Jacobsen & Colon on After 9-11: America's War on Terror

Jacobsen & Colon on After 9-11

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States issued a 600+ page report detailing a timeline, major players, intelligence failures, and forgotten memos, all of which allowed a handful of men to unleash one afternoon of terror and a lingering sense of paranoia and concern.

Veteran comic book creators Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, longtime collaborators dating back to their days at Harvey Comics, appreciated the effort of the report, but felt the presentation was difficult to fully comprehend. They authored The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, bringing all the facts and dates to the immediately graspable form of comics. No less than 9/11 Report co-authors Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton praised the accuracy and effort of Jacobson and Colon’s adaptation, even writing an introduction to the graphic novel.

However, that praised, best-selling book wasn’t the end of the tandem’s study of America’s war on terror. After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- ), a new piece of comic book journalism, recently saw print from Hill and Wang. Condensing the seven-year-and-counting war on terror into 150 pages of names, facts, figures and brutal humanity, Jacobson and Colon are continuing to enlighten readers about the current state of American foreign politics.

We spoke to them about their new book, the state of the country, and transitioning from entertainment to journalism.

Sid Jacobson

Newsarama: Sid, how long after finishing The 9/11 Report adaptation did you realize that you needed to start working on a follow-up?

Sid Jacobson: We probably started thinking of a new project before we finished writing The 9/11 Report. By the time we had completed only half the book, there was such enthusiasm at FSG that we decided to explore the format. We didn't think that using comics and graphics for serious subjects was anything new; we had seen it done in the 1940s and 1950s at Harvey Comics, our home company. But obviously much of the book world saw it differently.

NRAMA: As they say, everyone has their own side to a story, so how did you cull down the points of view and decide which events to focus on?

SJ: I don't believe the selection of material for After 9/11 was that difficult to make. These were the headlines of the day, of the week, of the time. These were the highlighted quotes and the thinking that was made public. And we believed that they told a very clear and painful story.

NRAMA: Were you able interview or speak to any political figures or soldiers to get their perspectives on how events unfolded?

SJ: No, we did not interview or speak to any public figures or soldiers for After 9/11. We chose simply to tell the story as the American public was given it through their newspapers, magazines and TV sets. We felt that when you put that story together in a simple and accessible way, you would have to see its gigantic tragedy and folly.

NRAMA: I imagine that you must have some pretty strong feelings about what’s going on in America and our international status, but I think you did a very good job to not editorialize too heavily. How do you pull yourself back and stick to laying out the facts, such as they may be?

SJ: Thank you for saying that. We did our best to be objective in After 9/11 and let the facts speak for themselves. We believe they speak loudly and clearly.

NRAMA: When researching for this book, did anything surprise you or appreciably adjust your opinion of how events unfolded during the build-up and execution of the Iraq War?

SJ: One thing did very much astound me as I researched the book, and it's something that I've repeated countless times. Even knowing the outcome full well, I still could not believe that President Bush had been elected for a second term in 2004.

NRAMA: After so many years in the comic book industry producing what some might call “disposable entertainment,” how does it feel to be producing work that so directly reflects our world today?

SJ: I never thought our comic book work was "disposable entertainment." Most of the time Ernie and I worked in children's comics, and worked at it as if we were creating children's books with purpose as well as entertainment. That being said, it is exciting and fulfilling to be using our knowledge of comics and graphics for, perhaps, a bigger purpose.

NRAMA: What’s next for Ernie and yourself? Is journalism a new career path for you both now?

SJ: We are presently finishing a graphic biography of Che Guevara, our first graphic novel, and a long piece concerning Blackwater USA for Vanity Fair. After that, we have contracted for three new books that we believe are the most important topics we have tackled yet. Yes, our plates are happily quite full.

Ernie Colon

NRAMA: Ernie, how did you get involved with the 9/11 Report adaptation and this new book?

Ernie Colon: I tried reading the report and found I couldn't keep track of all the names and especially the events and their timelines. I called Sid and told him I thought we could try to make the report clearer and more accessible. His response was an inarticulate whoop, followed by some imaginative expletives. A very important factor in the book's success was the timeline; Sid's idea and a brilliant way of solving the very element that gave me so much trouble in reading the original.

NRAMA: Was it a challenge to layout a book with so many names and figures? I imagine you had to build a considerable reference file.

EC: Yes, the challenge was considerable, but thanks to the close relationship I've developed with ever-ready Google, reference is now a matter of choosing from too much material.

NRAMA: I was impressed by how you stuck to presenting facts in as clear a fashion as possible. Using a pie chart in a comic book is fairly unusual, if not unprecedented, yet it’s really the obvious way to explain the breakdown of numbers such as the followers of world religions. When did you realize that this book was going to require some unusual storytelling choices?

EC: From script page one it was obvious this was going to require crystal clarity. Even so, with my wife, a writer and possibly the best editor this side of the Milky Way, looking over my shoulder, I still missed opportunities to make some facts-- well-- crystal.

NRAMA: Many of the players in the war are illustrated, but sometimes they are depicted via digitally manipulated photographs. Why is that?

EC: I tried to avoid eye fatigue. Consistent style works well in any genre of storytelling, whether superheroes or personal-story graphic novels. Yet, in the 9/11 Report, there were so many differing elements, I felt it better to vary the art continuity.

NRAMA: What is the working relationship between yourself and Sid?

EC: I think of us as Click and Clack. We don't have arguments; we clearly see each other's viewpoints and generally agree on solutions to whatever problems crop up. We've known each other so long and worked together so often, we're more like Siamese twins without the headache of having to drag the other to the bathroom.

NRAMA: After all these years in comics, how satisfying is it to reinvent yourself? Did you imagine the success of comic book journalism when you began the 9/11 adaptation?

EC: Experimenting with styles and methods has always been fun for me. When the tiny Mac became available, I did a Mighty Mouse story on it. I remember Dwayne McDuffie couldn't believe it was done on a computer. Animation on an Amiga was great fun and Macs supply their own cachet. Different pens, pencils, crayolas-- whatever was handy. Neither Sid nor I were prepared for the intense four and a half minutes of fame we received, or the acceptance of the book into so many high schools and colleges and libraries. We're very proud of that.

After 9/11 is currently in stores. More information is available at Hill and Wang’s website (http://us.macmillan.com/after911).

Twitter activity