WARBLOGGING: Lappe and Goldman talk "Shooting War"

Fri, November 23rd, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Shaun Manning, Staff Writer

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"Shooting War" on sale now
The year is 2011. John McCain is president, America's war in Iraq rages on with no end in sight, and suicide bombing has hit the United States in a big way. One such attack makes left-wing blogger Jimmy Burns a very famous man, when a Starbucks explodes during his live video feed. But how will Jimmy adjust to his next assignment--covering the Iraq War for a major media conglomerate?

Such is the set up for "Shooting War," an original graphic novel from Anthony Lappe, Executive Editor of Guerrilla News Network, and artist Dan Goldman. Having already gained a following as a Webcomic on Smithmag.net, Lappe and Goldman have revised and expanded the story for a new full-color 192-page hardcover graphic novel in stores now from Grand Central Publishing in the U.S. and Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK. CBR News had a chance to sit down with the creators in New York City to discuss the project and the "big ideas" behind it.

Though "Shooting War" has now appeared in two incarnations on the Web and now in print, it began life as still something else. "The original back-story to 'Shooting War' is that I was actually writing it as a screenplay," Anthony Lappe told CBR News. "I had a drunken night out with Jeff Newelt, who is now the creative consultant on 'Shooting War.' He's just a real big comics guy. So anyway, he was like, 'Dude, that would make a great comic!' So literally I was like, wow, that's a cool idea."

"Shooting War" page 1
By the end of the night, Lappe and Newelt had decided that "Shooting War" should premiere as a comic on the Web.

Finding an artist for "Shooting War" took a bit more work. "I posted a thing on Craigslist, and I got a lot of responses from great artists," Lappe explained. "But they were really kind of very traditional comic-booky-type things, and I really wanted to do something different. And I really wanted to do something kind of hyper-realistic and in some ways inspired by this music video called 'Mosh' that my company Guerrilla News Network did. It was a mix of animation and green-screen shots, that sort of thing. Dan sent me a response to the Craigslist thing, I looked at his stuff online and was like, 'This is exactly what I was looking for in an artist.'"

Goldman's art in "Shooting War" includes several images that combine photography with illustration, and the use of photos is significantly increased in print version from its original Web format. When asked how he decides which images should be photo-only, or pure illustration, or a combination of the two, Goldman admits he can't really say. "It'

s kind of intuitive -- and that's also may be a cop-out answer," Goldman laughed. "When you start working, you just know what feels right. Like, some machinery that I went crazy drawing, and it was a big pain in the ass to work on, to render all those mechanicals. But I felt that was important. And there were other things where I think that--it's just to help the mood, to bring in elements that kind of create a mood or emotion, where it doesn't need to be meticulously rendered."

"Shooting War" page 2
The politics in "Shooting War" may appear right up there on the surface, but that's not to say the ideas are transparent. There are pieces played for humor, and other scenes for grizzly dramatic impact, but the overall point of view paints a complex picture of the world we live in as well as a picture of a world that may only be a few years away. Asked about one particular bit of evolving language, Lappe explained the significance of a Global News anchor using the term "homicide bomber" in place of the more conventional "suicide bomber."

"'Homicide Bombing' is a term used by Fox News and the right-wing news outlets to illustrate that they're committing suicide, but the primary goal is homicide," the writer said. "It was a kind of reference to place Global News within that genre of conservative news reporting. I don't necessarily disagree, actually, with the term. I think it's basically technically correct."

"Shooting War" page 3
Similarly, what does installing real-life presidential candidate John McCain in the Oval Office represent in this story? "Without giving away what happens at the end, I thought it was just interesting. It wasn't as much a prediction as more of a literary device, to be able to make some kind of point about where we're headed," Lappe said. "As a literary figure, I think McCain is just a really interesting dude. I mean, he's lived a life -- compared to any of these other candidates who haven't, really, in my opinion. Also, as a dramatic device, he's a Vietnam veteran who paid such a horrible price in the Vietnam war and now as President, he's being stuck with a war that, just like Vietnam, he's unable to get out of. A war he inherited."

