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Richmonders and other Virginia artists contribute to a Sept. 11 comic book. 

Drawing Disaster

The e-mail Richmonder Chris Pitzer opened probably looked similar to ones many people have received recently. It was from an acquaintance requesting donations to a relief project involving the Red Cross and Sept. 11. Except when Pitzer read further he realized this was not a request for money, prayers or donations of blood, but for submissions to a comic book of Sept. 11 stories.

Pitzer, a former art director for Eclipse Comics, typed a pleasant response — he didn't have a story to share but could offer his design services — and hit send. Weeks went by without word, and Pitzer figured he wasn't needed. Then two months ago he received another e-mail from Jeff Mason, the book's editor, asking him to art direct the entire project.

Pitzer, 34, now an art director at a local direct-mail company, has spent the last two months heading up the book's design. Called "9-11: Emergency Relief," it contains 192 pages by more than 50 alternative-comics artists from around the world relating stories and feelings about the Sept. 11 tragedies. It will be published in early 2002 by Mason's publishing company, Alternative Comics.

Mason was on his way into a Florida courthouse when the planes hit on Sept. 11. He's a criminal-defense lawyer as well as a full-time publisher at Alternative Comics ("I don't sleep much," he says). He called his friend Dean Haspiel, who was totally freaked out because he was looking out of his New York apartment window onto what is now ground zero. Haspiel's a comic book artist who's work is often autobiographical. Mason tried to comfort him by pointing out that someday the events he was witnessing would be incredible stories for his work.

That idea was the seed from which the entire "9-11" comic book project grew. Mason says he was sitting around sometime later with a dozen or so friends in the comics industry, talking about Sept. 11 and wondering what they could do to help. Mason suggested a book. Everyone agreed, and Mason volunteered to take the helm as editor and publisher. Then he came up with a wish-list of artists he wanted to be involved, such as graphic novelist Will Eisner, cover artist Frank Cho and social satirist Ted Rall. All three have work included in the book.

Mason brought Pitzer on to art direct and contribute a single page pinup, then set about deciding the scope of the project. Out of about 150 to 200 submissions, Mason says, the book uses 57 pieces which range from single-page pinups to 10-page stories. Some stories are from the perspective of the artist, and in some cases, the artist illustrates the story of someone else.

The most important piece in the book, Mason says, comes from former Richmonder and Punchline illustrator Rob Ullman, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C. Ullman will illustrate the story of Evan Forsch, a man who was working in Tower One on the 89th floor when the plane exploded into the building. Ullman was understandably uncertain about such a serious undertaking and balked at first, but Mason talked him into it. "Rob has a really good, really clean style of art," he says, which is important to this type of piece. Other Virginia contributors to the project are Pitzer, Richmond Comix employee Eric "Wolfe" Hanson and Charlottesville resident Jen Sorensen.

Mason says there are a few similar books out or on the way, including the recent "Heroes" book by Marvel Comics. He thinks the medium works well because it's a much more interactive experience than, say, television, which Mason says is usually limited to brief video and commentary. "In comics," he says, "your eye can linger on a frame as long as you want … you can jump back and forth. Comics are also easy to read ... it's really able to relate something difficult in an easy way."

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