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War Is Funny
How one American is enduring his freedom.
Get Your War On isn’t your typical comic strip. Constructed out of found clip art, GYWO’s world is populated with foul-mouthed office employees (and occasionally Voltron) scathingly dissecting the inane ruthlessness of the Bush administration. David Rees, the strip’s creator, foregoes conventional political satire in favor of biting sarcasm and profanity—his cast sounds more like 16-year-old kids than white-collar workers, yet their critique is intelligent and refreshingly to the point.
Initially dispatched to the public on the web (www.mnftiu.cc), the strip quickly garnered a cult following that led to the recent publication of a Get Your War On book by New York’s Soft Skull Press.
Pill: When did you start making Get Your War On? Was it rooted in the September 11th attacks?
Rees: I started GYWO shortly after “Operation Enduring Freedom” commenced with the bombing of Afghanistan. The early strips were not so much about September 11th as about the government’s response to September 11th, i.e., the beginning of a War on Terrorism. At first I made the strips for myself, just to keep from going crazy. Then I posted the comics on my web site because I didn’t know what else to do with them. I sent the link to my friends. A few days later the site was getting a lot of traffic.
Pill: What made you decide to turn it into a book?
Rees: A bunch of people were asking whether I would collect the strips in a book. At first I was reluctant because self-publishing is a pain in the ass. I pitched the book to a few publishers but none of them were interested in doing the book the way I imagined it. So I decided on a compromise—I would self-publish a limited edition of the book, to “limit” the pain in my ass. This is when I decided to use the book to raise money for land-mine relief in Afghanistan. We printed 1,000 signed and numbered copies of the book and my friend shipped them from his living room in Toronto. We raised $17,000 for the charity. Soft Skull approached me about publishing another edition of the book to sell in stores.
Pill: Have you gotten a lot of angry responses?
Rees: Not as many as I thought I would get. The responses run about 20-to-1 positive/negative.
Pill: Why did you decide to bring Voltron into it?
Rees: Because I was bored with doing the same old thing and I wanted to make the strip challenging for me, so I thought, ‘Why not just fuckin’ put Voltron in the strip and see what happens?’
Pill: All of your sales royalties are going to Adopt-a-Minefield. Who are they? What do they do?
Rees: They’re a program of the United Nations Association of the United States. They were initially funded in part by the US State Department. They coordinate the clearance of minefields in seven or eight countries. What happens is, your church group or whatever gets together and raises money to sponsor the clearance of, for example, Minefield #23526432 in Cambodia. You send the money to AAM, they send it to the UN and the UN sends it to the de-miners in Cambodia. When all is said and done your church group gets a certificate and map showing that the field has been cleared.
This was the operational model in Afghanistan as well, until September 12, 2001, when the UN suspended all de-mining operations there. After the bombing campaign started, the situation was too chaotic to continue with the methodical clearance of minefields. There were cluster bombs falling and failing to detonate and kids were picking them up and getting killed. So they began the sponsorship of mobile de-mining teams. So all the money raised by GYWO is going to a particular team of de-miners working in Herat.
Pill: You recently did a book tour. What was that like?
Rees: The book tour was one of the best experiences of my life. I traveled all over the USA and went to a bunch of towns and states I had never visited. Sometimes I did my presentation at universities, sometimes at independent bookstores, sometimes in art galleries and sometimes in weird DIY punk-rock spaces. I slept on people’s sofas and everyone was very nice. People bought me drinks and dinners and asked a lot of interesting questions. I also got to tell people what little I know about the land-mine situation in Afghanistan. Most people seemed really curious about it.
Pill: Can you talk about the influence of hip-hop music and culture on your work?
Rees: When I first started making clip-art comics (years before GYWO) I was listening to a lot of rap music. I always liked the bragging and the creative use of language in that music, so I guess it just seeped into the comics. The reason some of the early GYWO strips incorporated hip-hop slang (“Operation Enduring Freedom is in the house”) is because I thought it would be the “least appropriate” idiom to use in expressing these dark sentiments, maybe because the tone is the exact opposite of the lofty rhetoric of the government. It jars people and helps them recognize “the facts on the ground,” as they say.
Pill: You’ve expressed frustration with the rhetoric of the Bush administration, but also with the Left’s response. What are your current thoughts on the impending war?
Rees: I have reached the magical moment where I loathe every single country involved in the impending war. Only Cameroon is cool. It makes me sad to see anti-war protesters carrying pro-France signs. It makes me sad that the US government forgot to designate any funds for Afghanistan’s reconstruction in the latest budget. They had to go back and add $300 million after someone pointed this out.
Pill: There have been a lot of anti-war protests in Europe, including several in Prague. What do things look like on the streets of New York?
Rees: My wife and I went to the big protest a few weeks ago and it was crazy. We weren’t allowed to access the main protest area; we kind of just wandered around with thousands of other people. My sign said, “We should fix Afghanistan before we destroy Iraq.”
Travis Jeppesen is at firstname.lastname@example.org
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