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Monday, May 30, 2011

Complex and Captivating Comic


While I have always enjoyed the Sunday newspaper comics, I have never been a big fan of comic books.  The joys of Spiderman, Batman, and Archie have somehow eluded me. Imagine, then, my surprise upon discovering that I enjoyed reading the online comic book Shooting War. click here for online version The comic is intriguing, has a clearly defined argument, and the illustrations are complex and captivating. Currently available as a hardcover graphic novel by Grand Central Publishing, Shooting War began as a serialized web comic in May of 2006. click here for link to buy the book It was created and authored by Anthony Lappe and illustrated by Dan Goldman. Lappe and Goldman successfully employ the use of flashback, juxtaposition, and satire in Shooting War. These strategies effectively defend their argument that the mainstream news media is hopelessly driven by commercial (financial) gain in their reporting and broadcasting tactics, and has completely replaced “in the field” reporters who want to give a fair report of the real story with “talking heads” who have their own political and ideological agendas.  
            The main character of Shooting Wars is Jimmy Burns, a news blogger who we meet on the very first page of the comic surrounded by gunfire in the trenches of a warzone.  A detailed flashback in the comic  (return to a moment in time that happened prior to the present) helps the reader understand that Jimmy, an average, rather geeky blogger happened to be present on the street in front of a Starbucks when it and the building surrounding it (which so happens to contain Jimmy’s apartment) is blown up by terrorist. The scene is a dramatic one, including blood and body parts.  Jimmy, the quintessential newsman, captures the aftermath of the explosion and ensuing chaos on his video camera and streams the report to a local news station. Jimmy’s reporting methods lead him to accept a three-year contract to cover the war in Iraq “from the trenches.” The use of this flashback is a great strategy by the writers, in that it not only provided the reader with background information, but it effectively and quickly develops Jimmy’s character.  We see where he lived, what his neighborhood was like, how he reacts in a crisis, and his level of compassion in helping the injured victims of the explosion.  The flashback also does an excellent job defending the main argument of the incompetence of the mainstream news media.
Our main character faces many perils in Iraq, all while blogging and reporting back to not only the U.S., but also to his newly found international audience.  Jimmy finds himself under enemy fire on a regular basis, he is taken by the enemy and forced to live stream the beheading of Muslim peacekeeper. After his release, he finds himself partnered with an Iraqi woman named Sameera working in the war as a translator.  Sameera and Jimmy are in dirty, bloody, dangerous situations all of the time.  They are trying to present a true, accurate news report to the people of the world of the realities of Iraq.  This down and dirty hands-on reporting is presented by the author in stark contrast to the suit and tie, well fed and somewhat arrogant mainstream media talking head, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News.  We also see a sharp contrast between Jimmy and his employer and members of the newsroom at The Globe.  This use of juxtaposition is very successful at continuing the argument of mainstream news media incompetence.
            Another rhetorical strategy used by the comic strip authors is the most widely used strategy for this genre, and that is the use of satire.  Even given the serious, life altering subject of war, humanitarianism and survival, the author finds a way to make us laugh, keeping the reader engaged and humored.  But more importantly, this use of satire has a very valuable social purpose in this story.  Lappe and Goldman successfully use the satire to debunk the credibility of the mainstream news media, which may be a cultural icon to the readers. This seemingly hidden strategy is surprisingly very effective.
The rhetorical strategies used in Shooting Wars (flashback, juxtaposition and satire) are often used in the comic book, or graphic novel genre. Other rhetorical strategies that are intrinsic to the comic book medium include the use of narrator (either in the first or third person), personification (giving human voices to animals or objects), and Irony.  Given the flexibility of comic time vs. real time, the authors in this medium have a huge amount of leeway in presenting multiple points of time and space, sometimes within the individual comic panels, and sometimes within chapters or even the entire collective piece.
Shooting Wars is a fascinating look into the concept of blogging as a news source, all the while questioning and criticizing the mainstream media.   An additional layer of politics and U.S involvement in Iraq provides interesting and at times humorous reading.  The illustrations in the comic are layered between real life photography and cartoon style illustration and provide the reader with graphic images that can be both highly detailed and also at times very vague, leaving the reader in his own dark imagination. Lappe and Goldman are to be applauded with this layered approach of rhetoric in this re-emerging genre. 

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