Ernie Colón, a comic book artist who was known to his fans for drawing Richie Rich and a warrior princess but who found an unlikely and even wider readership with a best-selling adaptation of “The 9/11 Commission Report,” died on Aug. 8 at his home in Huntington, N.Y. He was 88.
His daughter Luisa Colón said the cause was colorectal cancer, which was diagnosed last year.
Mr. Colón teamed up with the writer Sid Jacobson, his longtime collaborator and friend, to create a graphic novel version of the 9/11 report, the government-commissioned study, headed by former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, that became a surprise best seller in 2004, three years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In their “9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation,” published two years later, Mr. Colón and Mr. Jacobson turned a long and dense government document into an accessible, visually striking book that itself became a best seller on the paperback nonfiction list in The New York Times. They called it “graphic journalism.”
In vivid and dramatic detail the book chronicles the events of Sept. 11, 2001, tracking the four jetliners that had been hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists until three struck their targets and the fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers on it had tried to seize control. Government officials are also depicted and quoted, in conventional word balloons.
“This graphic adaptation is not only a stunning document of contemporary history but also proof of the power of comics,” a review in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland said. “The author-illustrator team distills the commission’s 500-plus pages into a slim, lucid volume that in no way dumbs down or oversimplifies the findings.”
Ernie Colón Sierra was born on July 13, 1931, in San Juan, P.R. His father, Ernesto Colón, was a police detective in Puerto Rico; his mother, Isabel Sierra, was a textile worker and a bank teller. He acquired a love of storytelling from a grandfather, who owned three movie theaters in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Colón began has career in 1955, when he was hired by the cartoonist Ham Fisher to ink backgrounds for the Joe Palooka newspaper strip, but the assignment came to a sudden end with Fisher’s suicide in December of that year.
He then moved to Harvey Comics, where, working in the production department, he began drawing — initially uncredited — page after page for the company’s line of children’s comics, including Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.
In a 2007 interview with The Comics Journal, Mr. Colón estimated that he had drawn around 15,000 pages for Harvey. While there he met Mr. Jacobson, a Harvey staff editor who would become a collaborator and a lifelong friend.
“Wherever I worked as an editor, I always hired him,” Mr. Jacobson said in a phone interview. “We were very close. We were like brothers. We went through a lot of marriages together.” Mr. Colón was married four times; Mr. Jacobson, three.
The men created several nonfiction books, including biographies of Che Guevara and Anne Frank and “The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation” (2017), an illustrated summary of a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture of terrorism suspects.
“He was an absolute fine artist,” Mr. Jacobson said. “In my writing, I would give an idea of each panel, but he did the job of expanding it. ‘9/11’ is a damn good example of his ability.”
Mr. Colón created his warrior princess, Amethyst, at DC Comics, working with the writers Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin. The series tells the story of a teenager, Amy Wilson, who discovers that she comes from another, magical world, having been sent to Earth for her safety after her parents were murdered. She returns to her home planet, Gemworld, to free its inhabitants in thrall to the villain Dark Opal. The character Amethyst, first published by DC in 1983 with appearances in a handful of limited series, is now in the middle of a revival. She was in a series of DC Nation animated shorts in 2013 and this year became part of Young Justice, a team of superheroes with connections to those of the Justice League.
Mr. Colón “was an amazing if sometimes infuriating collaborator, but the infuriating part was essential to the package,” Mr. Mishkin wrote in a post on Facebook. “He went where his artistic instincts took him, and even when my initial response was, ‘Hey, that’s not what I wrote,’ I would discover there was insight in his unexpected approaches that opened up new narrative possibilities.”
Roy Thomas, who collaborated with Mr. Colón on the American Indian character Arak, Son of Thunder, for DC Comics in 1981, said in an email that Mr. Colón handled humor and drama with “equal dexterity.”
“His ‘serious’ drawing was highly stylized, but it drew you in,” he wrote.
Another Colón collaboration, with the writer Dwayne McDuffie, was “Damage Control,” which follows the exploits of a construction company that cleans up after the battles between heroes and villains in the Marvel Comics universe. It had its debut in 1989. In the 2017 movie sequel “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the Department of Damage Control tidies up New York City after an Avengers battle.
Mr. Colón is survived by his wife, Ruth Ashby, an author of more than 30 books for children and young adults; four daughters, Amanda, Suzan and Luisa Colón and Rebecca Ashby-Colón; and three grandsons.
Mr. Colón was never idle, his wife and daughter said. He and Ms. Ashby had recently finished a second volume of “The Great American Documents,” a retelling of American history through the laws and speeches that shaped it. “It was very useful from his point of view to have an editor and a writer in the same house,” Ms. Ashby said of their collaboration.
At his death, he was writing, drawing and coloring a new graphic novel that rethinks the story of Sleeping Beauty. The title is Slipping Beauty.”
“She was very clumsy,” Luisa Colón explained.
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