COMICS: John Reviews “9/11: Emergency Relief” Anthology

My decreasingly timely coverage of comics related to the subject of 9/11/01 continues with the third and final anthology on my list: 9/11: Emergency Relief. This anthology is the most “indie” of the three, both in its list of contributors and in its presentation. The entire volume is printed in black and white on rougher paper than the previous two volumes, and the title page specifically states which charitable organization the proceeds for the book’s sales will go to (The American Red Cross.) It is a more grassroots and intimate affair, with lower production values (hopefully meaning a bigger proceeds margin for the ARC) and an explicit focus on the creators’ personal experiences. Gone are the barely-fictional tales from the first two volumes, replaced by each creator’s own personal thoughts, feelings and memories expressed on paper. This makes for an altogether different (not necessarily better or worse) experience.

The list of contributors ranges from the very famous (The Spirit‘s Will Eisner, American Splendor‘s Harvey Pekar) to the somewhat famous (Gail Simone, James Kochalka, Mike Avon Oeming, Alex Robinson) to the indie and obscure. Amazingly, no one’s work outshines the rest (with the possible exception of the late Mr. Eisner. He’s a legend for a reason.) Not surprisingly, these tales focus more on the reactions of people who were further away from the crash than Artists Respond. After all, you can’t get much closer geographically than the tales of people who didn’t make it out. It is a testament to these creators’ abilities that they are still able to write incredibly compelling and moving pieces about their experiences, even when some of them were hundreds of miles away. One particularly interesting account told of a creator’s wife (who is of Saudi descent,) who was exposed to hateful messages on the internet within less than twenty-four hours. The rest of the stories, be they from writers and artists who were mere blocks away or those who were in other countries, managed to echo the emotional roller-coaster that so many of us went through on that tragic day.

The art in Emergency Relief is a technical step down from Artists Respond, but it is no less compelling. In fact, the intimately personal feel of the book – from its stripped-down aesthetic to its largely biographical subject matter – appeals to the reader in an entirely different way. This is very much an independent work, with all the advantages and disadvantages inherent to the format. Personally, I think the lattitude given to the Artists Respond contributors made for more emotionally honest storytelling, but if you prefer a more factual type of story Emergency Relief may be a better fit for you. The contributors turn in classic examples of their styles, be they writers or artists (or both, as many indie creators are.) You will be able to pick out the artists you know without looking at the table of contents, and you might just find some new favorite writers or artists if you take the time to read every story.

While both Artists Respond and Emergency Relief are similar in that they are anthologies that deal with the tragedy of 9/11/01, Emergency Relief is not simply a third volume in the same anthology. It is a radically different take on the same concept, one that scratches more different itches than similar ones. If Artists Respond is too fictional for your tastes, if you’re interested in more reactions to 9/11, or if you just love independent comics and what makes them special, Emergency Relief is what you’re looking for.

Here are just a few of the quotes that stood out to me as I read 9/11: Emergency Relief:

“As the second roof went down in slow motion through the smoke – my legs went with it. ” Jeff Smith (Bone)

“It was like getting winded, I just wanted to curl up and disappear. After that for months I’d wake up thinking ‘A beautiful new day!’ only to remember that it wasn’t beautiful, and feel my stomach cramping up again…” Sam Hester

” Watching TV I saw the world fall apart over and over in slow motion and with commentary.” Laurenn McCubbin

“In one moment that morning I found myself torn between mankind’s greatest triumph [the moon landing] and the depths of human despair, pondering the sober fact that my generation had been witness to them both.” Jim Harrison

“I bet it don’t get any easier from here on …” Harvey Pekar (American Splendor)

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