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Like Superman, when I’m not out fighting crime I work as a mild-mannered reporter. From 9 to 5 I’m looking for that elusive big story, but when I come home I like to relax by reading a comic. In the last year or so I’ve also joined the blogosphere and spend a fair amount of my time peddling my patented brand of nonsense to you guys.
Imagine if you can then, a comic about a blogger who stumbles upon a major scoop and trades in that fame to become a fully-fledged journalist. It would push so many buttons for me. And that comic, my friends is Shooting War.
Dripping in satire, Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s zeitgeist-tapping yarn began life as a web-comic on SMITHMAG.net before it morphed into one of the most relevant graphic novels of recent times. Think of the 192-page hardback as the director’s cut, with retouched artwork and 110 new pages of material.
Maybe it’s because I work in journalism that Shooting War has touched a nerve with me, because it says something about the way news is presented to us and the rise of citizen journalism, filtered through a story about the threat of terrorism at home and the US presence in Iraq.
Jimmy Burns is a smart-mouthed hipster who launches diatribes about the corporate takeover of America on his BurnBabyBurn blog. One afternoon when he’s live-streaming outside a Starbucks in New York, an explosion tears through the coffee shop. An Islamic suicide bomber has hit the Big Apple, and Jimmy’s images and on-the-spot commentary immediately spread around the globe as people link to his site. A major network uploads it to their news channel and suddenly the little-known blogger is a star.
The story opened with Jimmy coming under fire as an embedded reporter in Iraq, and the narrative jumps back and forward from there until it catches up with itself. In the meantime the scenes in Iraq are intercut with Jimmy’s rise to fame. The network appropriates him and the public falls for his straight talking.
The network offers to put their new star on the payroll, and realising that his blog isn’t changing anything, he accepts. More than that, he needs the buzz. After stumbling across a disaster and finding himself at the centre of a media maelstrom, he wants to capture that feeling again.
Jimmy is sent to an Iraq that looks more like Saigon in 1975. His feet have barely touched the ground when he’s captured by a terrorist cell, who make him broadcast propaganda that ends with them beheading a traitor. They let Jimmy go and a few days later, thanks to a tipoff from the terrorists, he’s in the right place to film them shooting UN peacekeepers from the sky.
Back home, Jimmy’s stock begins to rise as he lets people believe he was just in the right place at the right time. Eventually, Jimmy has an epiphany and comes to realise he has lied and covered up the truth to protect his arse and his jon; that he went to Iraq to tell the truth about the war, but failed miserably. Risking his life, he seeks redemption by exposing American atrocities.
The title of the book works in two ways. We see what a shooting war is like when the bullets are flying, and we see how war is shot by a news reporter. It’s a cracking story, and the innovative use of images works incredibly well. Real pictures are spliced togther with penciled artwork to great effect, and there’s a wonderfully meta-textual vibe to it as we see things like Jimmy’s blog page, magazine covers featuring his rise to prominence and articles charting his celebrity status.
It’s got a hefty price tag, £18 over here, but it’s mightily recommended. There’s people out there who don’t read comics because they can’t get past the superheroics and the belief that comics are for kids. Give them this book to show them what the artform is capable of.