Most graphic novels don’t begin with the villain shooting the hero in the head, nor do they go on to show that villain’s capture and murder before the halfway mark. Then again, Lee Harvey Oswald isn’t most villains.
In The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation Into The Kennedy Assassination, Dan Mishkin, Ernie Colon, and Jerzy Drozd conduct a visual investigation into the killing of a president and the plot behind it. A medium best known for the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman, the graphic novel seems like maybe a strange choice for someone looking to examine a somber day in American history. But this is a more serious study than some readers might expect.
I asked Mishkin how he decided to do a graphic novel on Kennedy’s death. “I didn’t realize at first how motivated I was by my own lingering emotional devastation as a 10-year-old who lived through those events,” he said. “The shape that the book took was not, you know, a whodunit. Instead of doing that, what I wanted to do was get to the bottom of the way this whole event and the official truth that was assembled about it, how it’s persisted, how it’s affected the lives we all lived.”
It’s been decades since comics stopped being considered kid stuff. They’re now widely bound in hardcovers, marketed to a wide audience, and often critically adored. Dark, violent books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta are some of the most popular in the medium, while the artists Alison Bechdel and Marjane Satrapi have achieved success with intelligent graphic memoirs on, respectively, homosexuality and the Iranian Revolution. The cartoonist Joe Sacco won an American Book Award in 1996 for Palestine, a combination of political history and comic journalism focused on the West Bank in the 1990’s.
It was the 2006 The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, which Colon also illustrated, that inspired Mishkin to start the project. The Warren Commission Report, like its namesake, stands out for its close attention to politics and to the grisly details that supported various theories: One panel shows a man poring over Zapruder film images in a darkroom. Beneath him is a large drawing of Kennedy’s broken brain. Pages later, the path of “the single bullet” gets lengthy treatment, arrows pointing through each deflection.