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The Bold Outlines Of a Plot

Jacobson and Colón began working on the 9/11 project about a year and a half ago after Colón learned that the commission's report was in the public domain and that several movie producers were considering making a film based on it.

"I called Sid about what I had just seen in the paper," says Colón, who said he'd tried to read the original report but found the overlapping timelines confusing. He thought he and Jacobson could do a good job distilling it.

"There are going to be a whole bunch of kids, teenagers and adults that will not read the report," Colón says, adding that comics might offer an alternative. "The educational system at large has resisted them, I think, because of the term 'comic book.' I like to think of them as something that has more purpose."

The effort for the two longtime collaborators and friends was bicoastal. Colón lives on Long Island and Jacobson in Los Angeles. Jacobson e-mailed the illustrator what he visualized and Colón would scan in his drawings and send them back.

LeBien sent the book to the commission's former top officials in hopes of winning their approval. He got more than that.

"When I first heard about it, I was very concerned," says former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, who chaired the commission. "But when I looked at it, it was absolutely accurate."

He and vice chairman Lee H. Hamilton wrote a foreword for the comic, which also includes an adaptation of the report card on how the commissioners' recommendations have been implemented. Kean says he's hoping the comic book will lead more audiences to the original report, which landed on bestseller lists after its release two years ago.

"I didn't think we'd be a bestseller, and I didn't think we'd be turned into a comic book," Kean says.

This is not the first time difficult topics have been tackled graphically. In "Maus," which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, comic book artist Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, a Holocaust survivor. And Marjane Satrapi remembers life as a little girl during the Islamic revolution in "Persepolis," a graphic autobiography. And "In the Shadow of No Towers," Spiegelman's comic book diary about his Sept. 11 experiences, was published in 2004.

"The 9/11 Report" will be marketed to general readers as well as comic fans, says Jeff Seroy, senior vice president for publicity and marketing at FSG. The book is the first of several nonfiction graphic works from Hill and Wang, which also plans to publish biographies of Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan later this year.

But as the nation approaches the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, just how ready are Americans to see those events recounted in the popular culture, be it a comic book or feature film?

"United 93," the feature-length film about the fight between hijackers and passengers on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, didn't pull audiences into the theaters when it was released in April. Another test will come next month, when Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" will be released.

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