"Shooting War" also examines the relationship between traditional, mainstream media and blogging culture. In the book, Jimmy Burns's video blog--material intended to subvert--is co-opted by Global News, a major broadcaster, because he happens to accidentally film a terrorist attack on Starbucks. Lappe sees the real-life efforts of news companies to incorporate "citizen journalism" into their coverage as a cost-cutting strategy, rather than an acknowledgment of the value of non-standard journalism.

"Shooting War" page 4
"Like everything in the news business today, it's almost 100% driven by the economics of it," Lappe said. "I don't think there's any commitment to opening the gates and allowing real citizen journalism to flourish. I think it's really just like, 'Oh, cool, we can get people to shoot stuff for free and upload it. We don't have to send a cameraman, and we can get really dramatic footage 'cuz it's shot by a person whose house is about to get blown up by a hurricane.'

"But I do think, in the same way that sites like DailyKOS and other blogging sites have become very important political players online, in the text world that is. I think there's going to be a similar thing that's going to happen with news and video."

Lappe sees the emergence of newer and cheaper technology leading to regular people staging real competition for network television, which may lead to a shift in tone and format at big media companies.

Art from "Shooting War"
"Shooting War," though, is not simply another case of railing against "the man," as the story develops in less than flattering ways for our hero Jimmy Burns. "The book is a critique of the mainstream media but it's also a critique of bloggers and blogging culture," Lappe said. "I mean, Jimmy Burns finds himself in this situation where he's both emotionally unequipped to deal with the chaos of the war, and also doesn't really know what to do journalistically, as well." Since the Jimmy Burns character does not have the formal training most war correspondents would, he is left unprepared for the problems "real journalists face that bloggers, sitting on their couch complaining, don't."

"I have a lot of respect for war correspondents," the writer continued. "A lot of people complain about mainstream news outlets, but the fact is, these guys are out there risking their lives, and doing great reporting."

That said, "Shooting War" does not shy from satirizing the usual suspects of corporate culture. Both Goldman and Lappe enjoy the various digs at Starbucks and other emblems of globalization strategically placed throughout the book. Several scenes, for example, take place in the W Hotel Baghdad. Goldman remembers seeing the first script that described this location. "I was cracking up when he told me that," the artist said.

Art from "Shooting War"
Goldman has also placed some indie media presences right beside recognizable cultural icons, though he feels he knows where to draw the line. An image from the "Shooting War" Webcomic set the New York Post side-by-side with Act-i-Vate, a web community of cartoonists to which Goldman belongs, but in the print edition the site's logo is replaced with that of Gawker. "That's a good catch," Goldman said. "I took the Act-i-Vate logo out, it was a personal thing. I didn't feel that I wanted to be promoting my own Website in this story. It felt kind of dirty to me. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know."

Other changes were driven by modifications to the original plot, as even powerful lines like "There are no civilians in Baghdad" were cut in favor of stronger material. "A major plot point happens" in the scene where this line originally appeared," Lappe said. "That scene totally changes, and it's the pivotal plot point of the book. So that line just didn't work."

Goldman agreed, though also said, "it was a great line."

Having just finished a promotional tour in the UK and now settling in for signings across the United States, CBR News asked the creators--who are both American--how this book rooted in American media and culture was received overseas. "Response has been amazing [in the UK]," Lappe said. "I think, first off, the war is so much more unpopular there. I think they're also very excited to see Americans doing savvy political humor and satire. I think they had looked at the anti-war movement as just Cindy Sheehan and a bunch of raggedy protestors."

Art from "Shooting War"
Goldman saw another contrast between reactions here and abroad. "The difference I've noticed, between the American and the British reactions, is that the Americans see 'Shooting War' and they say 'Cool.' And the British see it, and they say, 'that's very brave of you.' That's not a slight against Americans, it's just that I feel the spectacle maybe overshadows the message here."

Have the creators run into any unsympathetic readers, possibly from the right-wing mainstream media? "I've gotten shit from the hardcore lefty people on GNN for profiting from war," Lappe laughed. "Which is just, you know, the most absurd thing I've ever heard. So, that's really it, just from the hard-core left snipers on my Website. I compare them to the grumpy old men on the Muppets, basically. They sit on GNN for like eighty hours a day, just to complain."

The original "Shooting War" Webcomic, along with the details of the creators' signing tour, can be found at www.shootingwar.com.

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