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Shooting War: A Graphic Novel

Pull the Trigger, Punch the Zoom

As any documentarian knows, even the rawest material requires the director’s unique voice of organization. In a Michael Moore film, we expect to see his burly form stumbling somewhere. Barbara Kopple allows her subjects, striking labor forces, to speak for themselves with close-ups that linger for spates of time. Ross McElwee used the path of Sherman’s March to investigate his own personal longings and between interviews we hear him moaning off-camera, and witness him bleakly staring into mirrors. Ken Burns will, well, pan and diffuse a lot. There is no such thing as the ritual standard, yet all are “documentaries.”

So then, what makes a “documentary comic”? Freelance writer Anthony Lappé and artist Dan Goldman have taken their webcomic Shooting War from the site http://SMITHmag.net and foisted it into a concrete hardcover form. Shooting War takes place in 2011 when plasma screens with their never-ending lower-third crawl provide the backdrop to most moments of American life. John McCain is our intrepid president. People still read New York magazine.

Enter Brooklyn hipster Jimmy Burns, a left-wing blogger working on the effect of eminent domain on neighborhoods, who inadvertently happens upon a bomb attack on a Williamsburg Starbucks perpetrated by a “Syrian-born man". Jimmy films the carnage and airs the footage. “The attention of being in the right place at the right time, interests corporate execs at Global News Network who hire Jimmy to cover the now eight year war in Iraq. Upon his arrival at the W-Hotel Baghdad, everyone quickly identifies him as “that cute blogger.”

This includes the American military forces that despise him and the itinerant Iraqi faction of Sword of Mohammed who use Jimmy’s youth and camera skills to broadcast their own feats of violence. Jimmy has an ally, the burka wearing, PhD holding Sameera, an Iraqi producer and “fixer” who helps Jimmy upload what he needs to as her country falls further and further into the abyss. By his own admission, Jimmy is out of his element. He confesses that the riskiest thing he’s done is “wasting a year shagging underfed anarchists, doing second rate coke, and whining about evil corporations on jackass.com.” It is this sort of self-mockery that makes Shooting War an enjoyable documentary. Even the bloggers recognize their own mis-directed self-importance.

Artist Goldman makes some nice sardonic notes with his multi-layer method of photography, vector illustration, and digital painting. Between the headers and footers of “live feed", panels display CNN crawl lines such as “What do you do if you find the Koran under your child’s mattress?” In a bleak Iraqi landscape you will find E.T. on a billboard advertising AT&T phone cards. How about an isolated internet café where the screensaver shows David Hasselhof snuggling with puppies? The architecture of a Brooklyn yellow-brick building comes through in detail. The panels also show attention to lighting and framing: characters are displayed in rim light or extreme close-ups when the drama heightens, and the plot provides cut-aways when you need to breathe.

It’s all there: our nation’s desire to be televised at all times, and our infatuation with two-dimensional imagery when the three-dimensional imagery needs our help. Take a look. Take a look.

Shooting War: A Graphic Novel by Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, $21.99
ISBN: 0-446-58120-8
192 pages