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9/11 Report (Graphic Edition): Interpretation and Visual Creation

pfischer's picture

The original 9/11 report faulted inter-agency communication and personnel failures in US intelligence agencies such as the CIA, FBI, NSA. I remember reading numerous articles detailing the bureaucratic mishaps in Washington, but I never quite understood what was really meant by the highly technical and often redundant language used to describe government security functions. However, the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 report was able to crystallize and sharpen my muddled understanding of 'interagency miscommunications' by laying out scenarios, such as the panel on page 40 in which one of the agents agents says "I can't make heads or tails of this" and an FBI agent is shielding documents from the agent from the Justice Department. I had never really understood what it meant for the FBI and DOJ to have a "communication failure" in the way it was described in the news media, but the visual contextualization and even body language of the drawn characters and thought bubbles was helpful for me.

However, that raises the question if the authors did take too much artistic liberty with the book, I had not read the 9/11 report but did find several pages in the online version that communicated the interdepartmental conflict from that panel. Here is an excerpt:

'These procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied. As a result, there was far less information sharing and coordination between the FBI and the Criminal Division in practice than was allowed under the department's procedures. Over time the procedures came to be referred to as "the wall." The term "the wall" is misleading, however, because several factors led to a series of barriers to information sharing that developed.'

This comparison of the panels about the interdepartmental conflict and communication when compared to the heavily detailed 9/11 report raise a few questions that I think we should discuss: What artistic liberties were taken by the authors to try to communicate the findings of the 9/11 report? Does their subjective interpretation of the report, which was itself a fact-finding exercise, make the graphic representation any less a work of non-fiction? Does the visual element add or detract from its "truth-telling" mission? In the foreward of the book, the authors of the original 9/11 report state:

"we are pleased to have the opportunity to bring the work of the 9/11 Commission to the attention of a new set of readers. We commend the talented graphic artists of this edition for their close adherence to the findings, recommendations, spirit and tone of the original Commission report. Their adaptation conveys much of the information contained in the original report."

Is 'close adherence' close enough? This graphic adaptation is not a government document, and graphically communicating the spirit and tone of written words requires different processes of interpretation and creation that I think we really need to consider.


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