Tragically it seems like every generation has a defining moment of collective horror. For my grandparents it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For my parents it was the assassination of President John F Kennedy. And for me it was the events of September 11th. I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard what was happening. It’s been almost a decade since that tragic day so I don’t often think about it as much as I used to. I imagine for the people of Manhattan the spectre of that day is always lurking somewhere in the back of their mind especially if they stroll through the city’s financial district where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. But what about the people in other parts of New York? How did they cope with that day? What impact did it have on them? In his graphic novel “9/11 Heartbreaker” writer-artist Craig Staufenberg looks at the the way the titular day haunts and effects a resident of Buffalo New York. The result is a story that is somewhat problematic but still manages to have some very compelling moments.
In “9/11 Heartbreaker” an unnamed female protagonist and narrator meets a guy one night in a Karaoke bar who catches her fancy. They strike up a conversation and the guy reveals that his occupation is documenting people’s memories of September 11th. This has a profound impact on the protagonist and causes her to reexamine the history of her home town.
My first problem with “9/11 Heartbreaker” might just stem from what I’m used to as a reader of comic books. The standard full length comic story is 22 pages. “9/11 Heartbreaker” is only 16. So to me the term graphic novel feels like a misnomer. This is really a short comic story and for me “9/11 Heartbreaker” was just a little too short. It felt like if Staufenberg had expanded the story by even a few pages it could have a lot more emotional impact and we could have gotten to know the main character and some of her friends a little better
It also feels like at certain points in the story Staufenberg forgets he’s telling a story that involves images and words. In graphic novels and comic books the images should be just as if nor more important than the text. There are some sequences in “9/11 Heartbreaker” that are are almost all text though and they caused me to drop out of the narrative a bit.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t some things Staufenberg does very well in “9/11 Heartbreaker”. The writer successfully creates a compelling, haunting tone throughout the whole narrative. It feels like all of the characters are dealing with the ghosts of the past. And in the latter half of the story when the protagonist digs into the past of her hometown, you get a sense that you’re catching a glimpse of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. It was very interesting.
I especially enjoyed the section of the story where we got glimpses of what Buffalo is like now and got to visit some monuments to its storied past. Staufenberg really brought the town to life in a very real way.
So as a short graphic novel “9/11 Heartbreaker” has some very interesting moments, but doesn’t really work for me. It does have the potential to become an excellent story though. So if Staufenberg ever decides to tweak or expand his narrative I’d be very interested in the results.