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Graphic Novel Review: Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman

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Although the author and illustrator say their graphic novel is a political satire that extrapolates current events regarding the Iraqi War, the Mexican immigration issue, and emerging technology as well as a healthy dose of politics, Shooting War is also a wonderfully compelling read. I was blown away by the storyline, the art, and the voice that comes from the material. I was also completely surprised by the appearance of news anchor Dan Rather and his hefty part in the graphic novel’s plot and action.

Lappe and Goldman obviously know their material and believe in their message. They don’t hold back and reach out viciously to grab the reader by the hair of the head and drag them through the harsh world they’ve created. I’d read a preview of the graphic novel almost three months ago, but even that failed to prepare me for the emotional and thought-provoking odyssey I was embarking on when I first began to turn pages.

The book actually started out as an on-line comic. Lappe had written a nonfiction book, True Lies, with Stephen Marshall that focused on the disservice they believe the media is doing to the American people. Lappe is also the executive editor of GNN (Guerilla News Network), has written for a number of magazines and other media, and was the producer of the Showtime documentary about Iraq: Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge.

Goldman writes and draws the strip, Kelly, for act-i-vate.com and co-authored the graphic novel, Everyman: Be the People. His art is the result of a mixed media effort.

I liked the character of Jimmy Burns from the opening pages. He’s just a big kid with a new toy, a wireless camera that allows him to video-blog from anywhere there’s an internet connection. I liked his innocence, but I knew it was going to be blown out like a candle flame before the story ran its course.

In just the first few pages, Jimmy happens to be on-hand in front of a Starbucks (and you have to love the way iconic features of today’s popular culture are used and destroyed in the book) where a terrorist bomb explodes. The building, including Jimmy’s apartment, is destroyed and several people are killed. Almost overcome by the horror around him, Jimmy keeps talking into the video camera. But I got the impression that it was because he was freaked and wanted to share what was going on with someone else more than just to present a breaking news story.

Jimmy’s transmission gets seized by a local network and pumped into an international grid where the world watches. In just a couple of pages, Jimmy gets hired by Global News, the television station that hijacked his video upload, as a troubleshooter, a reporter who’s going to be in the middle of all the world’s hotspots.

Before Jimmy knows it, he’s launched into the middle of the Iraqi War. Since, in the book, it’s the year 2011, there are a lot of changes. Sadly, which is one of the messages of the book, many things remain the same.

Goldman’s art is beautiful. He overlays comics-style drawing over real photographs of places and events. The explosions are frozen, destructive poetry that draw the eye. The faces, though loosely drawn, convey strong emotions. He uses color like a weapon, subtle when he wants to stay out of the way of the reader and a barrage of attacks when he moves into a full assault on the reader’s senses.

In addition to writing a terrific plot that’s ripped from today’s headlines and giving us characters we all know and understand, Lappe also designs link titles for Jimmy’s webpage and magazine covers that are hilarious! Check out: Tom Cruise and Mary-Kate Olsen Call It Quits and let your imagination run wild.

Even though the grim material is salted with humor, Lappe and Goldman never step completely out of the darkness. The execution of a “traitor” at the hands of Abu Adallah and the Sword of Mohammed is horribly bloody business, callous and cruel.

Another aspect I truly enjoyed about the book was the use of technology. It’s not going to go away and it will continue to change our lives on a daily basis in small and large ways. Shooting War uses the emerging tech constantly, whether it’s on the handheld camera Jimmy uses or the PDAs or wallscreens on the sides of buildings. The military hardware also gets a lot of play, the older stuff as well as the newer defensive and offensive hardware.

One of the best examples of the emerging technology is the image of the recon and search and rescue teams. The blue faceplate glows and looks like a cross, making them look like instruments of some divine justice.

The authors are merciless in their views on the war. They bring in a lot of information about other freedom leaders, and point out when the United States aligned themselves with those leaders and when they didn’t. Again, all of this information came from today’s and recent headlines.

The scene where the United States soldiers get attacked and inadvertently shoot and kill a small boy is heart-wrenching to read. You can’t read stuff like this and not think of what’s going on over in the war. Innocents (and innocence) are being lost on both sides, and you can understand why people who would normally not take issue with occupying forces or domestic rebels, but how they are sometimes forced to.

I loved Dan Rather’s presence in the book, and I have to wonder how the authors and publisher got him to agree to be presented with such a strong opinion on the war and the presidency. The line between fiction and non-fiction, reality and possibility, is definitely blurred at this point, and during several others.

Shooting War has a definite slant on the war and the American presidency, as well as politics. A lot of people aren’t going to agree with everything in this book. That’s all right. I feel the authors were really provoking their readers into at least thinking something, and feeling it as well.

And if you decide to leave politics out of the entertainment, I feel you’ll be thrilled with the story that’s drawn, rendered, and written so eloquently between the pages. Shooting War is a terrific read with enough tension to keep you nailed to the pages till you finish. Even without the political statements, readers are going to feel the rush of fear, the despair of failure, and the allure of triumph.

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