: What the comics medium is capable of. And I really think we've barely scratched the surface.

JACOBSON: Yes.

LASH: And it's really going into high gear right now.

JACOBSON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: That leads me to another question. And that doesn't really have a lot to do with 911 graphic narratives. It has to do with the changes coming in comics. And Batton, there are online comics and digital comics. How are they changing things?

LASH: Boy, like every endeavor, I think the digital world is changing everything. And why not comics? And it's long overdue. I think comics have had a history of kicking and screaming into the next innovation. But it has to happen. And it will happen. And it is happening. The I think, if you just allow me, I think comics are going to go the way of radio in the 60s where you would hear a song for free, but you're going to want to buy the album. And keep it. I think that's what's going to happen with comics. You're going to get your regular -- all your favorites will still be around. And you'll read them online for free, but you're going to want the printed edition once the story is wrapped up, with all the bells and whistles that wouldn't be available online. And I think print is going to come back big there's going to be special care in the printing process because they know people are seeking this out, just like the album covers of the 60s and 70s that were almost as good as the record.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Sid, you and Ernie have a combined six + decades working in comics.

JACOBSON: Please don't say that.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering if the 911 report rejuvenated your careers.

JACOBSON: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: How so?

JACOBSON: Well, I mean, we've just come out with our 5th graphic book, which was a biography of Anne frank that was really proposed to us by the Anne frank council in Amsterdam. And we have a contract of doing 2 and 1 that we're in the middle of right now. So it -- totally. And it's great time for two guys about 80 years old to do this. And it's been, for me, I wanted to go into journalism. And somehow got swayed into comic books. And this is like my payback.

CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. So Batton, it still might be odd for some people to hear that there's going to be -- there have been 911 responses in comic book form. S that going to be the story of Anne frank in comic book form. Is that just because they haven't kept up?

LASH: Well, all of us who have been in comics for years and love them and everything kind of knew that this would eventually happen. And I think it's a pleasant surprise for people who are discovering comics. What's nice is they're discovering them late in life. But I want to mention to Sid that Will Eisner did his graphic novel a contract with God when he was 60. So I'm a firm believer of it's never too late.

CAVANAUGH: A second act. I want to thank you Batton Lash and Sid Jacobson, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JACOBSON: Thank you.

LASH: Thank you.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 6, 2011 at 11:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Okay, so at what point do we trivialize it? At what point do we stop making in another money-making venture--let alone a rallying "battle-cry"/

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | September 6, 2011 at 4:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Are you calling the 9/11 comics trivial? Have you read them? The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation is remarkable and quite helpful in understanding what occurred, and 9/11: Artists Respond has some wonderful work with very personal reflections. Many of the 9/11 comics donated part or all their proceeds to charity.

But I'm not entirely sure what you are directing your criticism at.

Thanks for your comment.

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Avatar for user 'HamerskyOnComics'

HamerskyOnComics | September 7, 2011 at 5:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Good to see an article like this one on the KPBS web site.

Graphic novels bring young readership into reading newsworthy books, who wouldn't otherwise open non-sequential illustrated art books. Not enough time to read everything out there!

Thanks for sharing this! I'm going to share your article over at my Facebook fan page, 'Michael D Hamersky On Comics' (http://www.hamersky.com), for others to read and be introduced to your 'midday edition' series.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | September 7, 2011 at 9:08 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Thanks Michael. I used to run an anime and manga club at my son's middle school and saw first hand how Japanese comics could keep kids entranced and eager for each new volume. And many of those mangas introduced complex themes, ideas, and moral dilemmas. I've also heard from librarians that mangas and comics barely stay on their shelves because people -- especially young people -- are constantly checking them out.

And if you need to feed more of the comic book nerd in you, check out another blog Michael runs: http://www.ComicBookCollectorsBlog.com/.

Thanks for the comment!

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | September 7, 2011 at 8:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

This was a great story and great material, nothing trivial at all about 9-11 or a comic portrayal of it. I can see why some who call themselves American however might not want a reminder about what was the root cause for what happened that day. The elephant in the room just won't go away though. Good work Beth!

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